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August 29, 2008


It's amazing how many people there are who moan about the lack of participation of younger generations, or for that matter of people in general, without lifting a finger to do anything about it. But what is more amazing is how many of them turn right around screaming "Get off my lawn!" when a few of them have the temerity to show up. Perhaps I shouldn't be so amazed, but then I was born long after the end of the Vietnam war, so obviously no one should take me seriously. The more so if I refuse to play my part and stay at home doing nothing so I can stand at ready for whenever a scapegoat for our problems is needed.

April 28, 2008

Flash Ads

I've become convinced that those flashy blinking ads are designed to drive page hits. How? I just found myself reloading the New York Times web page five times in a row in the hope that I'd get an ad that wouldn't compel me to hold my hand over the screen so I could read the actual content without being distracted.

(And yes, I know there's software to fix that.)

January 16, 2008

This just in: New MacBook Air is for portable computing.


Or well, you'd think it would be "duh."

I'm not big on ultra portables. I use a mid sized MacBook Pro 15" (named Mallory by the way) because I like to have (and well, can afford) one machine that I largely take from desk to desk going from work to home to wherever else I need to be. I'm a large enough guy that carting Mallory back and forth from work isn't ever much of a problem, and making her smaller, even much smaller isn't going to magically solve the ergonomics of using her away from a desk.

So I've watched the complaints that Apple doesn't offer a decent ultra-portable form the sidelines as a somewhat disinterested observer. Ok, I get that for people with desktop machines who use their portables as portables instead of "transplantable" computers might like something super small to take to the coffee shop or the plane or class or meetings or wherever it is that they go when not sitting at their desktop.

So Apple comes out with just such a machine and all those same people, the people who derided the 17" and so clearly don't subscribe to the "transplantable" computer idea, complain that there are not enough ways to tether it down? Honestly? You really want lots of ports so you can park this super, super thin computer on a desk with wires sticking out of every end so you won't notice how thin it is because you can't pick it up without unplugging a bunch of things anyway? You're really concerned that you need to install software on it with the help of a larger computer? Do you really do much installing of software on the road? If you, like me, aren't willing to sacrifice much in the way of power for size then, news flash, you don't actually want an ultra portable. You want a general purpose portable, and congratulations, Apple already sells those in a variety of size-power-price points.

Update: Many people are further making the comparison to the Cube. I think that's deeply flawed as while both machines made compromises on price in order to achieve small size and exciting form factor, many people appreciate those things in a desktop, but few really benefit from them. Anyone who uses a laptop will benefit in very concrete ways from the lightness and thinness of the Air... even if many don't feel the trade off is worth it. I strongly doubt that anyone out there would find themselves buying a computer they otherwise wouldn't because they could fit it on a smaller desktop. There are definitely people out there who would choose to bring a computer with them at the weight and thinness of the Air that would decide not to bring one at all otherwise.

July 9, 2007

Young and Slightly Irked

There's a common theme in discussions about political movements these days. Whether the talking heads on the radio are discussing the war, global warming, or urban poverty and race relations, there's one observation that always comes to the surface: Young people are not angry. "We can't achieve our goals, you see," say the baby boomers, "because unlike how we responded to the challenges of our day, you remain apathetic."

As a politically engaged "young person" I find this a difficult message to stomach. Don't get me wrong. I can't dispute the voting statistics, and it's a great shame that such a small percentage of people under 30 vote. But is our level of involvement really so surprising? Were the 60s and 70s really such an eden of political activity? Did the anger really lead to a lasting revolution? I'm not trying to downplay the achievements of the last 30 years--lord knows I wouldn't want to live in any earlier time--but can you blame the grandchildren of the 60s for their cynicism?

Here's one way to read the lesson: when the baby boomers had a chance to nominate presidents from their generation we got Clinton and W. Baby boomers in power have spent their time dismantling the liberal institutions set up by their parents and grandparents in favor of lower taxes, and the drug policy they've implemented has been a grand combination of "just say no" and just lock them up. The lesson that we've learned about what anger in the streets achieves in terms of real policy change is a disappointing one.

So before blaming the problems we are inheriting on our own lack of political involvement, please take a moment to recognize that these problems don't get solved because they're hard and because they take more than a few slogans shouted in the streets. And also remember that the best way to get "youth" involved probably isn't to repeat over and over "these kids today..." After a while it starts to sound like "We ran out of steam... You fix it."

April 5, 2007

For the last time people:


It's pretty simple people. If you download new DRM free EMI music from iTunes, you must have iTunes. iTunes can read and transcode AAC files, and without the DRM, there's nothing preventing you from converting them into anything you want, sending them off to whatever player or computer you want. There is no way that you could (legally) come into contact with an AAC file from iTunes and not have the ability to transform it to work with whatever player you want.

And for all you people who refuse to give Apple any credit because they are in the business of making money from selling music and have had their hands tainted by the evil DRM: Get over yourselves! If you can't recognize and support a step in the right direction when it's foot comes directly down on the spot where you have your head in the sand, then you deserve to loose the war. I swear, you must be the same people who refuse to vote for democrats because they aren't progressive enough and then complain when Bush wins an election. Go ahead, and go off to your corner to throw your tantrum while the rest of us try to make the world a better place one baby step at a time.


March 15, 2007

A fresh set of bile, episode 2: Hard drive heartache

Subtitled: Brand name hard drive enclosures should last longer than a year.

This is just a short little rant today. The next thing that failed me was my hard drive. I have a little external hard drive. It's the result of the death of my old computer. Shortly before it died I'd sunk some money into it (I mean of course, I did, when else does your old computer die but when you've just put money in to make it last another year). So I took my brand new hard drive and bought an external enclosure for it both to ease the transfer process and so that my investment wouldn't have been entirely wasted.

After a cascade of events, I ended up buying a nice sturdy aluminum MacAlly enclosure for almost $40 at retail because I needed it right then. It worked perfectly for a year and lately I've taken to using the drive to offload things that I want to be able to access on the road but don't need all the time so I can off load in order to free up space on my already full internal drive. Mostly movies, older pictures in my Aperture library (Can I say how much I love that I can now offload the originals of some pictures while keeping low resolution stand-ins for offline viewing in the library? Pop my drive back in and they're all there just as if I hadn't off loaded them.), and a game that I've taken to playing.

While Sasha was here I took some time to offload some more pictures and when she left I decided that to console myself I'd have a nice long game playing session. So I plugged my drive back in and... Absolutely nothing happened. The drive seemed to power on as normal, but nothing I could do could make Mallory (my new computer) give any evidence that she had any idea that a hard drive had been plugged in. No drive utilities could recognize that there was a drive attached to scan.

So I figured either the drive was damaged beyond my ability to repair with the utilities I had or the enclosure had died. So I bought a brand new, cheap, Bytecc enclosure for about $19. It's not quite as pretty, but it's aluminum. It's compact. And it even comes with a very nice carrying case that I didn't expect. Worked perfect right away. No problems with the filesystem or anything. Hopefully this will be the end of my worries, but I still see a second LaCie hard drive in my future.

I'll say it again: A retail enclosure should last longer than a year. It's as simple as that.

March 13, 2007

A fresh set of bile, episode 1: UPS

So I'm back from the fly meeting and ready to dish out a fresh set of bile to the things that have failed me over the last bit. In this first installment we visit how complicated UPS can make delivering a simple little envelope.

My watch broke a while back. The crystal cracked seemingly spontaneously with a loud ping that was heard from four meters away. I really could put Skagen on the list for that, but it's balanced by the fact that I really, really like my watch, so I'll spare them my wrath for now unless it breaks again. (It did mysteriously loose half an hour a couple of days ago...) It was marginally cheaper--if only marginally--to get a cheap temporary replacement and send it in to be fixed than to get a new one, so I dutifully sent in my little box insured with return receipt and waited.

Next thing, I come home to find a UPS 2nd delivery attempt slip on my mailbox. Strange, I never got a first delivery slip. And no information was filled out, so I could only assume that it was my watch coming back. Oh, and it was dated from the day before... So sure enough I go upstairs and give UPS a call and they claim to already have made a third attempt making it too late for me to do anything about it other than spend money renting a flexcar to drive all the way down to the UPS facility in Sodo. So I talk to a representative, and to his credit, he assures me that he can have it sent to my work now, but it's the last chance and they won't even hold it for me if anything goes wrong. One more problem and it's going back to the sender and who knows what I'll have to go through to get my watch back.

So I carefully ask him exactly what information he needs to make sure it gets through the byzantine addressing of the UW to our new building, giving him building name, floor, room number, lab name, department, street address, and zip plus 4, which should have been redundant about five times over to get it to me. He tells me that unfortunately it's after 6:00, so it won't get to me until day after tomorrow. No problem, I think, just so it gets to me and I don't have to shell out any more money or time. Oh, if only...

So two days roll by and nothing comes, so I track the package and there are about a million notices up repeating that "this delay was caused by an error in routing, we're sorry for the inconvenience..." Or something like that. Finally the next Monday, I have a free moment to think about it and track it again and it says that it was delivered to someone with a name I don't recognize (first name only making directory lookup almost impossible) to the "office." Nievely I run down to the departmental office and ask for my package, but no one has seen it or heard of the person who supposedly signed for it. We spend some time looking around the building for someone who might have signed for it, wasting almost an hour with no luck. Finally we decide that it could have ended up just about anywhere in the University. The problem is, I'm leaving at 3:30 AM the next day for the fly meeting, so I'm afraid that I won't be around when whoever received it tries to find me and I'll never see my watch again.

So on the suggestion of an administrator I gave UPS a call again to see if they had any more detailed information and the recording tells me everything that I already knew plus something indecipherable in a non-artificial prerecorded voice. After asking for an operator, I'm able to gather that I'm being told a room number where it ended up in the I wing of health sciences. You know, the kind of information that would have been actually been useful had it been on the tracking information page.

Unfortunately it is a couple minutes past five now, so I run off to see if I can get in to where my package is and I track it down to a relatively high security locked door with a sign saying not to knock but to use the phone, which I do and get the voice mail of the person who signed for my package. Finally luck struck because as I was about to leave someone came by and used her card to get into the door. She was nice enough to let me in and look for the package which, after some searching, we found stuck behind another envelope. So at least the story has a happy ending.

You see, what happened is that apparently UPS decided to leave out half of the information that I gave them from the new shipping label. So even though it still had the street address and room number which should have been enough to get it to me, they became confused and tried to do a directory lookup on me. The problem is that we just moved and it seems that when I changed my address in the directory when I registered for the quarter, that didn't change my faculty/staff listing (which I should have thought of), so they gave it my expired address. How it then got two floors down from my old address instead of someone in the old space telling them that it was probably something for the who used to be there, is anybody's guess as is why they decided to deliver it to a high security area.

I fixed my address listing and I'd like to think that this won't happen again, but then that would be pretty naive wouldn't it?

February 5, 2007


Ok. I love my MacBook Pro (her name is Mallory, she's pleased to meet you, too). She's the best computer I've ever had. Maybe adjusted for inflation the Apple II+ or original Macintosh I had when I was growing up give her a run for her money, but we're talking top echelon computer royalty here. She's fast, she's sleek, she does everything that I need her to do with enough left over that she keeps me looking out for solutions to problems that I don't even know I have yet. And did I mention that she's fast? I've even gotten over the silly "MacBook" branding.

This makes her handful of flaws that much more frustrating. She's so close to perfection! A couple of weeks ago my power cord gave out. Apparently because the MagSafe design requires pins to be held together with no physical interlock, the plug has spring-loaded pins. And springs can fail leading to stuck pins and no power. This prompted me to do a mad dash at a backup before I ran out of power so I could bring her in to the Apple Store folks to get that and the host of minor annoyances taken care of.

So... How is she now after a complete working over (which by the way involved a complete wipe and reinstall so I'm really glad I got through that backup)?

  • Annoying display smudge that was there from day one? Fixed!
  • Annoying "processor whine?" Still whining away as strangely as ever.
  • "Display whine" when not at 100% brightness? I didn't used to have that, but I do now! (It's really soft, though.)
  • Airport reconnecting after sleep? So far so good!
  • Strange Airport lockout after waking from sleep? Again, so far so good.
  • Bent part of the case (manufacture defect, not from dropping her or something)? Only partly fixed, but good enough for me.

    And last, but not least...

  • Failure to go to sleep upon closing her lid after running fine for a few days? As of this evening, a big old not fixed!

Looks like Mallory's going to be taking another trip down to the Apple Store...

December 14, 2006

Bleeding ears

To whom it may concern:

You might wish to note that if--when I'm riding on the bus, and it's in the middle of a wind storm, and the driver is talking loudly to the driver of another bus that seems to be stuck, and I'm listening to music on my headphones--the music you are playing through your headphones is the loudest thing I can hear, then you are playing your music too loud and you probably don't have to look any further for the reason why you've gone deaf.

November 29, 2006

So cold... So, so cold...

Ways that I know that it is far colder and drier than any self respecting Seattle weather pattern should aspire to be:

  1. It hasn't broken freezing in the shade two days running.
  2. My electric heat is working full time to keep the temperature five degrees below the set temperature.
  3. I've turned on the heat in the bedroom for the first time in two years.
  4. I'm wearing my fleece and my east coast blizzard worthy parka.

    And most of all:

  5. For two days running when I've swung my messenger-bag around to the front to sit down on the bus, the static electricity generated by it as it rubs along my coat has bee sufficient to generate audible crackling in my iPod earbuds.

It's not that I've gone soft... It's just... disorienting!

November 21, 2006

C Class Citizen

Southwest has decided that they are not interested in my business. They informed me today that there is no way, short of my coming to the airport 24 hours ahead of time, for me to get anything better than a "C" seating designation: The group of half a dozen or so people who got last minute tickets and are all guaranteed to have only middle seats available to them.

The problem is that I'm on the Watch List. Normally this is just a mild inconvenience. I've never had any extra security screening or hassles once I've got my ticket, they just tend to insist that I see an actual person to check in for my flight rather than using a computer. Seems a little silly since I'm going to show my ID anyway, but not a big deal. Sometimes this means extra delays, but the people at Continental just told me in that case to get in the 1st class line and tell them that I'm a selectee. Works for me.

Southwest, however, bases their seating on when you check in, giving priority to those who check in online ahead of time, something they will not allow me to do. Naively, I assumed that since this is a problem that has been going on for several years now, and every ticket agent that I've ever dealt with has expressed frustration and sympathy about it, helping me to navigate my way through, that the Southwest ticket agents would have a way around this obvious problem, making me an exception since I had no other choice. Not so. They even seemed a bit put out that I asked about it, telling me "You know you're on the Watch List, right?" and acting as though I should just assume that flying would be a painful experience no matter what airline I chose or what I did.

But if I really was a security risk, how would forcing me into the middle seat help anyone? Not a bit. Seat assignment is irrelevant. They just want to check my ID but don't want to take the effort to design a system that would allow me to get in line for a seat without completing the check in process. I mean how hard would it be to just give me a number when I tried to check in saying that I had started the process of checking in, but simply needed to do one more thing at the airport to finish it. Viola! Now I'm treated like a normal person except for the fact that they need to verify that no, I don't fit the profile of whoever it is that is making things suck for Michael Boyles everywhere.

I don't mind a little sensible inconvenience in the name of security, but do not force me into permanent second class status because you're too lazy to adapt on your end.

November 14, 2006

It’s just chai

Chai means tea, people! You can't say "chai tea." Especially when you're on the radio and doing a segment on trends in tea. I don't mean to be snobby, but this one just bugs the heck out of me for some reason. If you must qualify the word "chai" because you are worried that people don't know that it is a style of preparing tea, at least say "chai style tea."

August 21, 2006

Another Grumbly Etiquette Nitpick

I like to hold doors open for people. It isn't a men holding doors open for women thing, it's a basic human politeness thing that I do for both men and women. You see doors are often heavy and no matter your gender, if someone lets one swing closed too close to you it breaks your stride as you have to either wait for it to swing shut or reach in to wrench it open while its momentum is working against you. My problem isn't with people failing to open doors for me, it is instead with the people I open the doors for.

You see, like I said, doors are heavy, so once you open a door for someone, you are at their mercy. Either they can, as they should, take the door from you and continue in after you (holding it open for the next person in line behind them if necessary) or walk on through. If they choose to just walk on through, unless you want to potentially maim them by letting the door swing closed, literally, in their face, you have no choice but to keep holding the door. And if someone is behind them nine times out of ten they will simply follow through the door as well. I've literally been forced to stand holding a door open as a dozen people stride through, not all in one group, but all in a line with no gap large enough to let me safely let go of the door.1 I don't really care about the people following. It is human nature to do whatever the person in front of you does, and I'm sure that I've done the same many times. But that first person should know better.

Today the woman who did it to me did something odd. As she passed through the door she lifted up her arm as if she was about to take the door from me, and then, just as her had was perpendicular to the door so that if I had let go it would have slammed painfully into her outstretched fingers, she dropped her hand back down. It was as if she knew that she should offer to take the door from me, but didn't think for a moment that there was any possibility of me taking her up on that offer.

It is true that most often the people who do this to me are women, so possibly they are misinterpreting my actions as an old fashioned etiquette thing of gentlemen holding doors for ladies. Still, do you really think that I have nothing better to do with my time than stand there all day holding the door open? Like before, the thing that really bothers me is that there is no consciousness of behaving badly. I'd feel much better about it if the person just barged through with a "hey, you gave me the window, I'm taking it" attitude.

1 Incidentally I'm almost always carrying something when this happens.

August 10, 2006

Morning, grumbly nitpicks

Ok, it's a little thing, but come on. When you are walking down the middle of an empty sidewalk and you encounter a small group of people coming your way, you politely move to the right to give them room to pass to your left. It's just considerate. And when the guy at the front of the group who has plenty of room to his right, comes up to you, he should move slightly to his right so that you can pass.

What he should not do is walk blithely on ahead, forcing you to move even further on to the curb because he is too self absorbed to move six inches to his right into the empty sidewalk.

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