Mark Kellner's Log

Sunday, March 03, 2002
No Low Prices, Please, We're Idiots...
The Sunday New York Times letters to the editor page contains the following example of breathtaking stupidity:

Saving at Wal-Mart, but Paying a Price

"To the Editor:

"Your Feb. 24 front-page article about Wal-Mart and its 'single note — low prices' is a good reminder that practically nothing has so harmed this country as this fixation on price and price alone, with no regard for the collateral damage.

"When the world consisted of small shops and peddlers, seeking the lowest price was practically harmless. Now, however, enormous financial resources have done their utmost to exploit the private automobile and ultraporous zoning laws to bring artificially low prices at the expense of endless sprawl, big-box architectural pollution, the desertion of downtowns and a fatally high-energy lifestyle. One can only conclude that price has become a drug and that we are an addict nation.

"Troy, N.Y., Feb. 24, 2002"

Here's a response, from yours truly --

Dear Mr. Simms,

Perhaps the sub-zero temperatures occasionally visited upon Troy have damaged too many of your brain cells, but in your screed against the forces of free-market capitalism, you ignore the following:

(1) Not everyone has the vast quantities of disposable income you must have in order to disregard prices as you advocate.

(2) If Wal-Mart didn't offer "lower prices," someone else would -- at least so long as this remains a free society and a free market economy.

(3) The "addiction" you allege is nothing more than common sense: As Prudential Securities analyst John McMillan put it in the article you fault: ""Whether you're rich or whether you're poor," he said, "everybody wants a bargain."

Get off your high horse, fella, and rejoin the rest of humanity.

Mark Kellner

Monday, February 25, 2002
Wanna buy a good laser printer, for not much dough?

I like the Samsung ML-1450. A lot. Click on the link below to read my WASHINGTON TIMES column on this subject.

Samsung's ML-1450 prints flawlessly, fast, quiet

But be warned -- the link will "die" after seven days. during the seven days it was active. Sign up by using this link to send an e-mail in order to receive my column via e-mail AND have access to my online archive.

Sunday, February 17, 2002
Washington Times Column: Buy PaperPort 8.0, Consider the Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical,/b?

You could have read my column about these topics by clidking on this link:
Put PaperPort 8.0 on your buy list

during the seven days it was active. Sign up by using this link to send an e-mail in order to receive my column via e-mail AND have access to my online archive.

Tuesday, February 12, 2002
A smart answer to the nutty Chris Patten

Christopher Patten, the last governor-general of Hong Kong who is now a commissioner of the European Union, delivered of himself a load of garbage last weekend in attacking U.S. foreign policy against terrorism. Mr. Patten has met his match in a writer for The Times of London. Click on the link below to read it.

Times Online

Mr. Patten's basic argument is that the U.S. needs to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" with the mush-for-brains crowd running such sharp anti-terrorist states as France (where the shoe-bomber Richard Reid got on a flight for Miami) before declaring war on the "Axis of Evil."

It's sad how Mr. Patten, a crusader for human rights as Hong Kong prepared to be assimilated by China, has lost his bearings. As Kevin Kline famously said in "A Fish Called Wanda," "If it wasn't for the United States, you lot [the Brits] would be goose-stepping and eating Wienerschnitzel."

Monday, February 11, 2002
Ah, La Belle France home of "Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood"?

Let's not be so sure. The French are trying to impose their own versions of "hate speech" laws on not only free expression in cyberspace, but on innocuous ones as well, such as an auction of memorabilia from the Nazi era. (I say innocuous not because I support fascism, but because stamp collectors have had Nazi-era stamps for years, and I don't know of a single philatelist who turned into a Nazi in the process.)

Check out this story from The New York TImes (link may require you to register at their site, for free) and see how you feel.

French Decision Prompts Questions About Free Speech and Cyberspace

Warning! Klez.e Virus Is Back, And More Harmful

If you don't have enough to worry about, check out this news story -- and make sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date!

Klez worm reborn as nastier version - Tech News -

I've received about 8 copies of the new worm, all of which were blocked either by my anti-virus software or by Outlook 2002. You should take precautions, and you should do it now.

Get a sample of my radio show

Just click here to listen to an excerpt of my program, but be sure you have the RealOne player from Real Networks first.

Do you miss the weekly "Hand-Helds" column in the Los Angeles Times?

Two weeks after dropping the weekly "Tech Times" section, today's issue of the local dog trainer (c.f. Harry Shearer) features a review of two new handheld computers. The review neglects some key facts, in my view, and, in my view, ignores some key questions about the merits (or demerits) of the items under consideration.

At the risk of bragging too much, I believe my weekly "Hand-Helds" column, written for 18 months in the paper's pages, did a better job of examining issues, particularly since I'd been the Editor-in-Chief of PC Portables magazine and had a long experience with the devices. If you are one of those folks who would like to see better hand-held computing coverage in the fourth-largest daily newspaper in the United States, please send an e-mail to business editor Bill Sing and tell him, politely, of course, that you want to see the column return, and that you would like them to hire Mark Kellner to write it again. Thank you.

Maybe those Washington Times links last longer

A funny thing just happened, I clicked on the StarOffice review link below and -- presto! -- the article appeared. If you want to read my comments about open office software, click on the link. If it doesn't work, send me an e-mail and I'll send you a copy.

Looking for a good inkjet printer? Read this review

Epson Stylus C80 excels as single printer

Please note, however, that the link may be valid ONLY for seven days from posting.

Tuesday, February 05, 2002

Mr. Berlind raises an interesting point, but I believe it's only valid in part. Standards are good, but standards alone aren't enough. You need products and services that meet consumer/user needs, and you need them to do what a majority of consumers want, consistently. That's why, for example, Microsoft Office and Microsoft FrontPage dominate their fields. I had to do some quick revisions to my Web site yesterday (Monday) afternoon. I struggled with several options until I fired up FrontPage, imported the existing site, made my changes and republished it to the Web.

Now, is FrontPage perfect? No, it's not. Could there be things improved? Yes, I believe so. But rather than merely embracing standards (which any HTML editor should do, theoretically), FrontPage goes beyond to make using those standards easier. When and if I find something better, I'll use that.

So it's not just standards that are enough -- it's "standards plus." I would submit that the same applies to larger-scale applications, such as the Oracle application server Mr. Berlind describes, or a large accounting system or whatever. Being based on standards can make data available to other apps, but it's the implementation and enhancement of those standards that will win in the marketplace.

In any event, I'm glad that Mr. Berlind is not willing to hide behind the skirts of Congress when fighting it out in the marketplace. Would that more Americans felt that way!

What do you think? Click here to send me an e-mail.


In an e-mail sent to David Coursey and me this morning, Mr. Berlind clarifies his position:

I am not for legislation. I just said that if people think that's the answer, they should write their congressperson... and maybe we can intermediate ourselves in the process (to get some eyeballs). Congress is hopeless. I don't see it as a viable option though. Better to deploy standards-based technologies (a standard to me is something that many products conform to, creating the "comply with standards, compete on implementation" market paradigm). That way, it puts the buyer in control and the buyer can vote with their dollars. The money will always gravitate towards the best solution, as long as you're free to move to it (which you're not if you entrench yourself in proprietary technology).

[Oracle Chairman Larry] Ellison made this point in his keynote at Oracle Open World when he admitted being late to the game with a J2EE application server. Talking about how IBM and BEA were leading the market, he said he knew he was late, and had to come up with something faster, more reliable, more secure, and cheaper. So that's what he asked his engineers to do, and then they delivered 9iAS. In his words.... I knew I had to be better. If I wasn't, then you would just take me out and replace me with BEA or IBM. That's what standards enable you to do.

Monday, February 04, 2002
Check out my weekly WASHINGTON TIMES COLUMN here, but be warned: the link may only be active for seven days!

StarOffice 6.0 due in spring, for free

Do we NEED Congress looking out for software users? I don't think so!

On Monday, February 4, 2002, I was a guest on David Coursey's C-Net Radio show, and discussed the view by David Berlind of ZDNet that the government should legislate better software production -- or at least provide useful ways to sue for damages when a program harms our business. I disagreed, and here are some additional comments I sent both Davids (Course and Berlind) after the show:

Thanks for having me on today; it was fun. Let me reiterate: I share David Berlind’s enthusiasm for better software, fewer bugs and even – metaphysically, at least – some way to “get back” at those who force cruddy programs on us.

HOWEVER, I am rather adamant that using legislation to do this is not the best solution. The process takes too long, is too susceptible to undue influence (will ZDNet hire a lobbyist to go toe-to-toe with Microsoft’s people? Or Oracle's?), and then sets up a tort system that could take years (or decades) to resolve a given case.

Moreoever (and, David Coursey, you may remember this), the legislators themselves are overly dependent upon their staffs and as such can make horrific screw-ups in drafting legislation. I’ll never forget the Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on Open Network Architecture that was held years ago on the Hill; I covered it for MISWeek.

Fritz Hollings showed up for an initial statement and left as if he were being chased through the Carolina hills by a revenuer who saw moonshine in his car. That left one Senator, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, to listen to the eye-glazing testimony of Eli Noam from Columbia U., Irv Sidenberg of Nynex (now Verizon) and some others.

Finally, Inouye, no slouch as a legislator or as an American (he lost an arm fighting for the U.S. during the Second World War), drew himself up and addressed the assembled telecom experts: “Gentlemen, you need to get together and work this out yourselves,” he said. “Because if you don’t, we’ll have to step in, AND WE HAVE NO IDEA OF WHAT WE’RE DOING.”

This was a rare moment of candor, to be sure, but it underlines a truth: why do we (particularly we journalists who’ve seen tons of government screw-ups) expect government to solve really tough problems such as software design and manufacture?