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Archive for 2008

Happy now?

Wife One complained last night that I haven’t blogged since the weekend. I don’t have anything planet-shattering to write about so I’ll throw some odds and ends in here.

• Our novice hockey team earned a second loss this past weekend. The team just wasn’t up to play and coasted through the game. One of the opposing players had too many chances to use his amazing shot, with which he roofed three goals. We lost 4-3, after having beaten this same team 6-0 two weeks ago.

• Wired has a follow-up top-ten list of animal videos. I’ve seen most of them before but there a fun way to waste a half-hour with your kids. Follow-up to what, I hear you wonder. To this.

• Last month, Roger Ebert re-published a piece that Frank Cottrell Boyce wrote about writing screenplays. It’s succinct and to the gut. Read it.

• I’ve been trying out the Mac browser called Shiira. The Wikipedia page on the software says more than I want to. I like the thumbnail tabs, but I’m not sure I like them enough to let them keep the monitor real estate. It is fast and stable – no doubt about that.

• Looking for a December time-waster? Play Auditorium. You use a limited series of bending fields to guide particle beams around the playing surface. The goal is to guide your beam(s) across amplifiers to create a musical composition. Right now, the game is only exists as a limited beta version, but it’s one of those consuming attractions that will leave you sad once you’ve finished all levels. I assume it will leave me sad, too, if I ever figure out how to complete the final puzzle, 3:6. Even the online hints I found don’t work for me.

• I’m glad HDTV prices are plunging faster than the Dow because our big CRT TV decided to freak out. The colours have gone uncorrectably off and the corners of the screen have distinctly yellow wedges. Everything is mostly blue and red has disappeared from the image – but the channel display characters are red, which really confuses me. The TV was fine Saturday night and went blue sometime Sunday. I wouldn’t be too surprised to find this to be the fault of a wire clip that had materialized inside the TV.

• Looking for a geek gift under $50? If your beloved geek has a pile of hard drives, consider ThinkGeek’s external SATA/USB hard-drive dock. The dock accepts both 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives and drives may be hot-swapped. Me? I need a new hockey bag.

• Google has its online office suite, but where do you go for an online image manipulation tool? SUMO Paint is a Web-based competitor for Photoshop – yes, Photoshop. This is not your older brother’s online painting program. SUMO Paint looks and acts one heck of a lot like Photoshop, right down to the layers. I haven’t used it much, and I don’t understand the business model, but this is one of the most impressive applications of Web tech that I’ve ever seen.

• Now, if you think the above diversions will stunt your kids’ intellectual development, think again. Don’t confuse your own being left behind with your kids’ ability to assimilate the new.

And that’s all I have to say ’bout that.

Webs the not-so-handyman

I tackled two nagging problems yesterday – well, I tried to.

Earlier in the week, I bought winter windshield wipers and two new headlight bulbs. I’ve been driving around for a while with only the passenger-side headlight working. Once in a while, oncoming cars would thoughtfully blink their headlights at me. I thought it was time to rectify the situation, and I needed new wipers as well. And while I changed one headlight, I might as well change the other.

Ideally, I would have set out to do this while temperatures were still above freezing. We have a garage, but we use it as storage. Yesterday was bright and pretty close to freezing, so I trudged into action.

I popped and propped the hood of the van and took a look at the passenger side headlight assembly. The air filter cover is in the way and the manual tells me to remove it before working on the light. It’s held in place with rusty screws – or bolts, maybe. I try to loosen them with my Phillips head screwdriver, but these rusty things are in tight and all I’m doing is stripping them. That’s not a problem – this is the headlight that works, and if this older bulb isn’t as bright as a newer one on the driver side, big deal.

I move across the engine compartment and unplug the more accessible socket on the driver’s side. The manual says to squeeze the socket so the clips let go, then pull. I squeeze and pull, then squeeze harder and pull harder but nothing budges. I call Elvi out of the house to have a go but nothing happens when she squeezes and pulls either. We try to lever it out with a screwdriver, but it still stays put. Eventually, I just yank – and it comes out. There are no clips.

The socket’s a bit greasy and looks like it’s held together with epoxy, but the high beams work so I know it’s transmitting current. I pull off the weatherstripping and remove a wire clip that holds the bulb in place. I carefully set aside the weatherstripping and clip. I don’t want to lose them in the engine compartment. My old bulb looks fine, but the support of one element has a bit of soot on it. It probably burned out inside the support, I tell myself.

When I bought the bulbs, the big book of bulbs told me I need the 9005 bulbs. The big book was wrong. I drive to Canadian Tire to exchange them for the proper 9003 bulbs. I also buy Child Three a hat and a pair of gloves he badly needs.

Back in my driveway, I put the new 9003 bulb in the headlight. I put the wire clip in place and as I’m about to tighten the screw that holds it in, it springs out and vanishes. I can’t see it anywhere. I look inside the engine compartment, I remove the floor of the engine compartment, I even tape a rare-earth magnet to a long screwdriver in hopes of picking up the wire from a crevice. Elvi helps with this, too, but the wire clip has disappeared from this known dimension.

I steam a little then try using the weather stripping, which fits snugly, by itself. It holds the bulb in place adequately.

I reattach the socket and try the lights: nothing has changed. The light is still out. I try the high beams, and two funny things happen. The right headlight beam dims and drops on the garage door to my front, and the left headlight lights up. There’s no high-beam light on my dashboard, but there wasn’t one before. I’ve been driving around with one high-beam on. No wonder other drivers were flashing their headlights at me. Both low-beam lights work fine, and probably did before. The socket must need replacing, but that’s beyond me. People could die, probably me.

At least changing the wipers was fruitful.

I spent the evening working on my laptop. There’s a problem with the power socket. The plug (plugs, really – I tried more than one) won’t steadily transfer a charge. The power flickers constantly, changing screen brightness and not allowing me to do anything with it for more than ten minutes at a time. My local shop estimated $140 for the repair but the laptop, an old Dell Inspiron 8100, isn’t worth that. The shop said the socket probably needed to be soldered, so I disassembled the computer to see what I could do with that.

The socket is tucked behind the cooling fans, so I’d have to remove those. I unscrewed one of the tiny screws that holds the fans in place – and lost it in the bowels of the laptop. This lost piece of metal remained in our plane of existence, however, I was able to shake it out onto the tablecoth – twice.

I stopped trying to remove the fans, and tried to assess the socket with them in place. It’s fixed firmly in place, so I have no idea what to fix. It may be a loose connecting inside the socket, but I can’t fix that and it’s not worth it to have someone else try. I may just go buy a $150 laptop. This one has reached the end of its useful life.

About this blog

According to Typealyzer….

The analysis indicates that the author of is of the type:

ESTP – The Doers

The active and play-ful (sic) type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

This shows what parts of the brain that were dominant during writing:

It might be interesting to make some Web pages of pure screenwriting and do the analysis on those. Might.

Wildlife and tangents

While driving home at 6:30 last night from Carrefour Angrignon, Child Three and I spotted a canid run across the road in front of our car. I thought it was a red fox, although the more I think about it, the more I suspect it was a coyote. It seems big for a fox, although the tip of the tail was light. Both red foxes and coyotes inhabit the Island of Montreal. Of one thing I’m certain: it was not a dog.

Speaking of driving, the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied has published yet another study on mobile-phone use while driving. Research has already established that using a mobile phone impairs driving whether or not you hold the phone or use a hands-free system. Got that? Speaker phones or earpieces do not help.

This study looked at why live conversation does not have the same effect and concluded that passengers simplify their conversations and/or stop talking according to driving conditions. Passengers are on the scene and can adjust to environmental clues; people on the phone cannot.

Getting back to wildlife…. Wayne P. Armstrong runs Wayne’s Word. Armstrong started teaching biology courses in the Life Sciences Department of Palomar College in 1966, and he has transferred his coursework to a stupendous Web site. He teaches three online courses, Biology 101 and two botany courses whose credits you might be able to count towards your undergraduate degree.

Interested in AP course credits, in biology or some other subject? HippoCampus (I love that name) offers full-blown courses that will prepare you for AP exams. Being Canadian, I have no idea how the AP system works. For me, the attraction is HippoCampus’s utility as a study guide or tutoring aid. What an amazing free resource.

Bonus healthy Mac:

Apple replaced the malfunctioning ATI X1900XT with the rev. 2 version of the same card and all is perfect once again.

Blogging coolness

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.

Bonus funny:

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.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sour Apple II

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.

Sour Apple

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.

Hockey talkies

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.

$203 later

Freakin’ goalies….

Danger in space

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.

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