Cassini

MSNBC has an awesome slideshow of photos taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft of Jupiter and its moons. I especially like the one of the lava flow on Io.

Ebert Editorial

Roger Ebert on the two different kinds of prayer.

Because our enemies are for the most part more enthusiastic about horizontal prayer than we are, and see absolutely no difference between church and state–indeed, want to make them the same–it is alarming to reflect that they may be having more success bringing us around to their point of view than we are at sticking to our own traditional American beliefs about freedom of religion.

Rhapsody Buy-out

Looks like RealNetworks may be buying Listen.com. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I haven’t been of fan of Real in the past but the recent open-sourcing of Helix makes me optimistic. Maybe they will open-source the Rhapsody client.

Vinge on Localizers

I thought I had posted this Wired article by Vernor Vinge about embedded networks and localizers but I couldn’t find it in the archives.

The embedded networks make use of two new technologies. The first is the localizer chip. Think how much mechanical and electronic ingenuity was once needed to determine the position and orientation of objects. There were thousands of clever, awkward tricks for this: corner reflectors, inertial guidance systems, sonar and radar ranging devices. The global positioning system of the 20th century works well where you need only approximate locations (and have satellite access). On the other hand, localizer chips use very-low-power wireless transmissions and simple time-of-flight computations to determine accurate positions of neighbors. This information can propagate across the embedded networks. And so we have a uniform software solution to almost all location-finding problems.

The result is an explosion of applications. Physical objects become as easy to track and control as software structures in a computer program. People used to joke about the “innate orneriness of inanimate objects.” Now objects are ornery only when there’s an attack or a system failure – and then they can be downright deadly. But most of the time, they cooperate with one another and with us. The dream of home robots is realized. In fact, every time we recall some old futurist dream, we should think how it fits into the world of embedded networks and localizer chips. Some of the old goals are suddenly easy to achieve; others are laughably irrelevant.

The recent hoopla about RFID tags reminded me of it. I wondered if RFID tags are a step towards Vinge’s localizers and it does look like some people(PDF) are thinking about it that way. A Deepness in the Sky, here we come.

Microsuck

2003 And Beyond
Highly cynical and speculative article on how Microsoft plans to make its customers’ lives a living hell.

Microsoft simply cannot allow inroads on Office’s market share, yet the high and increasing cost of office, especially in view of License 6 has many businesses looking very hard at Sun Microsystems’ low cost StarOffice and its “no cost” sibling, OpenOffice. Both run on Windows and Linux, and OpenOffice is being ported to Apple Macintosh. Both have excellent compatibility with Microsoft Office files, and native integration with XML.

Microsoft is also having a very hard time getting users to upgrade to the latest Office versions. Office 97 has long been replaced by Office 2000, which in turn has been replaced by Office XP, yet a huge number of Office users are still on Office 97 and show no signs of upgrading.

Microsoft’s answer to both these problems is Office 2003 (formerly named Office 11), currently in beta release and scheduled for final release in mid 2003. Office 2003 features a degree of tight integration with other Microsoft products that is impossible for other software vendors to achieve. It is also a degree of tightness Microsoft’s customers will find nearly impossible to escape once committed. These features will be required by .NET and other Microsoft initiatives.

Office 2003 and Windows Sever 2003 will include a Rights Management Services feature for document security. If Microsoft can convince businesses to use this feature, Office 2003 documents will be completely unreadable by OpenOffice / StarOffice, WordPerfect Office, Lotus, and by all older versions of Microsoft Office, forcing a total upgrade of Windows, Office and the computers it runs on.

Office 2003 will not run on Windows 95, 98, 98SE or Me. Microsoft is very clear that it will run only on Windows XP and Windows 2000 with SP3 applied. Currently over 60% of Microsoft’s business customers are still running Windows 95/98, and would have to purchase all new computers for an XP upgrade – new computers soon to be obsoleted by Longhorn and Paladium.

Note that applying SP3 for Windows 2000 requires you to accept a license that allows Microsoft to enter your computer systems, examine their contents and make changes without your knowledge or permission. Some companies are refusing to apply SP3 even though it includes important security patches. The Windows XP license also includes these terms.