Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ain Soph, Unity or HOW DO I BUILD THIS PARADIGM?!?!?!?

So this is going to be a somewhat meandering post on paradigm in the new Mage20 rules, the meaning of belief and why being a student of occult in the real world can make playing Mage kind of complicated actually.  My situation is as follows:

A friend of mine who has a lot of background in Mage is going to be running a Mage campaign and I'm going to be one of his players.  I am doing something I almost never do and building a character based in large part on myself.  I generally avoid this because it can cause a lot of issues in game, but as a pagan and at least a basic student of several occult studies I really wanted to see how my real life paradigm/beliefs worked in Mage.  It seemed like a dynamic I would never get to play out in any other games.  So I'm trying to make my characters personality very distinct from myself, but his beliefs are roughly based on my own beliefs.  This is where things get tricky.

I am not a high ritual magician.  I just am not, and I never will be.  I think most of that pomp and circumstance is just ridiculous.  However, in terms of my belief systems which I more or less worked out for myself in high school Kabbalah/Qabalah really strike a serious chord with me.  I like the abstracted and universal themes that lie within.  So while I don't practice a very Golden Dawn/OTO style of practice/contemplation/meditation I do use almost all of the concepts in high magickal systems in my practice of finding pattern in and understanding the world.

Things aren't tricky yet.  So most high magickal texts that I've found really focus on the sephirot, and Gematria, and the intersection of Qaballah with other occult practices and isn't that lovely.  I only care in as much as those practices are wonderful ways to see how all is one.  The process of seeing that all is one is the first major step to accepting that all is nothing.  This is represented in the Tree of Life generally as Ain,  Ain Soph, and Ain Soph Aur.  In 777 these attributes which exist above and beyond the sephira are described as:

000 Ain: Zero Absolute
00: Ain Soph: Zero as Undefinable
0: Ain Soph Aur: Zero as basis of possible vibration

The first kabbalistic text I ever read was "The Essential Kabbalah, The Heart of Jewish Mysticism" by Daniel C. Matt.  It was a completely non system book.  It was written to describe the philosophies of Kabbalah from an entirely Jewish standpoint in prose.  So no charts, no Gematria, and a hefty helping of narrative.  It explained Ain Soph quite elegantly.  I'm going to retell that story here from memory and as I go parallel it into the World of Darkness.

In the beginning there was absolute light everywhere.  This was not the light we know which is a distinct thing that exists in discreet pieces and wavelengths.  This was the divine light (quintessence in Mage terminology).  It was everything reality could be, every physical, mental, spiritual, etc. form that could exist all at once everywhere at once.  It was everything and nothing, and it filled all of existence.  This was magnificent, but also uniform.  There was no differentiation at all.  Now this light was not just the work of the divine, it was the divine.  At some point for whatever reason, perhaps a plan, perhaps boredom, perhaps a reason that discreet consciousness is incapable of comprehending the divine light retracted from the universe.  It didn't cease to be, it just pulled away from existence and only darkness was left in it's wake.  The divine light was the pure ones.  In fact identifying the pure ones in the plural would run very counter to my Mage's paradigm because in the beginning there could be no division at all.

So the next step in creation was that the light re-entered existence.  It didn't fill it completely this time though.  It emanated into 10 spheres and filled the spheres like water fills cups.  Taking on the form of the spheres and thereby differentiating itself from itself.  These 10 spheres were the sephira of the tree of life.  Now for those who have studied Kabbalah the spheres emanated in a particular order, duplicating themselves as they went, but for the purpose of understanding my views on Ain Soph and my struggles with defining a Mage paradigm based on those views that detail isn't important, so here we go.

The initial divine light is Ain Soph Aur.  While it is everything, everything is nothing.  As it is not distinct it cannot be a 1 or a 2 or a 3, nor can it be some irrational cousin of those numbers.  It is everything, and because it is everything it is nothing, but the potential for all vibration and pattern exists within it.  Until the discreet emanation happens though it is nothing.

The blackness is Ain Soph.  It is undefinable.  With the universe empty of the divine light, even for an indescribably short period of time (which time itself couldn't exist without the emanation) you cannot define what this blackness is, and ultimately it is the same as Ain Soph Aur for even that void is the result of the retraction of the undifferentiated emanation, and so couldn't have a context without the divine light of Ain Soph Aur.

Ain is . . . well absolute.  This is where the fun really starts.  I have never found a good explanation of Ain, and I don't think I would find any written explanation of Ain satisfying.  I think the best we can do is define what the search of Ain is, not Ain itself.  Ain is the nothingness that we seek to understand.  It can only be understood by returning to it, for to be discreet is to be unable to understand nothingness.  It is the reminder that no matter how far we've come in understanding nothingness because we have discreetly explained it to ourselves we don't understand and should therefore keep seeking.  It is about accepting the completely infuriating fact that you have chosen a impossible goal, and it is worth working towards because it is impossible.  The tension between our desire to attain it and it's unattainable place will likely do one of two things.  One, we will snap under the pressure of it impossibility and stop striving, two we will be driven mad by our quest and go down the path of the unending drive for money, will, emotional bliss, purity of thought, etc.  Down this path lie conquerors, CEO's,  Union Leaders, Cardinals, Aleister Crowley . . . wait did I just list the same thing 4 times?  Oh yes we were talking about nothingness and unity so I suppose I did.  There is a third option though.  It is the least likely option by far, but it is the one we're going for as will workers.  This is the option of the Buddhist.  It is not the goal, it is the path.  It doesn't mean you don't have a goal, but you let go of your connection to the goal and merely walk the path the goal defines because it is the path.  Now I haven't reached Nirvana, so I can't exactly explain the purpose of walking the path when the goal doesn't matter, but it's makes sense to me.  It really always has, even when I didn't realize that it made sense.

So from these three concepts extrapolated from this story we see a shape of the path form, but we don't truly understand what the path or paradigm are yet.  We must now look from the unity of nothingness and everything down to the emanation.  Now while I described the emanation above I want to avoid using any of the terms above here.  The purpose stops at the emanation itself before we see what the emanation is in terms of defining my character's paradigm.  It doesn't matter what we see in the emanation, what we say Ain Soph Aur emanated into, what it's shape is, what it's resonance is, whether it is good or evil, active or passive, or any other attribute we can ascribe to it, or them.  It merely matters that the emanation is.  When we stop here we see the absence of all paradigm.  We haven't defined anything that is actually definable other than perhaps the beginning, but of what we do not know.  This ignorance is important, we must lean into it, we must embrace it and we must internalize it.  We must let the absoluteness of it wash away any shame associated with the idea of ignorance, and then when it has almost destroyed what we are as individuals then we let it pass through us and allow the emanation to complete.  Now the emanation will take shape.  However, the shape doesn't matter.  The fact that it has a shape is important (not really, but as we are finite it is important to us), but what the shape is has no meaning.  The reason for this is we create the shape.  All magickal systems are constructions of human language, mathematical language, perhaps even universal natural language for some more primordial practices that allow us to express the unexpressable.  They allow our wills to reach into the unexpressable and shape it, forcing the vessel that contains the divine light to bear the shape we will.  The structures and forms which allow our mind access to the universal tapestry is meaningless.  It is that which resonates with us, and as we move closer to enlightenment we will move between foci and interfaces to Ain Soph more regularly as the realization of their meaninglessness moves from a thing we tell ourselves to a thing we actually understand and resonate with.

So here is my problem.  I don't want my character to believe in paradigm.  I mean there are some scraps of structure and pattern that loosely hold together his belief in Ain Soph, but he even believes that those are lies he tells himself to allow his human mind to wrap itself around some degraded abridged version of truth.  He often forgets that the scraps of pattern are lies because he is human and imperfect, but I imagine him living in Chicago and regularly eating hot dogs on buns with ketchup on Friday because being profane against 4 great religions isn't enough, so ketchup it is.  He does this thing because it's ridiculous, because the ridiculousness reminds him that all things sacred are a crystallization of belief and a distraction from Unity, and because we are not profane to be disrespectful, we are profane to remind ourselves there is nothing to disrespect other than a translation of something that cannot be translated.  To top it all off, or to be the cherry on this sundae of paradimatic abstraction he was once head hunted by the Syndicate because of his PhD in Economics.  The Economics thing ties into his paradigm in that he is a touch obsessed with emergent properties of systems that seem to be self creating.  That gets into his views of emanation and the more concrete portions of the kabbalah that have to do with the Sephira which I have avoided here, it works in my head.  If he has a goal he wants to get back to the great work big picture physical world type of workings that the Freemasons were pulling off during the founding of America.  A lot of good came from those workings, and the founders clearly had deep ties to what would now be considered Hermetic paradigm, and the foundations of much of the Technocratic societal paradigms.  He wants to rediscover the unity that has separated the tradition and technocratic paradigms.  I'm likely to give it to him as a driving goal flaw, as clearly it's never going to happen.  Still he dreams.

So now that I've written all of this it strikes me that maybe I need to just pick 9 completely different foci, from 9 completely different existing paradigms and assign those to his 9 spheres and call it a day.  Maybe in game terms that's as close to a "system" for this paradigm as I'm going to get.  I'll still post this on FB to see if anyone wants to comment on it.  It's been burning a hole in my skull since I first started thinking about this guy.


Monday, September 10, 2012

A Dark Balkan Beginning

The first game of the Vampire campaign went very well.  Because the beginning was an intro to the world and the initial embrace it flowed a bit like a video game opening cinematic, but I warned my players that would happen and that it wouldn't be the norm.

The game opened with a little back story on how they were being prepared for the embrace ritual.  I explained that they had been chosen and given the opportunity to  become Gods like those they had worshiped their entire lives.  Over a month of preparation they learned at least a little bit about what would be required of them once they became "gods" but honestly the important things were not shared.

They were cleaned and prepared in fine ritual robes and taken to the central court of their vampire lord.  There several vampires and Mages held court and watched the ritual, but 5 specifically walked forward and took part.  They were drained of all of their blood to the point where they were dead, but the last thing they remembered was some of each of their blood being collected in a chalice.

Then in the vague way you see things through the eyes of your dying soul when it is untethered enough to see but has not yet left your body the 5 vampires collected their blood in a chalice and the lord walked down and added one drop of his own  blood.  While the other vampires' blood was thick the lord's blood looked practically solid.  The very nature of whatever allowed it to move at all obviously not of natural origin.  When it touched the other blood on the chalice it merged and flowed and became as the other vitae.

The blood was then given back to the players now dead corpses.  As with all embraces they rose at the first taste, but were left in a state of extreme hunger.

The court watched patiently as their bodies died and they suffered the agonies of first creation.  When it was complete a group of humans were brought into the court in irons.  They were introduced as those who had earned the death by committing crimes against their fellow man.  The players were all held tightly and made to face one of the prisoners while bits of their human blood from before the embrace was splashed onto their faces.  The smell of blood, even their own drove them into frenzy as they were only given enough vitae to fuel the change.  Then they were released on the prisoners.  However, they were not allowed to completely kill the criminals before them.  Something powerful in the core of their  blood was brought alive and pulled them back from frenzy.  Somehow they were all aware that this power originated with their king.  When they pulled away the vampires that made them moved in and the king spoke more words of the ritual.  He spoke of the beast and death.  His voice rang out in the hall and cried for the beast being so driving and so infernal that it can be summoned even by the scent of ones own humanity.  He looked at the players, almost as if into all of their eyes at once and told them that the chained rabid thing in their gut is their beast.  It knows not love or compassion, it knows not right or wrong.  The beast knows only hunger and rage.  The criminals which lie before them bleeding onto the court's floor are here to die, but they had not rended their throats out of justice or what was right.  If they had killed those before them the beast would have taken a part of the vampires with them as it is always want to do.  Death and killing are part of the world, but the beast must never be allowed to fuel those drives.  Then their sires finished the criminals off in a cold calculated manner that, if anything was more unsettling and alien than their previous blood frenzy.

At this point in the ritual the corpses of the criminals were removed and the players closest human companions were brought into the court.  The players characters were each put in front of their particular loved one and the king began speaking again, this time about the creatures they had become and the power and responsibility that they assumed as a part of that transition.  Now it was time to understand the eternal nature of their new existence.  Then their sires walked up behind them and staked them.  After an eternity which both lasted for a time beyond agony and was only a few moments they re-awakened with the same loved ones in front of them, only 10 years had passed.  A teenage son was now a middle aged boy, and a pregnant wife now stands with with her 9 year old son by her side.  The ritual progressed from here with the characters being bound through the blood to the one thing in their life which both ties them to their lingering humanity and reminds them of the alien things they have become.  The players are offered their closest loved ones to keep as ghouls.  So that they could each have someone to walk with them through the long night ahead who can understand them, but who will give them a link to the mortal world they have left behind.

Their loved ones had been offered a special place standing eternally by the side of a god, and could hardly refuse.  They they were all prepared for this moment.  After their human companions were bonded to them the ritual was ended and they were taken from the hall and shown their new home, and told of the valley in which they all now live.  Their first task would be to go down into the courtyard where the gypsy's were setup and gather information about the outside world.

The players went to the gypsy camp and each of them spoke with someone different.  While the gypsies had a relationship with the king of this little mini kingdom they obviously did not hold him in high regard.  Many of them were dismissive of the Lord's goals, which were revealed to be the recreation of the balance of the first city.  After quite a bit of discussion and investigation one of the childer heard strange voices coming from one of the gypsy's wagons.  He asked to look inside, but was refused.  The sire who had accompanied them assured the childe that there was nothing to worry about.  Though none of the players nerves were settled by that assurance.

They took the news of a coming war, and unstable times back to the king, and then proceeded towards their first day of sleep as new vampires.  Though one of the childer was not satisfied with the dismissive approach of just assuring them that the unsettling voices they had heard were nothing to be concerned with.  The players confronted the sire who accompanied them to their sleeping chambers and asked again what they had heard.  When it was apparent that the young cainites would not be content to sit by and accept what they had been told they were informed that they had heard several names of the dark mother.  They were told briefly of Cain's time in the darkness after the first murder and that he was taken up and cared for by the first woman Lilith.  It was in her arms, and under her tutelage that he had come into his dark powers.

This satisfied the players and so they thanked the elder for his forthrightness and retired for the day.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

From the Dark Ages to Modern Times an Experiment with Elysium and Inexperienced Players

So I'm going to be making some role playing blog posts here on occasion.  No promises about how often.  There are some other blogs that I post to and I only have so much writing in me from day to day, but I do want to post the larger events in my chronicle to this blog.  So first my concept and how I came up with it.

It all started with the current season of True Blood.  The story about Lilith and the vampire "Authority" got me thinking about Elysium games.  For one thing much as I'm happier with True Blood's treatment of vampire society this season than previous seasons I still find the overall story lacking.  I blame White Wolf for setting an unrealistic bar on this front.  I want the Lilith mythology in True Blood to be as rich as the mythology of Cain murdering his brother out of love and then twisting the power of God back around on himself as a curse for what he had done.  I know not everyone reads the Book of Nod in this light, but I very much see the Noddist texts and the nature of Golconda to point to a mythology where God was actually totally ok with what Cain did.  After all, it's a rather epic sacrifice.  However, when he continues to offer Cain access to the kingdom of heaven Cain's own guilt warps the offerings into curses.  Either that or God is so put off by the fact that he has lost the individual who gave him the greatest sacrifice imaginable that he decided to curse Cain instead of bless him, but he gave him a way out if he can overcome his own guilt.  Between that and the role the Dark Mother plays in the creation story and the end days there is a richness filled with deep psychological torment and complexity that would make Poe blush at least a little.  I really want that from True Blood, but while they are creating a ground breaking excellent vampire story if you look at TV history it's no Black Dog buffet.

So that brought me to wanting to run an Elysium campaign.  Now I've always been very apprehensive about the idea of an Elysium game.  You give players that kind of power and they are bound to run amok with it.  Much like a good Wraith game you need players who are willing to dig into the story and aren't going to power monger.  You also need a storyteller who can out think all his players.  The last time I really played vampire I was in mid college and I wasn't nearly good enough at storytelling to do that kind of wrangling.  However, I am now 30 (at least for a few more days) and I have an end times Mage chronicle that lasted over a year under my belt where at least one of the players wanted to take the story in a completely different direction than I or most of the other players did for at least 80% of the chronicle.  I felt like on a basic skill level I could handle an Elysium game.

Awesome, so that's one barrier down.  Now for the larger barrier.  I'm not playing with experienced White Wolfers.  My partners have both played a little bit of White Wolf since meeting me, and two of the other players in the campaign only have a Changeling game with a little over half a dozen sessions as primer in the WW universe.  If I tried to jump into an Elysium game none of the good plot twists would ring true because the players don't have the lore knowledge to make any of it make sense.  They are a talented, mature excellent group, just without lore context.

So I got to thinking about that problem and thought it might be interesting to play out the entire life of a group of vampires.  You could slowly build up their understanding of Vampire society.  It's also a fascinating opportunity to create organizations that are completely unique with a complete set of "errenous assumption", because let's be honest every group in the World of Darkness has their own set of assumptions about what is right and true, and they are ALL wrong.  White Wolf was very clear about that one fundamental element of the world from the beginning.  It was never your side, my side and the truth, it was 500 different sides on a slow day and a truth that no one ever actually understood but each storyteller could craft for themselves.  That's what I have always loved about the game.

Ok, so now I had a rough framework, what was I going to do with it?  I wanted the game to involve major meta lore, so that when the game moved into a modern Elysium style setting I could easily engage with major WoD events and have the players understand what was happening, and I had to figure out how to pace a game like this.  The solution lied in the basic campaign model as described in the White Wolf books, that ironically very few people adhere to.

A chronicle in the WW model is a series of stories.  Where each story has a conclusion, comes with extra experience and gives an opportunity to start a new story and take the chronicle in a different direction.  So I thought each story could be a time period moving forward through history.  The waypoints along the way could change based on inspiration, the direction the players take the story in etc.  Each time the chronicle moved forward in time they would be given a chunk of experience that would represent the accumulation of power represented by the "Age" background in the Elysium book.

All that was left was establishing the first setting.  Choosing something truly iconic in the history of the Vampire experience, but doing so without going so far back in time that I'd be dealing with Elders who's only place in a modern context would be Gehenna.  After giving it some thought and pouring back over the Book of Nod and reading the Erciyes Fragments for the first time I decided that a recreation of the first city was in order.  A city where man and vampire lived in harmony, and where vampires were worshiped as demigods, though they seek no worship.  It goes against written cannon, but is hardly impossible that an elder survived from the first city and sought to re-establish that ephemeral Utopia again.  It would be a naive act, but elders can be shockingly idealistic and silly when they put their minds to it.  So the game is set in a recreation of Enoch, hidden in a valley in the Balkan mountains.

The players will be raised to live symbiotically with humans.  Not exactly "mainstreaming" as the trendy kids are calling it these days, but also hardly the debauchery of modern Kindred living.  While I wouldn't describe the results of this little experiment as being devoid of evil I wanted to create something with an idealism to it that will hopefully rub off on the players.  Then as time progresses and they move into the world they will have to interact with and adapt to more pervasive Cainite norms. 

I would love to post more details about my plans, but the first session hasn't happened yet, and I don't want to put anything in here that the players shouldn't know.  I will hopefully be posting summaries of the games themselves and occasionally putting up NPC docs, and maybe even PC stat sheets and back stories.  I'm definitely curious about what people think of the chronicle as it unfolds.

Friday, October 14, 2011

I am the 53%

I have had very little given to me in my life, the one exception was I had an incredibly generous aunt who paid my tuition and boarding through college but nothing more. I could have taken out loans to live the party life other student did, but I didn't. I survived scraping together cash for food, and the incredibly expensive supplies for my metalsmithing projects. When I graduated I worked hard to support myself, my husband and other friends who found themselves in the kind of need I had been in earlier. I’ve saved more money for retirement than anyone I know within 10 years of my age, and I make considerably less than the majority of my friends. I am the 53%. Here's the thing though. I don't think 90% of the people who identify with the 53% should HAVE to have struggled the way they have. I'm not talking about handouts, I'm talking about figuring out why college tuition has gone up %439 since 1982, while average family income has gone up %149 and fixing it. I'm talking about why an hour of work is worth so much less today than it was 30 years ago and fixing it. I'm talking about a world where working 2-3 jobs isn't seen as normal. I'm talking about a world where politicians see it as their job to FIX these problems. I have read as many of the letters posted on the 53% website as I can get through, and I want you to know that when I take action trying to work towards the same goals as most of the 99% movement I'm working towards a world where the 53% live a better life, specifically the portion of the 53% who are posting here and on the tumblr site. I want you to know that even though many of you don't see it this way I will keep fighting FOR YOU to live lives that are appropriate to your contribution to society, because that's the world I want to live in, and that is ultimately what the 99% are working towards. I know the responses to this post will likely not be pleasant, but I will not just look away. I will read them, and I will keep fighting for the 53% as well as the rest of the 99%. I will read the comments to try and understand where this response comes from. I hope that at least some people here will read this and seek to truly understand where the protests are coming from as well.


UPDATE: The 53% facebook group made sure I didn't have to see any ugly responses. They have taken down my link to this post twice.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Best Comment I've ever seen!!!

I wish I could take credit for this, but I can't. It was posted by "Jim" at http://www.courierpress.com/polls/2011/mar/gayamdmnt032911/results/ Enjoy.


Dear Indiana legislators who are trying to pass this, Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them:

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15:19- 24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? - Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted fan,
Jim

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why Chrome OS Won't Fail from Someone who Won't Use It

Hello All. I have not posted in a while, but all the talk about Google Chrome OS has gotten my brain churning. Everywhere I look I seem to run into one of two types of people. Type 1 is the Chrome OS nay sayers who claim that if it doesn't run games, or doesn't run native office apps, or doesn't do this that or the other thing that it will fail completely why would I ever give up anything my computer does ever?!?! In my personal opinion these are the same people who purchased netbooks early on and then were furious . . . FURIOUS I say that they didn't do everything their desktop did and returned them. Simple fact: Windows and Linux netbooks saw higher than normal computer return rates early on when people didn't understand them, then those return rates dropped as the lightbulbs turned on.

Type 2 seem to be people who think that Chrome OS is going to completely re-invent the computing paradigm and change everything forever. These are the same people who likely rang the death knell of traditional notebook sales when we saw the $199 EEE PC. Amazingly netbook prices have increased, with the average being around $300-$400 and traditional notebooks came down in price to deal with the reality of the market and seem to be surviving quite nicely.

So that leaves us with Chrome OS, and will it "succeed"? In my personal opinion it will. I will also not use it. At least not till it has been through several iterations. It does not meet my needs as a user. The only reason it does not meet my needs is that I run Xubuntu quite nicely on my netbook. If I ran Windows on a Netbook let me tell you the right marketing campaign and a quality demo experience would likely move me to Chrome OS. Why you say? The reason is simple. Netbooks aren't full computers. They were never meant to be, but they come with the bloat that is Windows for simple tasks. Netbooks are meant to be get work done, play simple games maybe, run some chat programs. That's all they are, that's all they were ever supposed to be. As people have gotten used to them and their expectations have come in line with that reality we don't see the constant returns, and people are using them for tasks they are suited to. If everyone were technically adept, and Linux had great marketing power and didn't have HUGE regression issues every release (I'm looking at you Ubuntu. I love you, so why do you hurt my hardware so. What did it ever do to you?) then plenty of people would run Linux on their netbooks. Linux doesn't have any decent marketing people behind it, and at the end of the day there are still hardware regression issues with every release. Without getting too far into that issue right now those issues are built into the decentralized Linux development model. You build drivers into the kernel, and you're going to have breakage. You have breakage on Windows as well, but then the third party can just release a patched driver that works with the new windows and you can download it. While not everyone does, and that causes some consternation, the third party hardware developers who choose to have that option. On Linux as an "End User" (definition of end user. NOT WILLING TO COMPILE THE KERNEL. DEAL WITH IT ZEALOTS) you have to wait for the next version of the OS which will come with new breakage. Yay, what a lovely development cycle that is. You also often have to install a new version of your OS to install new versions of popular applications in the distro supported manner. Compare this to the years of new application support that comes with every Windows release. It wasn't till Vista was almost out that I saw any applications that wouldn't run on Win2K. That's worth something.

So here comes Chrome OS. Fewer regression issues because it's completely developed by a centralized company. You don't have to wait for a new version of the OS to install updated applications. In fact you don't have to install them, they are updated automatically in the cloud, and you don't have all the overhead of Windows for the simple tasks people want to do with netbooks. This is a recipe for success. So why am I not going to use it you ask? I am not going to use it because I don't use my netbook like a normal netbook. I do audio editing in Audacity with it, I do accounting on documents that I can't ethically store on external servers, my husband does webcaming on it, which while available through the browser from Google isn't quite where he wants it yet. I am not the target audience. The target audience is a brand of consumer that currently runs Windows, hates how slow their Netbook is because they just want to chat, surf, check e-mail, and maybe play an online game or two, but isn't comfortable with "Linux".

In summary, Chrome OS isn't going to please a lot of the people who write about bleeding edge tech, which is why it isn't getting great reviews right now. It also isn't going to replace anyone's Windows/Linux/Mac workhorse machines. It is going to bring the things that make Linux good for netbooks to netbooks, while clearing out some of the deadwood that has kept the masses from adopting Linux. It is also going to cause Linux distros and Microsoft to look at how they were not serving this market and perhaps improve their offerings. Microsoft has already done it in response to the original Netbook craze. So Chrome will fill a niche that is being poorly served right now. It will likely do it well enough to be a lasting product. It's not going to take over the world, and as with most of Google's product that doesn't seem to be their aim. They are more interested in products that shape the total market into something that is better for them to sell ads. If MS and Linux redesign their products in such a way that makes the Intenet a quality enough experience that Chrome OS isn't necessary, and everyone uses the Internet more enthusiastically on their existing platforms has Google really lost?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why Windows isn't Ready for the Desktop (Well Some of them Anyway) and Linux is (Well Again Some of Them)

I have read a lot of posts about why Linux is ready for the desktop, and why Windows isn't. I think they tend to miss the fact that Windows WILL always be better for some people. Yes I said it, Windows is the right choice for some people, I would go so far as to say lots of people. It is however, the wrong choice for a lot of people, and then there are people like me where it is the right choice for some machines, and some machines it just makes no sense on at all. So I'm going to detail why Windows isn't the right choice for the machines I run Linux on, and finally why Windows is the right choice for the one machine I run it on.

Windows is the Wrong Choice:

Reason 1: One Size Fits all Software

I dislike a LOT of windows software. Office being at the top of the list. Surprisingly my issue with Office has nothing to do with Office itself. It has to do with all the other mainstream office productivity options on Windows. Works is a JOKE, WordPad fails as a text editor because it's written to work like a word processor, and fails as a word processor because a complete lack of features. WordPerfect is just as bloated and monolithic as Word, and OpenOffice is close behind. The large packages aren't bad programs, they just tend to be like breaking a 1.4 in dowel rod with a planetary laser for me. I want applications that are appropriate to the scale of my task. When I was a student I needed to be able to write basic papers for class, something AbiWord can accomplish quite nicely. I don't want a bunch of other software overhead slowing me down, especially if I'm not using the features. This applies to graphics work, as well as audio editing and a variety of other tasks. Now many of the open source programs I know and love are available on windows, but they involve the windows GTK libraries, and then I get back into that overhead thing. On Linux those libraries are what's running the OS, and as they are loaded anyway program initiation is snappier, and so is execution of the program itself. I am also still locked out of most QT driven applications on Windows. I know KDE is working to fix that, but even once all of KDE is ported to Windows you will still be left with a lot of overhead because you're loading up enough libraries to run a whole desktop environment on top of windows just to run a few applications. Not my idea of efficiency. So for most of my machines I will stick with the platform that gives me a variety of quality applications for the tasks I do. While Windows might run the most popular applications, I think I will always find those applications to be too bloated for my purposes.

Reason 2: Lousy Network Support

Yes, you read me correctly. Windows has lousy network support. What I mean by this is Windows just doesn't support the protocols I want to make use of in my home network. The big one being SSH for file sharing. What do you mean Windows doesn't have SSH support you say? There is a wide variety of EXCELLENT applications to log into your secure FTP server in windows. That is technically accurate. Thing is I don't want SFTP. I want SSHFS (SSH File system. Think your SFTP setup as a mounted drive). I do not like running Samba. My authentication options are limited, and once I log in as one person to my SMB file server I can't login to another directory on that server as a different user on the same windows machine.(Before people start screaming and yelling, I am talking about Windows home. I don't feel I shoudl have to out the cash for their business offering for my home network) I like being able to give multiple users their own personal space on my server, and they know that no one else will be able to get to their files, and know that if I am logged onto my personal directory my partner isn't going to have problems logging on to their directory with their authentication without restarting our main desktop computer. It seems like a reasonble thing to be able to do. With Linux desktop clients I can have this setup and working flawlessly in . . . oh wait it works flawlessly by default. I found a program that supports SSHFS on windows. It requires .NET. When I downloaded the .NET installer I discovered it's one of thoes stupid installers that then downloads the actual program. I don't know who came up with that idea, but it makes me all sorts of sad. So this program hung repeatedly and would not install .NET. Then there was another program that it depended on, and installation was a huge pain. In linux I use apt-get and everything is taken care of for me. There is also this method which needless to say takes a touch more setup than in Linux. I want to be able to run a home network that has robust username options without any meaningful work. Again, I don't think I'm asking for much. On a final note for this one, if I port forward my SSH server through my router I can mount this drive anyway. If I'm not on my local subnet samba WILL NOT work, no matter how much I might like it to. That's kind of a HUGE reason to use SSH instead of samba, which also leaves me needing a desktop environment that will play well with SSH for mountable file sharing.

Reason 3 Easy Installation and Rapid Upgrading

While I don't necessarily like reinstalling the OS on my computer, and I know a lot of people who wouldn't even be willing to try it with Linux I like the fact that I know every 6 months significant if incremental improvements are going to be made to my desktop environment. Shove application updates aside, and I know they are a lot of distro upgrades each new version of the major distros include improvements to the underpinning of the system. Since August 24th 2001 to November 8th 2006 there were 2 service packs to Windows XP, and they were really just stability and security fixes. Patches the lot of them. There has been one service pack to XP since Vista came out. Compare that with a new Ubuntu every 6 months, and similar release cycles for many other distros. These releases add percevable improvements. While there were regression issues for a while associated with the limited testing forced by this rapid release schedule, but you always have the option of running a slightly older system and waiting for them to fix the regressions, which is certainly a better option than just not having your system updated for over 6 years, and then having it be such a dramatic update you don't know where anything is. Some computers I don't update for extended periods of time, and others I refresh every time a new version comes out, and I like knowing that is my choice.

When I look at the reasons I stay with Linux I am struck that the philosphy that keeps me away from Windows is design that inherently inhibits choice. Now I have heard lots of arguments about that being one of Windows strengths. End Users don't want a ton of choices, it confuses them. I actually agree with that principle in many ways. If you look back at what I have listed I deal with lack of protocol support that isn't MS protocol, lack of quality applications to fit different market segments, and forcing users into sudden major upgrade changes because they can't be bothered to do actual incremental UI releases. There are choices for multiple levels of applications on Windows, it's just only the top tier ones get the support necessary to create a quality application. If Windows didn't get a single new application, but many of the applications that aren't aimed at high end busienss users got more spit polish and quality attention this would be fixed, so I'm not talking about having a million configuration options and 50 desktop environments. I'm just talking about having software quality even if I don't want to drop hundreds of dollars for the full office suite. Which by the way is not because I'm a cheapskate like all open source people not willing to pay for software. I'm willing to pay for software, but if I'm only using 10% of the features I want 10% the software, and 10% the price. That model works in other industries, it should work in the software industry.

Now, with all of that said, Windows isn't all bad. Much as I prefer Linux for basic desktop and web work at the end of the day that's not all computers are used for. I will list the mighty reasons the computer attached to my television in my living room still runs Windows. WoW and Hulu. I have a computer plugged in exclusively for entertainment purposes, and sadly it has an intel graphics processor. Problems with the latest versions of latest X server have caused WoW to be a royal pain, and destroyed video performance. My attempts with various fix tutorials have failed. There is a history of various bugs with WoW on Linux, so I stick with Windows. Every now and then I drop in a Linux install and check to see if performance has improved. I suspect as these are my only remaining reasons for staying with Windows that in another version or two things will change. Till then Windows still wins the entertainment center battle.

On a final note I do have to give Windows a few props. It is a decent operating system, and when the world was Windows vs. Mac won very much on it's merits, much as the die hard Mac people might disagree Mac before the X was . . . well there is no way to be polite about my feelings there so I'll just leave it at that. Now OSX is in my humble opionion a superior system, but not as superior as the price premium you pay. Apple is ok with that. They have enough market share to make them happy, and for some companies being in the luxury business is the place to be. I say bully for them. I don't buy anything "because it's luxury", so I'm just never going to be a Mac owner. I buy on affordability and being able to easily do what I WANT TO DO. What I want to do isn't what everyone wants to do. I'm sure most end users couldn't even make sense of my reasons for caring about the network options I care about in a home environment. That's fine. I'm also sure most people don't care about the fact that they are paying for an extra gig of ram just so office doesn't feel sluggish while they write the next 1-2 page paper that's due. Those are not concerns everyone cares about, and quite honestly I don't begrudge them not caring about it. Linux is a GREAT system, and unlike so many hard core Linux geeks I don't care if eveyone uses it. All I care about is that we make it accessible enough to get enough market share that game developers start releasing for Linux, and hardware support is more ubiquitous when new hardware comes out, and maybe we don't have to worry about regressions so much because more consumer companies are supporting Linux instead of leaving the drivers to larger projects that have their own priorities (I'm not ripping on you guys, I know there's a lot in the kernel/xserver/whatever and you can't stop a release every time Intel performance slows or one particular web cam stops working.). Once we get there as far as I care Windows can have the rest.