BURNCARDS: Reno music, food, opinion, technology, news. » News
Archive for the ‘News’ Category

A few words of unsolicited advice for Michael Dell

Techies who follow the news have no doubt heard that Michael Dell has partnered with Silver Lake to take the computer company bearing his name private.

Dell is in a tough spot right now, and it’s good that Mr. Dell is trying to salvage the company that he started in a college dorm room and turned into a powerhouse of PC manufacturing.

Nobody's made a better desktop machine than this.

Nobody’s made a better desktop machine than this.

Dell’s initial claim to fame was build-to-order, high quality, competitively priced computers.  Things really heated up for Dell when Windows 95 and Windows NT 4 transformed the way PC’s were sold into enterprise.  Dell was on the spot with extremely high quality, very innovative corporate PC’s like the Optiplex line.  In 1997, I was working in IT and the only computers I wanted to use were the Optiplex machines.

They were solid as a rock and incredibly easy to service.  They had a hinged case that opened with no screwdriver required.  Processor and memory were tucked neatly under a hinged power supply.  All the expansion cards were in a detachable carriage that also took no screws to remove.  Nobody has made a computer so easy to work on since, not even Dell.  I had one of those Optiplex machines powered on for 6 years straight acting as a web server, and I still have it.  It still works.

Dell must have garnered a considerable amount of loyalty amongst IT people like me, who must have proceeded to recommend Dell products to less computer-savvy people.  Sadly, Dell would spend a whole decade squandering that loyalty, putting a lot of us recommenders in a tight spot.  Those of us who bought Dell machines for ourselves were also caught with egg on our faces.

When it came to building computers for business, Dell never really messed up too much.  But their failure to build anything of quality for the consumer market, especially in the laptop form factor, didn’t make them any friends in the ’00s.  Loading up the machines with tons of so-called “crapware” didn’t help, either.  Their OS images were in many cases not very well tested.  By 2010, under almost no circumstances would I have recommended Dell products to anyone.  All this, without mentioning Dell’s ill-advised forays into smart phones, media players, and the like.

Here’s where the unsolicited advice comes in.  It’s pretty straightforward:

1. Computers aren’t dead.  People still need them.  Lots of people still want them.
Build only solid, well-tested portable machines with rock solid no-BS OS installs, and take them on the road to show the people who are still buying computers.  What’s not accounted for in this talk of “post-PC” this and that and the other thing is that a considerable percentage of people still rely on computers for lots and lots of tasks.  Computers aren’t going away.  Macs attracted such a large share of the market of people still buying computers because they are innovative, high-quality, and no BS.  Don’t copy the Mac, but build an innovative, high-quality, no BS computer, and make sure everybody knows about it.  Now that consumer desires are driving corporate IT, make a computer that appeals to the former and is engineered to withstand the needs of the latter.

2. Build an awesome tablet
Take Microsoft at their word.  The Surface is a signal to the market of what is possible to build.  A considerable share of people’s “computer use” outside of getting things done will be on tablets.  So build a great one.  And make sure everyone knows it.

3. Don’t take on any new work until you’ve nailed those two things
Let’s assume you can do these two things I am suggesting and that you’re not having any trouble also doing servers, storage, consulting services, workstations and desktops for enterprise.  Take a step back and marvel at all the things you’re doing.  If you can recapture your formerly unparalleled reputation for mass-market quality, you’ll be in a strong position.  The people in the back of the house will like the same stuff that the people in the front of the house are demanding.

I’m probably not alone in wanting to see Dell make a comeback.  Whatever the company ends up doing, it will start with winning the hearts and minds of the right people, and not squandering that goodwill again.  Good luck.

What’s going on in Africa?

Africa_(orthographic_projection)_svgLike me, you probably have no idea what’s going on in Africa.  If you pay close attention to the news, you probably know that France sent troops to Mali to deal with some Islamist elements there.  Africa’s a big continent, though.  Challenge me to find Mali on a map, I will retreat.

James Dilworth found this really interesting piece about Islamism in Africa.  It’s definitely worth a read.  It details how Somalia ended up being a country with no government, and also has some history of Algeria, yet another country I hope you won’t ask me to find on a map.

American Space Program Levels Up

SpaceX’s Dragon module was successfully launched by a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 22, 2012 at 3:44 AM Eastern Time.  The automated module is carrying supplies to the International Space Station, and is set to arrive in three days time.

Many people, me included, have lamented the shrinking of NASA to the point where we are dependent on Russia to get astronauts and supplies into and out of space.  While we always knew the space shuttle program was going to be shut down, and the agency was always working on a replacement rocket/capsule system, the government’s fiscal priorities have shifted away from space, pushing that replacement program onto the back burner.  Luckily, NASA also had plans to support a commercial space sector, something at least one American entrepreneur was dedicated to making a reality.


We are dependent as a species on people of great vision, who have big ideas, and can bring those big ideas to fruition.  Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, is one such person.  Skepticism was many people’s natural reaction when first hearing about SpaceX back around the turn of the century, but those skeptics can do a double-take, now.  SpaceX is on track to deliver on Musk’s vision of building a new generation of rockets and spacecraft to reduce the cost and increase the reliability of space access by a factor of 10.

Government got us into space decades ago.  Now it’s the private sector’s turn to pick up the baton to keep us there.  Today is a great day.

Money in politics: Hussein Hussein Hussein, if we say it enough times…

Today’s NY Times has an article about some proposals that are being worked on by political strategists for a GOP super-PAC called “Ending the Spending (on anyone but the ultra-wealthy) Action Fund,” headed up by Joe Ricketts, described in the article as “the patriarch of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs.”

Negative campaigning is nothing new.  I for one am often glad I don’t have television.  The only “campaign commercials” I see are linked to from blogs.  There are a few little nuggets inside this article that are worth calling attention to, however.  Let’s skip around a little bit.

“Our plan is to do exactly what John McCain would not let us do: Show the world how Barack Obama’s opinions of America and the world were formed,” the proposal says.

John McCain, a leader with a backbone, some honor and decency in his character, refused to allow his political operatives to go too negative on Obama in 2008.  Interesting, since:

In the opening paragraphs of the proposal, the Republican strategists refer to Mr. McCain as “a crusty old politician who often seemed confused, burdened with a campaign just as confused.”

Ah, yes, character assassination.  The last refuge of those without character.

The strategists grappled with the quandary of running against Mr. Obama that other Republicans have cited this year: “How to inflame their questions on his character and competency, while allowing themselves to still somewhat ‘like’ the man becomes the challenge.”

Repair Cafés- Where You Can Get a Quick Fix

The Repair Café logo from repaircafe.nl

The Repair Café logo from repaircafe.nl

I can think of a dozen times when I’ve had something break on me that wasn’t worth fixing. Most things nowadays are made to break and not be fixed, just replaced with a new one. This creates so much trash and waste of not just computers and other electronic items, but clothes, household items, hardware, even sporting goods, that could all be fixed and used for a while longer instead of making more landfill. The void left by repair shops that have closed up over the last few years is about to be filled.

Some people in Amsterdam (I guess it’s Dutch Week here at BC) came together and created the idea of Repair Cafés. Here’s a NY Times article about Repair Cafés. And, the original website for the Repair Cafés– it’s in Dutch, so use Google or have Ken translate for you since he could use the practice. There, people have the tools and expertise available to fix all manner of things from clothes, to computers, to bikes, and everything else. The idea might have started in Amsterdam, but it’s spreading throughout the Netherlands and going international.

Since we already have a Maker Group and several other interesting collectives doing DIY stuff here in Reno, why not a Repair Café? I’m sure many people locally would be into it- I know I would be.

‘Weedpass’ to take effect nationwide in Netherlands in 2013

If you’ve visited the Netherlands, you’re aware of the famous Dutch ‘coffeeshops’ where they do sell coffee, but they also sell marijuana in small amounts for personal use (the max they can sell you at one time is 5 grams.)

Starting in 2013, the privilege of entering the coffeeshops and partaking of the wares offered therein will be the exclusive province of Dutch citizens and legal residents.  So if you visited and enjoyed these coffeeshops and had hoped to one day do it again, the clock is ticking – you might want to go sooner rather than later.  Already, the border provinces of the Netherlands have instituted the system, called the ‘Wietpas,’ or in English, ‘Weedpass.’

You might be wondering why this is all happening, and I’ve done some research and thinking on the subject.  Here’s what seems to be going on.

First, comes the issue of ‘drug tourism.’  If you are an American and reading this, you probably aren’t thinking of the same ‘drug tourism’ as the Dutch, Belgians or Germans are thinking of.  For an American to visit the famous coffeeshops, basically means taking a trip to Amsterdam, and it is not cheap.  An American needs to come up with at least a thousand dollars for an excursion to Amsterdam, and in most cases much more than that.  But the Netherlands borders Belgium and Germany and in a more limited sense, England and France, and for these folks to visit the Netherlands, especially the Germans and Belgians, requires little more than a tank of gas.

There are two groups of victims here – one group of actual victims and another group of imaginary victims.  Let’s start with the first group of victims.

These victims are the Dutch who live in the towns bordering Belgium and Germany.  These Dutch people are more conservative (socially) than the Amsterdammers and they only get more conservative as a few weekends a month, Belgians and Germans come into their towns and ransack them, acquiring and using as much weed as they can while they are there and then carting the rest back home to last until the next trip over the border.  The Dutch are remarkably tolerant people, but at some point, even the most tolerant person will throw up their hands and say, “Enough is enough!”

The second class of ‘victims’ is the imaginary ones.  It’s necessary at this point to take a step back and compare the marijuana situation to prostitution (another area where the remarkably tolerant Dutch have been pulling back a bit lately.)  Outside of legalization, there are two ways legal systems deal with prostitution.  One way is to arrest prostitutes, treating them as criminals, and the other way is to go after pimps and johns, treating them as victimizers.  Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this.  The latter method is generally regarded as the more enlightened one.  Arresting prostitutes, the alleged victims in sex trafficking, only ruins their lives and does nothing to deal with the problem of demand for their services.

Outside of decriminalization of both the cultivation/distribution side and the consumption side of drugs, there are generally two approaches to prosecuting drug crime:  arrest the users, or go after the cultivators and dealers.  The logic is the same as in prostitution, really, only as a mirror image.  The users are the victims, so why arrest them and ruin their lives, when you can go after the victimizers, the cultivators and distributors of the substance?

Which leads to the point.  Belgium and Germany have both to a considerable extent decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, but the cultivation and distribution of marijuana remains a crime.  If a drug user is a victim, and a drug dealer is a victimizer, and you live right next door to a drug dealer, then who is the victimizer?  That’s right, your neighbor.

Faced with this situation, the remarkably tolerant Dutch, who correctly see that in marijuana-related matters nobody is really a victim, have two choices:  keep their remarkably tolerant attitude for themselves, or bow to international political pressure and give it up entirely.  Belgium and Germany would do well to realize that the primary victimizer in marijuana matters is the state and its legal policy of prohibition and open up their own coffeeshops.

The Dutch are very pragmatic, nonetheless.  It is entirely possible that this move to restrict access to the coffeeshops will lead to an increase in black market drug activity precisely of the sort that the original policy of decriminalization and tolerance was designed to avert.  If that happens, it is not unthinkable that they will declare the weedpass idea a failure, and go back to the way things were.  Time will tell.

RGJ to go pay

A sign of the times?
A sign of the times?

Out of the blue, the Reno Gazette-Journal has decided to start charging for access to its online content.  Messages to this effect started popping up a couple days ago on articles.  Apparently I am down to “1 free article left.”

Previously, the RGJ’s (and presumably parent company Gannett’s) preferred tactic for blocking access to monetizing their online content was to ask users for demographic information.  What year were you born?  What is your gender?  What is your ZIP code?  Where are you located?  I am probably not the only person who fed that popup box false information, time after time after time after time.

On one hand, this move makes sense.  The newspaper business was always about multiple sources of revenue.  The 25, no 35, no 50 cents that it cost to buy the paper.  The 6 bucks a month to have it delivered to your house.  The classified ad revenue.  The revenue from the other ads that showed up in the paper.  Craigslist has the classifieds business, way less people are paying the 50 cents or 6 bucks a month.  People are used to getting their news online.  The newspaper is less that and more a news site.  So the logical decision might be to charge 12 bucks a month for it.

On the other hand, this move is unsettling.  Will the 12 bucks a month do anything to slow the pace of the news cycle that outlets like the RGJ are desperately trying to keep up with?  Will it buy copy editing?  Or is it just the new price of admission, a cost the informed citizen in the 21st century must be willing to pay?

Which leads to another question.  Are you gonna pay?

Hamlet, in the Original Version

Reno will host a unique cultural event- so unique it’s only been done four times in the last 500 years! The Nevada Repertory Company will have performances of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in the original pronunciation. Hamlet has been performed in the original pronunciation only four times since the 1600s in its original form, twice at the new Globe Theater in London, once in Kansas and at Cambridge in England. David Crystal, a Shakespearean scholar, linguist, and the dialogue coach for new Globe Theater in London has worked with actors of the Nevada Rep to say the dialogue of Hamlet the way Shakespeare would have. Ben Crystal, David Crystal’s son, will play the lead role of Hamlet in the play.

You might ask, what’s the difference? There is a big difference, actually. Although we can read what Shakespeare wrote, the way we say it is totally different. Vowels used to be pronounced more like they are in Spanish today. So, all those silent e’s would be pronounced (say the following sentence out loud pronouncing all the vowels that way). I’m really curious to see how the actors say their lines- are they going to try to say them with an accent, or just simply use the actor’s natural accent. I plan on going and I will find out and report it back to you all. This production of Hamlet should be a very interesting one as well as an historic one.

If you’re interested to get tickets for this unique event either go to the Lawlor Event Center Box Office (where you don’t have to pay the wonderful “convenience fee”) or get them online here. The official premiere of the show is November 4th, with previews November 1, 2, and 3rd. The show plays through November 20th.

To be there, or not to be there? Arnold as Hamlet might encourage you to be there in this clip from Last Action Hero!

Illegal Marijuana Cultivation Straining Fish & Game Resources

Via RGJ:

Officials of the Nevada Department of Wildlife report a "tremendous increase" in illegal marijuana cultivation on public land in recent years, with much of the activity associated with violent Mexican drug cartels.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry has said he is open to the idea of sending the US military into Mexico to fight drug cartels:

“It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border and to destroy their network,” Mr. Perry said during a campaign appearance here.

Meanwhile the activity that does happen north of the border, to supply a relatively innocuous substance to a market with no signs of decreasing demand, is increasingly impacting regular people not accustomed to dealing with armed criminals.  Back to the RGJ:

Such incidents by those recreating or working on public land are dangerous, with many growers likely to turn violent, Buonamici said.

"These people are not even in the mindset of dealing with someone who is armed and dangerous and may use deadly force," Buonamici said. "The stakes are pretty high for the folks involved in these grows."

Prohibition is not working.  Production, distribution and consumption of drugs will continue.  Criminal gangs will grow ever more violent.  They will seek to occupy whatever out of the way locations they can find to cultivate marijuana.  That could be the house next door, it could be the national forest down the highway a ways.  People will still want to smoke the stuff.

Rather than spend all the law enforcement resources trying to stop this kind of thing from happening, we should instead stop it from happening in the most logical way:  legalize the cultivation and distribution of marijuana.

Problem solved.

Today in the News – August 18, 2011

A story so sweet it’ll make your teeth hurt:  Surprise, honey, it’s a wedding.

Flash robbing:  The new way to steal?  

Play to pay:  A pissy downgraded L.A. goes from “AAA” to “AA” according to S & P–then fires them as a financial assessor.  I’m sure the $16,000 a year savings will do wonders.

Filling the appropriate uniform:  Some might say he was doing his job by not strapping on the Speedos.

Russia loses telecom satellite, meanwhile, we’re hitchhiking into space!  Oh space efforts, why so grim?

Not a bad idea, Chavez, and when your people decide to get rid of you, they’ll have something in which to rebuild…

…reminds me of what it was like when unemployment was 2%—-it was a little harder to find the right candidate!