Biography, Featured, Sundry

Week of 29 November, 2009

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/12/02/week-of-29-november-2009/

Sunday, November 29

After making it home and grabbing a shower, I roamed in search of coffee. Alas, the Tea Lounge was pretty packed, so I wandered down to 5th Ave and ordered a hot chocolate from Ozzie’s. After making sure I was “to stay” they served me in a paper cup with a plastic cap, no whipped cream.

Yeah well, I wandered home and around 4:30pm started watching Nova on the TiVo, but fell asleep hard on the couch.

Monday, November 30

Booked my travel to California for next week. Mei is working night shifts this month but I was able to take her out for sushi this evening.

Tuesday, December 1

Last night I dreamed I was driving an old Beetle in California. Mei was with me and we were going to pick Brian up to take him to dinner. Brian still had long hair but the sides of his head had been buzzed clean.

Wednesday, December 2

Notes from Facebook:

I can only respect a Libertarian if they have the faith in their convictions to homestead in Somalia.

The Constitution enshrines the right to bear arms, in the interests of well-regulated militia. Police forces are a fairly recent innovation, often used in the service of tyranny, like standing armies. Somalia’s system of locally supported militias seems awfully close to a “strict interpretation” Libertarian ideal of limited government, with the burden of personal safety being placed upon the individual.

I walked down to the Tea Lounge for lunch: a giant salad and a pain au chocolat. One man beamed at a friend that the Senate was going to vote today, after setting aside 4 hours for debate. I knew what he was talking about. “You heard about DC,” his friend replied. Later I read a cartoon: why didn’t the Army notice Major Alawi’s erratic behavior? Because he wasn’t acting gay! I laughed out loud.

Thursday, December 3

Today I booked my holiday travel, and this time it is Amtrak all the way. Just over $200 round-trip, but this time my ride to Chicago will be via Washington, DC, where I will switch trains.

On Wednesday I had a small cup of coffee at the Tea Lounge. And a giant salad. That’s the only coffee I have had this week. Trying to “detox” a bit. Quite unintentionally, I haven’t eaten any meat either. A lot of oatmeal. I love oatmeal! Mei is working nights so everything just feels weird. It didn’t help that I managed to watch the six-hour “The Prisoner” mini-series this week as well. I thought it was really very good, and goes well with alcohol, but that means I am out of Scotch.

Tonight I ate a half pound of frozen veggies. Delicious enough but I’m a bit gassy, so it is just as well that Mei is at work.

If I were maintaining a Christmas list, I would add “HP 60 color and black-and-white printer cartridges.”

Friday, December 4

I spent the last of my cash on sandwiches, sodas, flowers, and some whiskey on the theory that Mei might like some tasty sammiches before she had to go to work. Alas, she is off Friday and Saturday night. Doh! We figured we could go see the Mr Fox movie, but ended up relaxing indoors instead. Despite the promised weather report, it did not snow in New York City.

I went to bed with a nasty headache. I rarely get headaches.

Saturday, December 5

I woke up with a scummy throat, and Mei was feeling worse all day. I took her out to Cheryl’s where there was a substantial wait, but it was a deliciously good experience nonetheless. She bought a chicken and stock on the way home and as she set to cooking I went and moved her car, dropping the old printer and scanner at the Goodwill, then scoring a Christmas tree off a friendly French screenwriter outside of the Rite Aid on Flatbush. Back home I sorted through digital photographs while playing “Blazing Saddles” and “Ghostbusters” off Netflix Instant on the TiVo, after which we enjoyed a soup dinner together.

I did not make it to the bicycle recycle store up in DUMBO . . . maybe during the week. I did some Christmas shopping online and built a spreadsheet to track my Christmas gift spending, on the theory that I’ll transfer a certain amount from Savings to cover it all.

What I could also use for Christmas: a wireless Ethernet doohickey for the TiVo HD.

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Linux, Sundry, Technical, Technology

Windows 7 vs Ubuntu 9.10

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/12/02/windows-7-ubuntu-first-impression/

So, I tried Windows 7 beta, and recently scored a copy of Windows 7 for my desktop PC, via employee discount. (I’d be willing to pay $50 for the OS, so $25 isn’t a bad deal. The again, Microsoft sent me some very large checks for my Tellme equity in 2007 so a very small Capitalist part of me is rooting for them.)

Where do you want to install Windows?

It is pretty nice: basically a refresh of Windows XP, with extra spit-and-polish. Zippier, too! It boots and shuts down faster than XP or Ubuntu, and manages OS updates without requiring my intervention and subsequently breaking things, like Ubuntu does. I was musing to my coworkers that if it had the following, I could switch from Linux:

1) A decent software packaging system.
2) Built-in Virtual Desktops.
3) Middle-button paste.

Boot/Shutdown Speed

I turn my computers off when I’m not using them. I like that Firefox will remember tab sessions. But waiting for an OS to boot is wasted time.

Despite recent improvements, Ubuntu still takes way too long to boot, and seemingly forever to shut down. Windows 7, by contrast, is pretty darn zippy. I like that!

Winner: Windows 7

System Updates

So, for the record, I’m thinking to turn off system updates on my Ubuntu environments, because they aren’t worth it and they keep breaking my stuff. I’ll just refresh twice a year when the new release comes out, therefor managing the pain of upgrades. Windows updates are more important, given the constant security threats. Fortunately, Windows does that for me without my noticing, save the stupid “I will forcibly reboot you in 5 minutes” thing that hasn’t hit me (yet?) on Windows 7.

Winner: Windows 7

Software Packaging

Windows seems to have made some improvements with software packaging, and I gotta say it is convenient to go to a web site, click on an installer, and a few minutes later have the application running. Of course, then there’s another icon on your desktop and the Yahoo! tool bar has been added to your web browser . . .

On Ubuntu, though, most of the time I go to a shell and type:

sudo aptitude install foo

And there I go!

Sometimes software isn’t available in the central repositories, but 9.10 has made adding some PPAs easier. And sometimes I go to a web site, click on a link to a .deb file, it downloads, the system asks for my password, and the software gets installed without leaving crappy toolbars in my environment. Victory!

Winner: Ubuntu

Virtual Desktops

Ubuntu’s Gnome interface would be nicer if I could drag windows to the side of the screen and they’d pop over to the next screen, like the fvwm2 pager. But, I’m pretty well content with Ubuntu’s virtual desktop ability.

You could probably install a decent hack on Windows 7 to get this, but really, virtual desktops and pagers should be built in.

Winner: Ubuntu

Command Line Environment

So, with Ubuntu I can fire off command shells with wild abandon and do what I need to do. (I’m a Unix system administrator, so I relate to computers mostly by typing commands and scripting.) Windows 7 has a new “PowerShell” feature that implements a few Unix commands. After half an hour of searching I discovered that you can get to the PowerShell by hitting Windows+R and then typing “powershell” — heck forbid we should put this in the start menu or make it available by searching for “shell” but okay . . .

With Ubuntu, I can highlight text by dragging and clicking my mouse. This is just like other environments, but instead of hitting control-C (or, ahem Open-Apple-C) to copy the highlighted text into your clipboard, and control-V (I mean, Command-V) to paste from your clipboard, with Unix, whatever you highlight goes straight to the clipboard, and you paste by tapping the middle mouse button.

That can be a little scary sometimes but once you get used to the convenience you really can’t go back to having to mouse and keyboard to cut and paste.

Once you figure out how to launch the PowerShell, you can not simply highlight text with the mouse. Seriously, WTF!? No, this is how you copy-and-paste stuff with PowerShell:

Hit Alt+Space to bring up the console menu, then type ‘E’ to bring up the ‘Edit’ menu and then ‘k’ to start copying or ‘P’ to paste the text in the clipboard to the console. In ‘copying’ mode, you just use the arrow keys while holding down the shift key to select text, and hit Enter to add the selection to the clipboard.

“Ah, hello, Microsoft? Yes, the 1980s called and they want their primitive user interface back. Thanks!”

Update: You can launch PowerShell is a window that supports text highlighting by dragging the mouse via Start > All Programs > Windows PowerShell > Windows PowerShell. It looks like you can copy highlighted text with control+C and paste with the right mouse button. (Getting closer, I guess!)

Winner: Ubuntu

Focus Follow Mouse

Down in the accessibility menu, there’s an option for “Activate a window by hovering over it with a mouse” . . . but checking that option doesn’t actually change the behavior . . .

. . . correction: it does. After some seconds it brings the window you are hovering over to front. No, I just want focus, not raise! Arrr! Ubuntu knows how to do this, with just a little checkbox.

Update: There are three ways to do this. The registry hack was my solution.

Winner: Ubuntu

Default Web Browser

I’ll give Internet Explorer some credit; I can type whatever crazy thing I want into the URL bar and the second it realizes I didn’t type a URL, it goes over to Bing. Nice!

But then the default behavior is to create new windows all over. Seriously: what is the point of tabbed browsing if you don’t put stuff in the tabs? The big fail though is that for whatever reason the WordPress HTML editor in Explorer keeps jumping up to the top of the text input window, which made working out this post a seriously annoying experience.

A quick install of Google Chrome and my web browsing experience not only interfaces well with WordPress and pops new windows into tabs, but I can type whatever crazy stuff I want into the URL bar and in a not-be-evil sort of way, it shunts me with due humility over to Bing. So, Chrome is my new default web browser for Windows 7. (And I’ll continue trying out Bing, even though I’m a Google fan-boy.)

Winner: Ubuntu


Python, Technical

Notes on Porting a Django App from SQLite to MySQL

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/12/04/django-migrate-database-sqlite-mysql/

This was painful. I’ll be doing this again next week, then hopefully never again.

First off, if you ever hit an error, drop and re-create your MySQL database, or at least drop the tables, or things just get weirder.

Grab the data from SQLite:

python manage.py dumpdata > $APPNAME.json

The, update settings.py to connect to the MySQL database, and if you are really lucky:

python manage.py syncdb
python manage.py reset contenttypes
python manage.py loaddata $APPNAME

(Thank you, Carl Meyer!)

Now, here’s the cute things I ran into. I had originally built a model with a TextField primary key. This is fine by SQLite but when Django tries to create a BLOB field you get in trouble asking for it to be unique, never mind a primary key. Fortunately, it was easy enough for me to simply change it to a CharField, which will tell Django to use VARCHAR. (SQLite certainly didn’t mind.)

The other was that neither Django nor SQLite were enforcing field length limitations, so I would hit some errors when loaddata tried to bring in database entries that were too long. I worked around this by raising my length limitations. There was also some ugliness with a UTF-8 string, which I solved by creating the text object in question.


About Me, Python, Technical

Why Python Can Suck (But I Still Like It)

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/12/08/perl-vs-python-documentation/

Based on something I posted to Facebook:

Perl’s “natural language” emphasis and non-obvious locutions encourage developers to document their code. Many times I have put some hard work into a line or a block of code, and ended up writing in some comments as a part of the process.

Python code is nice and readable but often very poorly documented. “The code should speak for itself,” and while it is easier to read Python code sometimes a few human-language comments would save some time and annoyance.

Maintaining Python code is easier than maintaining Perl, but using Perl modules is often easier than using Python modules because Perl developers are kinda forced to explain their work.

One of the first things I had to accept about pydoc is it is almost universally worthless, and even good functional documentation will often omit the sort of useful examples that I am most likely to find quickly intuitive.

This is why I have transitioned so slowly. Python’s strengths breed a certain weakness just as Perl’s weaknesses breed a certain strength.

At this point, I would consider myself approaching bi-linguality, and pretty comfortable in either language. If I have a preference it would be for Python, because I am lazy about documentation and even maintaining my own code, it is a lot easier to figure out what I wrote in Python somewhat after the fact. But my fondness for Perl and its generally more approachable documentation stands, and I’m not about to dis what has served me so long and so well.

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About Me, Biography, Featured, Sundry

Week of 6 December, 2009

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/12/13/week-of-6-december-2009/

Sunday, December 6

I bought a bicycle. There’s a place not far away, Brooklyn Bike and Board, that fixes up old steel-framed bikes because they’re darn tough, then sells them for not a whole lot of money. I spent $250 on the bike, and some more on a front basket and a bike lock. I now have a white, steel, 1-speed bicycle made in France.

I had been avoiding the bicycle thing because Mei is not yet a rider, but on the Greyhound ride back, that college student had mentioned that he’d bought a “recycled” bike for fairly cheap, and rarely spent money on the subway. The prospect of riding around for my own pleasure and exercise pleases Mei. Come Spring we can find her some wheels and learn her how to ride.

Monday, December 7

A day that shall live in infamy or simply “Monday?” For “lunch” I rode up to drop off a bag at Goodwill, and I realized I had totally forgotten my helmet. Fortunately, I made it home safe, then stashed the helmet in the bike’s basket.

When I make coffee I dish the grounds into the filter, and then place the filter into the basket. This reduces the chance of accidentally slopping grounds down between the filter and the basket. Instead I have the occasional accident where I spill coffee grounds everywhere.

Every month or so my Grandmother forwards me another e-mail that has been forwarded to her via a chain of dozens of people who haven’t quite figured out how the Internet works, and these photos are from Miniatur Wunderland, in Hamburg, DE. That’s in the North of Germany, and may likely be on the itinerary of my next trip.

From an e-mail shared with my team at work:

While it is true that I wear dark-framed eyeglasses, post to my highly-customized blog, and Twitter, and uhm, have a 100% telecommute, and just yesterday I bought a “recycled” 1-speed bicycle, I don’t like to think of myself as a hipster, no. And the smart phone and the mini computer . . . gah! This is why I can’t own a Mac or an iPhone or grow a goatee . . .

Tuesday, December 8

Come on ride the snake! Ride it!
Come on ride the snake! Ride it!
Come on ride the snake! It’s a Python!

Wednesday, December 9

New York’s MTA is an excellent system for most parts of New York that existed in the 1920s, when the last major expansions were completed. That means airport service is sub-optimal: ride a local train as far as it will go, then catch a local bus that meanders to the airport.

Note that during peak hours they’ll run that bus line in pairs, but only one bus of each pair runs to the airport. The other goes somewhere else and if you’re lucky the driver will speak up and direct you to the correct bus. If you’re less lucky you can wait fifteen minutes for the next pair of buses.

Note also that if you’re running late and try to use the Virgin America self-service checkin kiosk, it will keep inviting you to try again after you swipe multiple credit cards at different kiosks. If you dig out and enter your confirmation code, it will invite you to try yet again. In this way you’ll not hear the lady announcing that if you want to catch your flight you should come over to the human being right now, because this is the last chance to make it on the flight.

Note also that if you wait behind a family with a newborn and plenty of luggage at security then stroll liesurely to the gate you’ll get to watch the plane you missed push back from the gate and taxi away. And yes, while Google is giving us all free in-flight wireless network access for the holidays, JFK expects you to pay several dollars for the privilege during your hopefully brief wait in the airport.

Thursday, December 10

I helped Todd find an appropriate box into which to pack the extra-large can of Sysco beans.

Friday, December 11

I needed change for Muni so I bought a to-go coffee at the cafe on the corner. I joined a little man at the bus stop as I waited for my cup to cool. He noted my coffee and explained that he was banned from that coffee shop. I offered him a sip, and he worked his way through the entire cup I had only bought for bus change anyway as he repeatedly introduced himself to me as a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Various neighbors passed, exchanging pleasantries with the Chiefs Fan, one saw him drinking from the cup, “that had better be Hot Chocolate.”


Apparently I delivered a cup of contraband to a guy who isn’t allowed to drink caffeine.

Saturday, December 12

Mei’s sick. Slept too much, and enjoyed riding my bike down to Roots in the 30 degrees.

1 Comment


Shell Function: Compare Output of Two Commands

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/12/15/shell-function-compare-output-of-two-commands/

I just wrote this up for some test automation. This function gets passed two commands, runs both commands, and returns “PASS” if they match, or “FAIL” with the diff if they do not match.

    $1 2>&1 > $out1
    $2 2>&1 > $out2
    diff -q >/dev/null $out1 $out2
    if [ $? != 0 ]; then
        echo "FAIL"
        echo "Details:"
        diff $out1 $out2
        echo "PASS"
    rm $out1 $out2

echo -n "Test that will fail: "
compare_output 'echo pass' 'echo fail'

echo -n "Text that will pass: "
compare_output 'echo pass' 'echo pass'

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Featured, Politics, Testimonials

How I Would Fix Global Warming

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/12/16/how-i-would-fix-global-warming/

It sounds as if Copenhagen will be yet another disappointment. But a boy could dream, right? If it were up to me, we’d just set a world-wide, per-capita ration on carbon emissions. Use current US emissions as the ration for the first year, and then ratchet it down like 10% each year.

Basically, each year you’d receive your carbon entitlement, and then sell it on the market to the energy companies and other carbon emission points identified by the carbon administration as points of emission requiring use of a ration. That money would offset your increased fuel and electricity prices: if you conserve you come out ahead, and if you’re a heavy user, you pay something closer to the true cost of your energy consumption. Viva Capitalism!

As the entitlement reduces each year, you’d have two things going on. The first would be billions of human beings pouring some of their creative energy and talent into finding ways to reduce their own energy consumption. The other would be that you’d see wealthy first-world folks trading through the carbon markets with less wealthy people in the developing world for a shared, equal human right to emit carbon.

The current approach of each nation saying “well, we’ll spend somewhat less than we did at some year in the past when our economy was less developed” is a shell game. And I hate it when Americans are like “well, China’s the largest emitter now!” China has four times the population we have. That means that if they emit more carbon than we do, that the average Chinese is emitting just over a quarter of what the average American emits. China is operating at an insane scale with an infinite number of challenges that threaten basic stuff like food security and national coherence. We want them to take the lead on climate change? No. Our people got us into this industrialized carbon-economy world, and our people can lead us to the post-carbon world as well.

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Letters to The Man, News and Reaction, Technology, Testimonials

Amazon Associates and Google Blogger Now Integrated

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/12/17/amzn4blgr-lmao/

I received an e-mail with the subject “Amazon Associates and Google Blogger Now Integrated” and I was amused in much the same way that I am amused when I see a dog enjoying someone else’s vomit. The e-mail invited feedback via Twitter, but I went to fill out a form. This is what I wrote:


I received an e-mail with the subject “Amazon Associates and Google Blogger Now Integrated” and I was like “oh, trainwreck!” Then I realized Google had added a feature so associates could link more easily. That’s cool.

Except, Blogger is a horrible, horrible, truly awful platform. Hopefully you are working so that bloggers on other platforms, like WordPress, can do stuff effectively. (I know I stopped years ago as it wasn’t worth the effort.)

This was troubling: “The new tool allows Bloggers to add links and images . . .”

Why is it troubling? Because there are bloggers, and then there are users of Blogger. I realize that “Blogger” is short-hand for a “user of Blogger” but it also implies that Amazon is thinking that the only bloggers that count are the ones with a capital B.

But the real punchline was:

“Please tell us what you think of our new Amazon Associates for Blogger feature using hashtag #AMZN4BLGR on Twitter”

This is awesome on two levels:

1) “We should collect feedback from users. I know, we can assign our users a hashtag and they can communicate with us on Twitter! We’ll be trendy cool social media mavens!”

2) “Gotta think of a hashtag! Okay . . . let us take the words Amazon and Blogger, remove the vowels, and smash it together with the number 4. Because, after all, if we’re collecting feedback from users and limiting them to 140 characters on Twitter our hashtag should look like a car’s license plate!”

Maybe instead of having a giant social media marketing boner over integration with the most technically awful leading blogging platform you could focus on delivering core functionality to users that should have been delivered four years ago.


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Featured, News and Reaction, Politics, Technology

Terrorists Watching Drone Feeds

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/12/17/use-encryption-damnit/

Thanks, Nathan, for pointing out the Wall Street Journal article:

WASHINGTON — Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations.

Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes’ systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber — available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet — to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter.

Somewhere in Pakistan there’s a kid nick-named “Windows” hanging outside a cave with a laptop computer hooked up to a diesel generator. When the drones get in range, someone runs to Osama and says “Windows has detected a Predator Drone that may be trying to kill you. Take cover now? (Y/n)”

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Politics, Sundry, Technical, Technology, Testimonials

Banking History

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/12/18/banking-history/

The History Channel recently aired a show called “Modern Marvels: Banks” which first caught my ear early in the show when they reported that: “soon it may even be possible to do your banking in the kitchen, using a microwave oven . . . today there are less than 10 million consumers doing online banking, that’ll be over 100 million in the near future.”

WHAT!? I press the Info button on my television and see the show was produced in 2002. Back then my bank’s online service wouldn’t let me log in because I wasn’t running Windows.

Later in the show they cover the Gold Rush, the San Francisco earthquake and firestorm, the rise of Bank of America, the failures of banks during the Great Depression, and then they started talking about Roosevelt’s New Deal, starting with FDIC, and:

Narrator: The Government also took drastic action that split the banking industry into separate parts.
Richard Sylla: It was decided that because of the stock market crash and the Depression that it would be a good idea to break off commercial banking from investment banking. Commercial banking deals with loans and deposits. Investment banking deals with underwriting securities, issuing new securities. The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 decided that bankers would have to choose either to be commercial bankers or investment bankers, but they couldn’t be both.
Narrator: It was thought that banks would be less likely to fail if they were not operating as financial “supermarkets.” Economists today believe that bigger financial institutions are much safer, because their risks are diversified. The merger between Citibank and Traveler’s Insurance that created the financial behemoth of Citigroup would have been illegal had the Glass-Steagall Act not been repealed in 1999.

Those economists of 2002 were right in that larger banks were less likely to fail, but this is because of government intervention to bail out financial institutions deemed “too big to fail” rather than diversification of risk. Just as economists were buying into the “bigger is safer” philosophy, my industry embraced a philosophy of small, cheap, redundant parts which could fail individually without bringing down the entire system. They built Citigroup, and we built Google.

Fortunately, these days I can do my banking from Linux, and my microwave never touches my money.

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Featured, Sundry

Week of 13 December, 2009

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/12/20/week-of-13-december-2009/

Sunday, December 13

More sleep.

Monday, December 14

Today is the first day for my coworkers to commute to what is by all accounts a soul-crushing new office in San Jose. I get to keep on enjoying my home office here in New York, but this Monday has been harder than most for kickstarting morale. I felt better after a bike ride to shop for groceries, despite the fact that the week’s cash is nearly all spent. Fortunately, I won’t be travelling to San Francisco so much any more, which will reduce my spend rate.

I also helped debug some issues on the shared server which hosts this web site.

Tuesday, December 15

The weather was nice. I rode the bike up to the Post Office to retrieve a delivery. Later, I revised my resume and solicited endorsements on LinkedIn. My manager responded that I nearly gave him a heart attack, and I replied that fixing up my resume has been overdue, and fixing it up makes me feel more empowered.

After gorging myself on some old episodes of “Dirty Jobs” that had been sitting around in the TiVo, “The Hunt For Red October” came on. Damned excellent film, that . . . got to bed towards 2AM.

Wednesday, December 16

Sometimes a vendor is both incompetent, and unconcerned. Makes me angry.

“eNom claims to support IPv6 DNS, but for the past few months our configuration has been non-functional, and eNom customer support has explained that their IPv6 functionality is broken, with no estimate for when it will be repaired, if ever.”

Thursday, December 17

It was very cold today.

Friday, December 18

Still very cold.

Saturday, December 19

As I review the energy used on my Android phone, I find that I am looking forward to the day when phones are more like “instant messenger” clients and it is perfectly reasonable to “log off” from the phone function, saving a lot of energy. Incoming calls can be routed to the local land line, desktop VoIP client, or into Google Voice voicemail, where they are transcribed and delivered via e-mail.

Riding the subway makes my phone die so much faster as it broadcasts harder on the radio to look for a signal. And yet, I take maybe one incoming call a week. The telephone function is basically a giant energy parasite on my PDA. Things will get better when I can turn the cellular network off without disabling the wifi and GPS features. As it is I have to bypass the one-touch power management widget on my Android’s home screen, and hold down the power button until a sub menu comes up, where I can enter “airplane mode” when I ride the subway.

The snow began coming in as I went to the laundromat. In the evening Mei and I trekked out to a local place for sushi. We snuggled in for the evening and I received a robocall from Amtrak: my train to Washington DC Sunday morning was cancelled. I snagged the very last seat on Tuesday’s Lakeshore Limited, the same direct train I rode out on Thanksgiving.

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Featured, Mac OS X, Sundry, Technical, Technology

Week of 20 December, 2009

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/12/27/week-of-20-december-2009/

Sunday, December 20

So, it is weird sleeping in when you expected to be on a train. New York City was a winter wonderland, very pleasant to walk around when the cars are driving slow, and the streets are filled with people shoveling snow. A Winter snow storm the weekend before Christmas hits the spot for people to rub shoulders with strangers in a friendly manner.

The snow also means no parking enforcement on Monday. It looks like we will have to move the car before Thursday, as Christmas Eve is not a parking holiday.

We went to brunch, then some light shopping, and back home for a relaxing afternoon. Mei has one last night shift this evening, and since the car is well and buried, I escorted her to the hospital on the train.

I like going out in the snow. Must be that Viking blood. On my way back I noted that in the working class neighborhood surrounding the hospital, there was less commercial activity, because there is less money to spend. Without a critical mass of people with sufficient disposable income, you don’t get the retail services opening up which help employ the working class, and that is why modern small towns tend to be somewhat dead. I started thinking about how in SimCity 4, commercial development always lagged in a new town until a certain point . . .

Later that night I looked up the new MMO city simulator, Cities XL. For $10 / 30 days I thought I would give it a try. I didn’t go to bed until 5am, though to be sure I didn’t get the game running until 3am due to download issues. The game feels pretty “beta” but from what I seen the interface is pretty slick, and the graphics are beautiful. It seems pretty close to the idea of a game I have been wanting to play for years, where you build your city on a planet with other cities, and cities have effects on each other. The first two things I have seen that have been missing from SimCity is that the very first thing you need is a road coming in from outside, and then a consideration for local natural resources, which give your new town a back story and a context, which is a more satisfying start than an abstract sandbox.

Monday, December 21

Brian: Okay, cats riding Roomba pretty much justifies Google’s purchase of YouTube.
Me: Amen! It is all about . . . the long tail!

Tuesday, December 22

Brunch with Mei. We ate at Tom’s which is this famous place that is never open. I ate there once before and enjoyed their French Toast, but this time through we found the food quality somewhat lacking.

After a relaxed day at home, it was up to Penn Station, and on to Chicago. Mei accompanied me to Penn Station to see me off, but as I was concerned with finding the Amtrak check-in kiosks and then a good place to wait for the track announcement I kept speeding off ahead of her. She wasn’t too pleased about that but was gracious enough in saying goodbye. I got a nice seat on the train and a Japanese Literature Post-grad named Steve sat next to me.

The train was running a little late, and they never did go through coach for dinner reservations, so as the train pulled out of Albany at 7:30 I walked back to the dining car, where a long line of confused and uninformed guests had gathered, knowing that they typically stop serving dinner at 8pm. I had a lamb shank, sitting across from a guy who had been in computer sales for the past half century or so. Right now he is retired but helping some guys in nano-fabrication get running in business. Cool stuff.

There was a fair amount of talk of politics. The guy was Republican who had voted for Obama, and the lady sitting next to me said her husband was a Tea Party protester. I started to laugh in sympathy then realized that hey, sometimes you have sat down to eat with Republicans. I listened as these business folks tried to make sense of the role of government in the modern world. They disdained the crazy right-wing types who oppose all government programs.

I slept better than I had the first time I rode the train in November.

Usenet’s big “problem” is that nobody ever wrote a user-friendly web interface for it. Instead, the people who really wanted to chat found it easier to hack up web forums filled with animated emoticons using PHP and MySQL, rather than figure out some bitchin’ gateway into the great gray world, ruled by curmudgeons content to seal themselves off from the hoi polloi.

Wednesday, December 23

We were repeatedly woken in the morning by loud announcements regarding the fact that breakfast could be had in the dining car. I took the L home through a landscape I most remember from high school. In the evening I showed Machinarium to the family, which everyone found to be adorable and engaging. I ended up playing the game until 3:30am.

Thursday, December 24

We headed down to Grandma’s house for Christmas Eve. There was less family around than other years but neighbors dropped by. A lighter year than usual, so we had a lot of leftovers.

Around 10pm we opened presents. I went to set up the webcam I had gotten Grandma, but when I plugged it in to her Mac nothing happened. Further investigation revealed that the UVC feature that enables webcam support was introduced in OS X 10.4 and that if you have 10.3.9 you’re just a sorry twat who can not use webcam software. Okay, so how much to upgrade? Well, the latest and greatest is only $30! That’s not so bad, let us do this! Woah there pardner, you can’t have the new Mac OS unless you have 1GB of RAM and an Intel processor. Your vintage Mac Mini just isn’t going to do! Uhhh, okay. How about 10.4? Well, Apple doesn’t publish that any more, that is a collector’s item, you see. The current market rate for a used copy of the old Mac OS on the resale market is around $150.

I guess if you keep spending money on upgrading your Mac everything will be dandy but if you’re the sort of human trash who only upgrades her computer maybe twice a decade then Fuck You, Grandma! If this were Windows or Linux someone would have figured out how to support a nice webcam. Hell, on Linux I can even use the cheaper “Windows” webcam because, unlike Mac OS, someone figured out how to get the auto-focus working . . . the fact that Microsoft can only manage to squeeze out a potentially mandatory OS upgrade once or twice a decade begins to seem more virtuous. Apple really should let you easily upgrade components of their OS without much hassle, but selling computers is how they make money.

Fuck you, Apple. Well, I’ll find her an upgrade to OS X 10.4 for non-Intel computers on CD-not-DVD and there may even be a store around that will happily get her a memory upgrade, because something tells me that even if the Apple Store has a Genius who could, by appointment only, fill out the form to mail the computer off for a memory upgrade because woah basic maintenance on a Mac Mini is effing rocket science I suspect that when they find out it is an old computer stained by a half decade of tobacco that they will just condescendingly laugh at my horribly backward Grandmother and I’d finally snap and go in there and beat the crap out of some wannabe-hipster douchebags.

Next time Grandma gets a PC.

Friday, December 25

Cleaning up Grandma’s house. Uncle John started to explore the netbook that we got him for Christmas. Janice came by, and we were all glad. John set up an old-fashioned 120mm “dual lens reflex” box camera on a tripod and some lights and took some family Christmas photos. We also looked over some rifles that had been sitting around in Grandma’s house from the previous owner, before heading back home.

Saturday, December 26

Mom treated me to brunch, and Jessica brought the posters she got me for Christmas to her shop to frame them. Then, Mom drove me down to Union Station, for my 9PM train back towards New York.

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