Archive for November 2008
I’m writing this in Firefox as a test of the Zemanta plug-in I installed a few days ago. Zemanta takes your plain old blog post and recommends images, links, and tags/labels for inclusion in the post.
It took me a minute to figure out how to it works. It loads straightforwardly and it looks simple enough to operate, but the recommendations weren’t changing. I finally realized that you have to click the Update link to get the plug-in to reassess its advice. Maybe there’s a timer involved, but I’m too impatient to recognize that if it’s there. Oh, wait – there it goes. Yeah, there’s a timer.
You can choose to apply all recommended links, or any subset of them by clicking once per recommendation. I did that for “timer” at the end of the last paragraph. When you add a link with the Zemanta interface, the plug-in also appends the code to make that button at the bottom of this post.
That’s easily deleted if you don’t want it. I don’t use tags, and if I want a link, I usually already have it in mind, so for me the test of Zemanta’s utility is the image recommendations, and this post isn’t a good test for that. I’ll watch it for a week or two and report back.
NASA has installed a water recycling system in the International Space Station. In testing now, it will recycle all waste water, including and especially the astronauts’ sweat and urine. It’s the Stillsuit Mk I. (Hmmm, no Zemanta recommendations for “stillsuit”.)
I found some footage of early testing of ground-based prototypes on YouTube. Take a look.
The client whose Mac Pro I inadvertently took out also had me move her laptop from Mac OS 10.4 to OS 10.5. That went better, at first. Yesterday, she told me her laptop started to act as if it were a new machine, asking for user info, and ended that sequence with a string of random letters and numbers.
That sounds like a kernel panic to me, which is troubling, but she told me that everything worked fine after she rebooted, so I’m going to ignore that for now. Her laptop has no crucial role to play or data to keep safe.
Alex covered the problems we had in upgrading his laptop the same way. We performed an Archive and Install upgrade there, which I hoped would avoid any problems.
You read his post, right?
He doesn’t mention the most bizarre aspect of his problem. The upgrade archived his own user, an admin account, but left two other users (with only user permissions) active.
We were left with a laptop that had no admin users at all, and because we had no admin privileges, we couldn’t create admin accounts to enable us to retrieve his archived admin user. Quite the catch-22.
Fortunately, Apple provides clear instructions for this sort of problem and Alex could get his old user account back by logging in as a root user. There are a few ways to do that, all explained at Apple’s site. In the end, as Alex explains, all he had to do was reinstall some applications.
I’m disappointed with Apple. Sure, these last weeks have ended with no harm, but a lot of time and effort has gone into solving these problems, and even though I’m paid handsomely for some of that time, I feel guilty about it. It shouldn’t happen. I hope Apple hasn’t jumped the shark, but I’m seeing signs of that if I look closely at all the small issues that have cropped up in Apple products over the last two years. I suppose the first sign was the iPod battery fiasco, which first cropped up in 2003….
Bonus golf clap:
Bravo, bicyclist on de Maisonneuve west of Decarie yesterday afternoon around 2:00. Sheer genius (and that time is it meant to be sarcastic).
See that bike path on the left side of the street (it’s one-way traffic)? Why weren’t you using it? Why did you bike for at least two and a half blocks to the right of the cars, forcing them to slow down and veer left into the bike path to pass you?
Clap. Clap. Clap.
What is it with bicyclists and drivers in Montreal? Bicyclists are either lazy or stupid, but traffic is stuffed up most places and drivers are getting antsy. I can say with no exaggeration that once a day I see cars turn from center lanes in order to avoid lines of vehicles waiting to turn legally. Particularly troublesome spots seem to be at Isabella turning onto both sides of Decarie Blvd. and the ramp onto the Decarie Expressway at Sherbrooke. Of course, all Decarie onramps are madhouses of multi-lane merges.
Clients of one sort or another have in recent weeks asked me to to move them to Leopard, a.k.a. Mac OS 10.5.
I’ve performed three upgrades in total, and all three have fouled up. The only constants in the three installations have been me and Leopard. Considering that I’ve successfully helped clients move to many varieties of OS X with no problems before, I am left to conclude that the problem is Leopard. Ah, but I get ahead of myself.
My first client had two Macs to wanted to migrate to Leopard, a 3.0 GHz Mac Pro desktop and a laptop of some sort. I set to work on the desktop first. I chose simply to upgrade the system (from 10.4) instead of using Archive and Install because… – well, because it’s supposed to work fine and it’s faster.
Upon rebooting, I immediately spotted a problem. The beautiful 30″ Apple display had scattered horizontal lines of multicoloured pixels – not enough to render the screen unusable, but certainly not normal. Additionally, there was the odd wedge of colour gradient, as if a single giant coloured pixel were being spread out with a butter knife, and polygons of white and black.
These artifacts screamed video card problems to my experienced fight or flight response. I chose to fight. I did a bit of Web research and learned that the ATI X1900XT video card inside that 18-month-old Mac Pro does not play well with Leopard. Apparently, Leopard taxes it so much that it overheats.
Things slowly got worse. The screen locked up once. The Mac hummed and whirred along just dandy, but the cursor and everything else on the monitor was locked solid.
I leapt into action. I turned off Quartz Extreme, to save the video card some cycles. I installed an application that lets you manually set fan speeds, to keep the inside of the machine cooler.
That worked, for a week – but the display would lock up more frequently and finally would freeze immediately after booting the desktop. I went back at it this morning and the first thing I did was call Apple’s tech support. The chirpy yet sympathetic woman on the other end of the phone at first didn’t want to help me because the hardware was not covered under AppleCare (my client, upon spending $13,000 on two top of the line systems 18 months ago, had decided to save a few hundred bucks and not buy the AppleCare three-year warranty). I pointed out that this should be covered under the 90-day software warranty period that came with my purchase of Leopard. She agreed.
First, she asked me to zap the PRAM. I’d done that a week ago, but I did it again to humour her. Then she had me boot up from the Leopard DVD: the display froze, but the computer was working because I could “click” on highlighted buttons with the return key. The last thing we tried was another monitor, which showed the same problems. My tech guide created a case file for me, gave me the case number, and told me to take the Mac into an Apple Store.
She didn’t tell me that I needed to make an appointment at the Genius Bar to take the Mac in, but an Apple Concierge gave me the next available appointment. I would only have to wait 45 minutes. When I explained the problem and my diagnosis, she told me that she’d seen that a lot. I dropped off the Mac, grabbed a slice and a gingerbread latte, and headed back.
My Genius hooked the thing up to peripherals and agreed that the video card was fried. He started it up with OS 10.4 on an external drive, and it still showed artifacts. The video card was well and truly fritzed and we needed a new one, which he could sell me for $450 or so. He said he thought the Leopard upgrade and the video card failure happened at the same time coincidentally. (Is that turn of phrase redundant?) I told him there was no way it was a coincidence.
This Genius (and I don’t mean to sound sarcastic) went off to consult somebody or something and came back and told me that Apple would replace the video card for free. I was hoping for and half expecting that to happen. Apple will install a newer model of the faulty ATI X1900XT video card and guarantee it for 90 days. I would have preferred an equivalent Nvidia card, but this is acceptable.
What’s not acceptable is that this must by now be a known fault, but the official chain of Apple tech support is not aware of it. Apple should offer the free replacement video card as soon as the problem manifests. Ideally, Apple would recall all Leopard disks and/or prevent Macs with the earlier ATI X1900XT from moving to Leopard, but those really aren’t feasible approaches.
I have two more Leopard horror stories, but I’m tired. I’ll post them in the next note.
I’ve been under the weather, fighting a death-cold and Elvi’s absence. She’s in Brussels. It’s less expensive for her to fly to Brussels a pay for two weeks’ accommodation than it is to pay to use a scanning electron microscope (SEM) at McGill. She can use the Belgian SEM at no cost as long as its owners get co-author status on her paper. Nuts, eh?
As a result of my virus-besieged body and three kids who always seem to need to be different places at once, I’m a little ragged. I chatted with Elvi over Gmail last night. She was also a little ragged, but that was because of the Belgian beer they sell in gay bars.
Child Three tried out his new goalie gloves at practice Friday. It’s like those gloves are magic, because he was fantastic. Part of it may be that he looks more like a goalie now, but I was shooting on him and not taking it so easy. He made some brilliant stops on my shots. Two or three times I thought I had the puck by him only to see him rob me with a flash of pad, blocker, or trapper. It was worth the $200 just to see that.
I also tested his throat shield with a wrist shot – no, not on purpose. I was aiming over his shoulder and was off a few inches. The shield works, by the way. He’s still able to talk, and to breathe without artificial assistance.
We played two games this weekend. In the first game, we got a goal in a first period in which Child Three stood up to and at times slid in to several good scoring chances. He was eyebrow-raisingly good. He saved that game and broke the other team’s morale. They gave up in the third period and we won 6-0. That score doesn’t indicate how crucially well Child Three played.
The Sunday game was an easier victory, 6-1. The one puck that beat Child Three was a great shot by a kid skating right and picking the left corner. No shame in that one.
The rest of our team isn’t doing too badly either.
There’s a spider missing from an experiment on the International Space Station (ISS). NASA doesn’t know what happened. The obvious answer – cannibalism – can be ruled out because spiders don’t eat prey but suck out their juices and leave the victim’s husk behind. There’s no evidence of that happening.
There’s something else missing from the ISS: a bag of tools, explained in this report:
Astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper claims that a container of lubricant had leaked in the bag and she lost it while trying to clean up, but is that a cover up? Maybe a spider in her purse scared her and she flung the bag toward the sun in panic.
I hope that’s what happened, because the only rational alternative is that there’s a mutated space spider out there that can escape enclosures (at best) or teleport (at worst), with a bag of sophisticated tools and an entire planet at its mercy.
A report that one astronaut could be heard yelling, “I’ve had it with these motherfucking spiders on this motherfucking space station!” has been neither confirmed nor denied.
I used to have a vague recollection about a TV show I remembered from my childhood. Not until I was working on some blurb for Netsurfer Digest was I able to focus the memory. It was “The Banana Splits Adventure Hour“. The show went off the air when I was four and a half, so it’s no wonder my memory was hazy.
While I was working on Netsurfer Digest in the mid ’90s, I saw another TV show. I don’t remember what it was, but instead of an odd sense of the entire show, of this one I remember distinct snippets. I know it exists. Elvi and my youngest brother, who was visiting us at the time, and also saw this show – but they only remember as much as I do.
It was a comedy sketch show, I think – but not on a stage. The snippets I remember involved a fake documentary on shark research. One of the hot research assistants(?) was said to have appeared in Butts Up and Cherry Lick magazines. I remember those titles distinctly.
The researchers were chasing or being chased by some kind of nerd or geek shark. The bit used a clip of a shark with all kinds of teeth sticking all kinds of ways out of its mouth, with “guh huh guh huh guh huh” as a voiceover.
Google turns up no clues. In fact, I predict this post will soon be on the first page for a Google search for “nerd geek shark”. If any one out there in the Intardnet remembers this show, please relieve our pain.
My second mystery involves this photo, which comes from the new Google archive of photos from Life magazine. Is the airplane in this shot a Spitfire or a S-199? I think it’s a Spit, but I’m not 100% sure.
Bonus magazine death:
Our first hockey game of the official season was a face-off against our fellow NDGers Friday night. We took the first period with some good skating and hard work and started the second with a 2-0 lead.
We slowed a little in the second, but potted a goal to get back a two-goal margin headed into the third, 3-1. I wish that last period had been skipped, though, as our team just stopped. They watched the play go on around them and just couldn’t muster whatever it was that needed mustering. We lost the game 5-3, managing only two shots in the period.
Nevertheless, Child Three played the greatest game of his short life. His legs were flying out to make toe saves, he was always in position, and he stopped his share of breakaways. Even on the five goals he let in, he was doing the right thing. It was a joy to watch – and coming from me, that means a lot.
We played our second game today, against another team, and went into the third ahead 4-1. I counseled the kids, specifically the forwards I had responsibility for, that keeping the other team from scoring was more important than running up the score. The other team, though, suffered the same kind of lapse we had in our first game and we won 8-1 at the final buzzer. As you might expect, Child Three didn’t have much to do. I missed the goal he gave up because I was talking to the kids on the bench, but I’m told it was a quick pass from behind the net to the shooter planted in front of the net. There’s not much you can do about that other than hope you get in the way of the puck.
I can’t yet judge if the quality of Novice B had dropped all over the city as much as it has for NDG, but so far it seems to have.
Bonus evidence that I’m a bio geek:
Child Two asked me if there are any words that end with a “K” sound made by a K but not by the CK letter combo. I thought of “ink”, but then she stipulated that there has to be a vowel before the K.
The first word to come to my mind? Lek.
The whole family attended yesterday’s Geek Montreal Geek Out – eventually. We started without Child Three, then lost Child One to a party, but eventually all wound up together.
We started by playing the fastest game of Clue I’ve ever played, thanks to an early lucky guess, but the main feature was the showing of a documentary on the Graffiti Research Lab, which was followed by a mass effort by most of us to build LED throwies. A throwie is a slim battery (like a watch battery, LED, and flat magnet duct-taped into a small, throwable package. If you toss it at something ferromagnetic, it will stick. The battery will allow the LED to glow a month or so.
We didn’t have enough batteries to build more than a few large handfuls of throwies. Ours were dimmer than thos ein the video because our batteries were weaker. Inspired by the Graffiti Research Lab, most of us set out to find something ferromagnetic in the Crescent Street area.
By that time, the family was united. Child Three did not want to go throwing (throwie-ing?). He had asked me if what we were going to do was legal, and I wasn’t sure what to answer. I said it was a gray area. He asked if it was like graffiti. I said sort of, but there probably weren’t any laws specifically against using throwies.
Whether it was his sense of right and wrong or because he only had a cotton sweatshirt in which to brave the rain, Child Three opted out of the
You’d be surprised how hard it is to find pieces of ferromagnetic building material in downtown Montreal. We found a lot of aluminum. Damn Quebec and our cheap hydroelectric power that can be used to smelt aluminum.
I finally found an appropriate target, in the alley between Crescent and Mountain. The backside of Thursday’s is a two-story sheet of corrugated steel.
Of course, the throwies go “plink” when they hit. It sounds like you’re throwing pebbles. There’s a walkway above the alley, and we were spotted by kitchen staff, whom we studiously ignored. My keen tactical mind appreciated that the moment was ripe to disengage and move on before enemy reinforcements showed up, so I headed further down the alley, far enough that I could escape around a corner if, say, cops showed up to arrest the rest of my family. Someone would have to retrieve Child Three and make bail for the females. Always thinking, I am.
Cops didn’t show up, but a security guard did. I wasn’t close enough to hear the conversation, but when I saw the guard launch his own throwie at the wall, I figured I could safely return.
Done behind Thursday’s, we walked around looking for more targets, but didn’t find much. We sprinkled a sign post on Crescent closer to Sherbrooke, but those weren’t high enough to discourage removal. If at night you go behind Thursday’s sometime over the next month, however, you should be able to see evidence of our
vandalism street art. Or you can visit Elvi’s Picasa album.
Bonus search engine:
I’ve taught my classes about the Dark Web/Deep Web/Invisible Web, which is the accumulation of Web info that standard search engines do not access and present as search results. Examples are drop-down menus, databases, and (until recently) PDFs. DeepDyve is a new search engine that claims to bring search-engine light to the Dark Web.
I haven’t tried DeepDyve yet. It requires registration, although it’s free. I’m not anti-registration, but I can’t be bothered to take those extra five minutes. I will soon, perhaps, but in the meantime, DeepDyve’s mere presence is worth acknowledging.
I read this story at the BBC site, a story about a Palestinian Arab family that is now homeless after being evicted from their home in East Jerusalem.
Look at the lead, and subsequent paragraphs:
Fawzia al-Kurd, 52, raises her black cloak to show the bottoms of the pyjamas she is still wearing several days after she and her wheelchair-bound husband were forced from the home he had lived in for five decades.
She had no time to change or gather her possessions when the Israeli police arrived in the early hours of Sunday morning.
In borrowed shoes, she shows us around the tent that she now calls home near the single-storey, two room house in East Jerusalem.
That certainly pounds home the desperate nature of these victims and arouses sympathy.
Now, let’s examine the facts.
The article states the Kurds have lived in the home for five decades, but both husband and wife are 55 years old, so it was probably the parents of one of them that originally moved in in 1956 (give or take a year). When Israel took control of East Jerusalem in 1967, A Jewish agency petitioned to regain ownership of this land based on historical property documents. The Israeli court – a non-partisan entity that does not automatically side with Israeli interests on these issues – ruled in favour of the agency.
In other words, from the Ottoman Empire to now, this plot of land was legally in Jewish hands, but the family moved onto the land while Jordan controlled it during a brief 19-year window between 1948 and 1967. The Kurds are now living there illegally. This situation falls outside the standard issue of Israeli settlement on the West Bank, which normally takes place on land that belonged to Palestinian Arabs. In this particular case, the family has been found to be illegally living on this land, which belongs to someone else.
Over years, Israel has tried to reach agreements with the family. The family rejected protected tenancy in exchange for dropping their claim to the land. The family refused to pay rent in trust pending ultimate resolution of the conflict.
The article buries the fact most of the Palestinian Arabs in East Jerusalem sell their properties at inflated prices, then move. It’s not a mass eviction. The Kurds admit they have turned down an offer of $10 million to move. Read that again.
Last July, an Israeli court handed down an eviction notice. Last Sunday, four months after the notice, police came to enforce the eviction. Apparently, the Kurd family did not take the eviction notice seriously – and that’s whence the lead of this story springs. It’s not a tale of pity or sympathy, but a tale of stupidity.
This is a more accurate lead:
Fawzia al-Kurd, 52, refused a $10 million settlement for the single-storey, two room house in East Jerusalem she used to share with her wheelchair-bound husband.
Four months ago, at the end of a decades-long legal battle, the Israeli Supreme Court served her an eviction notice, which she ignored.
As a result, she had no time to change or gather her possessions when the Israeli police arrived in the early hours of Sunday morning. Now, in borrowed shoes, she shows us around the tent that she calls home.
Why do you suppose the BBC went the way it did?
The Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association (CUPFA) has reached a contract agreement with the university. CUPFA members, including me, have worked without a contract since 2002. The new agreement includes retroactive pay for courses taught since the 2003-2004 school year.
If I figured correctly, I’m going to get a check for $12,542.39 (pay plus 8% vacation pay) out of this, probably in the spring. Another bonus is that my family and I will now eligible for tuition waivers at Concordia.