Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Slick Idea

OK, this is petty, but I've had a problem with 'schmutz' gathering on the nylon slides on the underside of my mouse. This makes the mouse movement a little jerky (even with my optical mouse), and requires that you stop occassionally and scrape it off.

Here's my solution: a little furniture polish on the underside of the mouse. Put it on a paper towel first and apply it only to the slides: avoid getting any on the LED section. This keeps the mouse cleaner longer and improves its usability.

Much better!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Lambourghinis and Hondas

On ZDNet recently, George Ou recently posted a shootout of Excel vs. OpenOffice Calc, and Microsoft predictably came up looking pretty good on performance (the only measurement George seems interested in). He later posted an example of a thoughtful response to the shootout.

Here's my response: Of course, I use Word as example rather than Excel, but I justify that by saying that one does not buy Microsoft Excel... one buys Microsoft Office and Excel is just a component.

A Lambourghini Countach is unquestionably a higher performance machine than a Honda Civic. Nevertheless, many companies purchase fleets of Hondas for business use, and not one company of note has purchased a fleet of Lambourghinis for the same purpose. The very same business customers you cite as preferring to pay for performance would scoff at the purchase of the superior automobile as a frivolous waste. Why is that? It's because business purchasers know what you evidently do not: that your argument based on pure performance is pure rubbish.

The applicable business measurement is not, nor has it ever been, pure performance. The applicable measurement is price/performance. When the price side of that ratio is zero, then the performance side must be appreciably better to justify the expense of a competing expensive product.

Taking a few seconds longer to save or load a document is a petty measurement at the most charitable best... You spend more time mullling over punctuation than you spend waiting on the document.

especially when measured against the frustration and time wasted by such MSOffice "features" as its tendency to "accidentally" reformat paragraphs, requiring lengthy manual re-formatting. This, btw, has never happened to me in OpenOffice.org with its superior use of paragraph styles and character styles (which don't appear in MS Office at all).

Considering that the time wasted by correcting just one or two lengthy Word documents is more than compensated by the increased load and save times of every OpenOffice document I've opened in my five years of using it, the /overall/ performance of Word looks damned shabby.

"Good enough" is exactly that. It's the difference between the Lambourghini and the Honda. Lambourgini will never match the sales of the Civic through improved performance; there's not enough speed in the world to overcome the price difference. With OpenOffice, price is zero and performance, like the Civic's, is good enough. Microsoft is not going to regain my business through a superficially flashier interface or through petty improvements in load time.

So far Microsoft's been riding the wave it created when competing against similar commercial products. Now, savvy managers are starting to do the calculations whereas before they simply purchased Office without thought. Now, if you want Microsoft Office, you'd better be able to justify the purchase with substantial benefits.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

You might be a Redneck Jedi if...

These kinds of jokes have been around since long, long ago. I've got gobs of them on my jokes page. Here are some updates inspired by Episode I:
  • you've got a rolled-up attack droid half-buried in your front yard ... and you've painted it white.
  • you think it's OK to use Federation landing craft to flush game.
  • you've ever used your lightsaber to gig Gungans.
  • you've ever said, "It's about damn TIME Amidala got married! Hell, she's nearly FIFTEEN!"
  • you think Watto's Junkyard is an upscale establishment.
  • you started hitting on offworld women before hitting puberty.
  • you've ever borrowed a starship and then tried to pawn it to bet on a race.
  • you've got at least one racing pod up on blocks in your yard.
  • your favorite pod racer's name is "Dale".
  • you think "Demolition Pod Racing" is the next big sport.
  • you've ever left the body panels off your protocol droid because, "I'd just have to take 'em off again to adjust somethin'."
  • you've ever been told your midichlorians are off the scale and you responded, "yeah, I thought I was weighin' in a little light."
  • you've ever used a double-barreled lightsaber.
  • you've ever bagged a Sith Lord and then bragged about the number of points he had on his rack.
And from Episode 2:
  • you've ever hopped on a camera droid to take a joy ride.
  • you're in a bar in Coruscant and somebody offers you some stim sticks and you say, "No thanks, I'll stick with the Marlboros."
  • you think that Dex's diner is an upscale restaurant.
  • you think Dex's waitress is hot... for a droid.
  • you break off a chase to have a beer in a Coruscant bar.
  • you've ever taken your classy girlfriend to a shaak pasture on a date.
  • you think that shaak tipping makes a pretty good date.
  • you're so inbred that all your relatives share EXACTLY the same DNA.
  • you think Jango's a wuss 'cause he doesn't carry enough guns.
  • your name is "Bubba Fett".
Still workin' on Episode 3.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Zillions of Games

I've "discovered" a nifty new program: "Zillions of Games". I'd say it's a collection of games, but it's not limited to that... it's a general engine for running almost any conceivable abstract board game. The program includes an AI (artificial intelligence) capable of running and actually playing any game you can specify in the language.

"Language?" Sure! The commercial version of Zillions has doesn't just come with dozens of games... it doesn't stop at providing you access to over a thousand more free games on the Zillions-of-Games website, either... it allows you to specify your own games as well. For about $25 you get a complete game authoring system; just add your favorite paint program. This has got to be one of the stand-out best values in commercial software.

To test it out, I implemented Eugene de Wolf's game, "Qui Vive" (not related to the commercial board game of similar name). Two hours after having gotten my registration key I had playable copy of the game. That's not an exaggeration, either. I've implemented this thing at least a half dozen times in various languages, and it's never been this easy. You simply define the board & pieces, define the moves, and define the winning conditions: the Zillions AI takes care of everything else, and it doesn't play half bad, either. If you live in the Windows world, I suggest you try it out (I'll be checking it out in Linux under WINE shortly).

Zillions can be downloaded as a demo that allows you to play a number of games. Purchasing a key on-line unlocks all of the game features. Oh, and if you want to try out Qui Vive, you can get it by clicking on the graphic or click here. It requires a purchased copy of Zillions to run, but you can check out the source code (it's in the 'qui vive.zrf' file).