I’ve not touched a computer in two days, and it wasn’t so bad. Probably the best way to describe it is to say that I suffered an extreme case of Information Age Backlash. Driving home in sluggish post-rush hour traffic a few days ago, I discovered within myself a sense of revulsion and dread for my usual at-home routine, the first step of which is to sit down in front of my computer, sign on to the Internet, and check for any e-mail that may have arrived during the 40-minute drive home.
So I simply didn’t. And that was something new.
Many people lament our dependence on modern conveniences. Chief among said conveniences are computers and the Internet. It is not often that I’ve counted myself among the lamentors. I am, in fact, passionate about technology, but not so much passionate about people. The unfortunate side-effect of my technological fanaticism is that modern technology is geared toward connecting me (and has connected me) with more people.
Honestly, I didn’t think I could get away, even for a few hours. There was work still to be done on database software I was customizing. I regularly receive between 50-75 e-mails per day from various people and mailing lists to which I subscribe. I surf the Web constantly in search of everything from daily news to compact discs to the latest software bug fix information. The Internet has become as much a part of my life as eating and sleeping, but for once, I didn’t want to feel so connected.
So I simply didn’t. And I learned a few things about myself and my world in the process:
I learned that the two trees that sit atop the hill on the property I’ve owned for more than a year are walnut trees, and for some reason it pleased me to know that.
I learned that it’s been a long time since I sat back and really listened to a CD, and was surprised to find that I missed doing so.
I learned while exploring the small town in which I am constructing a home that I’m not as dispassionate about people as I thought, and that many of them are downright friendly when you’re talking with them face-to-face instead of through the electronic glow of cyberspace.
But most of all, as I sat down at my computer for the first time in two days to write this piece, I learned that I am still passionate about technology, even though I feel the need to break from it from time to time.
We are all wrapped up in it. We check e-mail. We surf the Web. We try to keep up with software and hardware changes that seem to come so rapidly. Yet with technology, as with everything, there are times when it’s best to stop and draw a few deep breaths.
Do I lament that technology is so much a part of my life? Not a bit.
And what will I do the next time I feel revulsion at the thought of checking my e-mail, the next time I suffer a severe case of Information Age Backlash?
I simply won’t check it. It will still be there when I return.
Taking stock in Linux
You’ve heard it a thousand times. Perhaps you’ve even thought it yourself. “Boy, if I’d bought stock in IBM, Apple, or Microsoft way back when, I’d be a rich man today.”
Tech stocks will put you on Fate’s patented Wheel of Financial Windfall and Ruin. But if balancing risk and reward thrills you, consider a new offering.
Red Hat, the most popular distributor of the open source Linux operating system, announced earlier this month that it has filed to go public, according to reports at news.com, a technology-oriented news site. The report indicated that the company will trade on the NASDAQ under the RHAT ticker symbol, and is hoping to raise about $96.6 million.
Aside from being another indicator that Linux is a rising star in the OS market, Red Hat stated in its filing that it is facing significant risks by going public. One of them is whether Red Hat will draw criticism from the Linux community at large out of fear that the company may be attempting to become the Microsoft of Linux. Another is that the Linux kernel (the operating system’s core component) is actually developed by Linus Torvalds (its inventor) and a team of programmers outside of Red Hat, over whom the company has no control.
Red Hat officials added that they plan to expand its services to encompass large companies on an enterprise basis. The company sold more copies of the Linux operating system than any other in 1998. (The OS, by the way, is also freely downloadable over the Internet from a variety of vendors, Red Hat included.)
So you have this open source programming project and you want someone to fund it. To whom do you turn?
Surprisingly enough, for ActiveState Tool Corp., a company that bases its products around Larry Wall’s Perl (Practical Extraction and Report Language) programming language, the answer is Microsoft.
For those unfamiliar with the terms, “open source” refers to software in which the source code is freely available to the public. Microsoft’s source code for their products, on the other hand, is proprietary and closely guarded. The Open Source Movement has traditionally been a Microsoft enemy. Last year, the bad blood thickened when internal Microsoft memos describing ways the software giant could defeat open source were leaked to advocates of the movement.
Perl, a free programming language, has become useful for bridging gaps between data and Internet users. It can be used to create general database-searching Web applications or for something as simple as sending form information to a Webmaster. According to news reports, Microsoft has recognized Perl’s value and is looking to “improve” the way it functions with the Windows operating system through work with ActiveState.
The plan sent up red flags among some in tech circles, who accuse Microsoft of attempting to add proprietary features to Perl that could make applications written in the Windows version incompatible with other operating systems. (Similar accusations not long ago prompted Microsoft to revise the Windows version of the Java Virtual Machine, which is responsible for interpreting Sun’s Java programming language on a variety of operating systems.)
In spite of the fear, a spokesman for ActiveState said in an ABCNEWS.com report that the changes and improvements to Perl for Windows will be made available via an open source license. However, at least one new technology being incorporated into ActiveState’s work will not be open source, according to reports. That technology is Microsoft Install (MSI), a new installation method for Windows NT.
Silicon Valley: The Movie
The books, magazine and newspaper articles, and essays detailing the success stories of both Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs are innumerable. Finally, on Turner Network Television (TNT), we’re going to be able to watch those historic events unfold with our own eyes.
Noah Wyle of television’s ER plays Jobs and ’80s movie nerd Anthony Michael Hall (Sixteen Candles, Weird Science) plays Gates in TNT’s presentation of Pirates of Silicon Valley. The movie is meant to detail the rivalry between Jobs, Gates, and their respective companies. It debuts on TNT June 20 at 7 p.m.
If nothing else, the film (if historically accurate) should be interesting for those who don’t know the stories. Apple Computer’s history of ups and downs is a particularly interesting tale when told well.
And one cool little promotional feature for the film on TNT’s Web site is the Wealth Clock http://www.tnt-tv.com. It allows us plain ole mediocre folk to see exactly how much the computer moguls are worth at any given moment. We can see their net worth increase or decrease to the very second.
Is it accurate? Who knows? But on Sunday night, Jobs was worth about one-tenth of Gates.