At DC, it’s all one story

This is a pretty great rundown of the history of continuity changes in the DC comics universe.

Non-nerds may wonder what that sentence means, so I’ll take a swing at a quickie explanation. “Continuity” in superhero comics refers to the overarching story. Each issue isn’t self-contained; they reference prior issues, and not just last month’s. Batman remembers fighting the Joker a year ago and ten years ago, and so forth. He knows he’s been friends with Superman for much of his life. These are just facts in the DC world.

Of course, then you have a problem, because both of those heroes started fighting crime nearly eight decades ago, and yet both are frozen in the prime of life despite having literally decades of experience in their roles — and the storytelling burden of a new issue every month.

(It’s worth nothing that the only other form of storytelling that deals with such long-term continuously published continuity is the soap opera, but there, at least, you’re tied to reality because the actors age in real time.)

Comics address this with two main tools:

First, there’s something called a “ret-con,” which is short for “retroactive continuity.” When this happens, some prior fact in a story is changed, but without upending the whole world. Minor retcons happen all the time; a great “mainstream” example is flashbacks in The Simpsons, since they’re frozen in time in a 20+ year show. When the show started, a memory sequence from 20 years before would unequivocally place Homer in the 1970s, but more modern episodes shift his earlier life forward, right? That’s the kind of retcon.

The other one is the reboot, where massive amounts of prior story and history is jettisoned in favor of a blank-slate renewal with only certain base facts retained. That’s what the linked story is about. DC — the comics company behind Superman and Batman — started in the 1930s, and told stories of a bunch of heroes in addition to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. But in the postwar years, interest in hero comics cratered and nearly all those hero titles (except the big three) were cancelled until a revival in the 1950s. The revival, though, fundamentally changed many of the characters — the original Flash wore a tin hat, for example, but the version resurrected in the 1950s is the one you probably think of when someone says “The Flash”; he’s Barry Allen in a red suit with a cowl and a lightning motif. (In comics, the original era is referred to as the Golden Age, and the 1950s revival is the Silver Age.)

Another excellent example of a reboot is what Abrams did with the 2009 Star Trek film. We see the same characters, and the same ship, but we’re telling new stories with them. The Chris Pine version of Kirk has never met Harvey Mudd, never seen a tribble, and so forth. The inclusion of “regular” Spock in the film gives us a link to the “normal” Trek universe, but it’s otherwise distinct, with its own threads of story and history to unfold, unencumbered by any of the history that’s been piling up since the original series aired.

Anyway, the storytelling problems that surface in comics are unique to the form (though kin to those faced by any long-running narrative universe, including soaps and certain long-running franchises like Star Trek and Doctor Who). This article is a fun exploration of how DC has addressed them in the last eighty years.

Microsoft: Still failing

I’m installing Project, after having installed Office. I got this error. How on earth is this even a thing that you let happen?

Office edition problem

I mean, seriously. I’m a giant nerd with 25 years of experience, and I can barely parse what the hell they’re talking about. How exactly is a normal human supposed to respond to this?

Jesus X. Christ.

Dept. of Updates, Comic Shop Division

Right, so, there have been some Developments.

When I posted my previous entry about Bedrock, I also tweeted it at them hoping to get some kind of reaction. Sure enough, a couple days later, I got a message on Facebook from the manager of the Washington Avenue store. To call it an abject apology would be to understate things by several orders of magnitude. John Scalzi has, somewhat famously, attempted to quantify what makes a good apology, and the Bedrock manager hit all the right notes.

In part:

I made a mistake, plain and simple. There is no store policy or company policy about having a phone number for having a box, it is just a requirement that I prefer we have. I like being able to reach people directly concerning any issues with the box. I set your form off to the side, again my decision, making a terrible assumption about when you would next be in the store. I incorrectly assumed you would be in the next week or the week after, I would then get the phone number and then enter the information in our system and get everything started. This, obviously, did not happen. I read your review on your blog and your anger is well justified. I should have reached out to you via email. Especially considering I deemed the phone number so important, but, in all honesty, did not even consider that. Again, this is all my fault and my responsibility, not an indictment of Bedrock City comics.

He doesn’t stutter or prevaricate; he takes full responsibility, and then comes the kicker: if I’d give them another shot, they’ll supply any issues I missed on their dime, even if they have to go to other dealers to do it.

Yeah, I can do that.

I had a bit of business travel last week, but yesterday Mrs Heathen and I went into Bedrock again and met with this manager. We gathered what they had of my pulls in house, plus another trade or two, and took inventory of what I needed that they didn’t have yet. Turns out I haven’t missed many issues after all, which is nice. Nicer still, the missing ones are from big-print-run Marvel books, so finding them will be trivial for Bedrock. (I should have them later this week, actually.) We started over, more or less, and I left there feeling good about the shop and about Eric the manager in particular, which is a long way from where I was on May 25. He didn’t have to reach out to me at all; that took actual guts and integrity, and he deserves praise for having the stones to do it. Moreover, they certainly didn’t have to comp my entire pile yesterday, which rang to the tune of $40 or $50. But they did, to make up for the hassle, and that’s how you recover when you fuck up.

That’s the lesson here, really. Every business will make mistakes, even good ones run with the best of intentions. The trick is all in how you recover, and Bedrock (and Eric) nailed the recovery in a way that’s really only happened to me one other time.

Nearly two decades ago, something similar happened to me with a car detailing shop: they lost my car key, and since it was a Porsche I’d bought used, it was the only one I had. Before I could even say a word, though, they were outlining how they’d fix it. Obviously, they’d pay for my replacement key. But also I’d have the use of the owner’s truck for the duration. They’d guard my car — it couldn’t be moved or locked without the key — until a key showed up from Porsche America, which turned out to be about 72 hours. And after it was all over, they’d clean up the various rock dings on the front air dam of the car for free, which I never would’ve done because it was about $500 worth of work. Ask me now: have I ever used another detailing shop? Nope.

It’s early yet, but right about now my bet’s that I’ll be buying comics at Bedrock for a long time, too.

Why are comics shops in trouble?


It’s not so much online, or other demands on our attention. It’s because of gatekeeping behavior, I’m sure in part, but in my personal experience, the biggest single reason?

They are bad at their jobs.

Let me explain.

Comics are a periodical medium; it used to be they were tied to months in the calendar, but that’s not universally true anymore; new issues just come out when they come out. People keep up by dealing with a local comic shop and setting up what’s called a “pull list.” You go in, fill out a form with some contact data, and make a list of the titles you want “pulled” for you when they come out. Then, you go to the store at your leisure to pick up your accumulated comics.

Big fans who read many titles do this every Wednesday, which is traditionally when new comics come out (you may have seen DC fans in your life talking about buying a highly-anticipated comic at midnight last night, i.e. on the first moments of Wednesday; it’s also been a plot point in Big Bang Theory more than once). People like me who read fewer titles probably go in once a month, or even every couple of months, but the principle is the same.

For years I had a pull list at Nan’s Comics and Games. I finally quit when, for the umpteenth time, they just skipped a couple of my issues. This is a “you had one job” kind of situation, right? If I have The Avengers on my list, I expect to get every issue. If I travel a bunch and don’t come in for 6 or 8 weeks, the point of the pull list is that I don’t miss anything. Nan’s couldn’t be bothered to actually do my pulls reliably, and so I just quit reading monthlies because it was too much trouble.

Back in early April, though, I was tempted back by some really great writing by folks like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, and others, plus the Ta-Nehisi Coates-penned revival of Black Panther. Returning to Nan’s was out of the question, but there’s a much shinier and newer shop — a branch of Bedrock City, which has several locations in Houston — up on Washington Avenue. It’s actually next door to my doctor, even (which is convenient for him, since he’s a big nerd too).

I went in and picked 5 or 6 titles, and then filled out their pull-list paperwork. They had my name, my email, my physical address, and I even provided a credit card number after we discussed the fact that I might not drop by for a month or so at a time. “If we have your card, we’ll just charge you for them after a month or two, and nobody worries about it.” Fine by me! Let’s do this! I had the guy review the paperwork to ensure all was squared away — this turns out to be important — and left looking forward to my comics.

I got busy. I ride a lot, and work’s been crazy. I was driving by Bedrock today, though, and — fueled by the knowledge that Black Panther #2 had just come out; n.b. I bought the first one when I was in there in January or February, so this is what “monthly” looks like for some titles — I stopped by to pick up my comics. I was even a little excited!

The girl at the desk, though, killed that with a quickness. “We don’t have a pull list for Farmer,” she said after checking the computer.


“I’m pretty sure you do.”

She poked around a bit, opened a drawer, and pulled my form out of some kind of dead letter file. On the front was a PostIt saying that, because they didn’t have my phone number, they couldn’t set up the pull.

Mind you, they reviewed my paperwork back in April, and pronounced it find. Plus, my email address was RIGHT THERE ON THE FORM, in the box marked “email,” so it’s not like they couldn’t reach me. Even if they were dead set on having the phone number for the pull (which the guy in January didn’t care about), you’d think they could’ve reached out by email to get the phone number. These are people who, presumably, also care about comics, and understand that missing issues isn’t cool.

Apparently not. By now, I’ve missed at least one issue of everything on my list other than Panther, which (as I said) just came out.

I bought that, and only that, and told them not to bother with the pull after all.

Fuck you, Bedrock. I’ll buy the rest of the Panther issues somewhere else when they come out. The other titles I’ll get digitally, or buy the trade paperbacks when they come out. From AMAZON.

Why are comics shops in trouble? Shit like this right here, boyo. Shit like this right here.

(For the record, the girl behind the counter seemed to understand this was bullshit, but made clear the decision to behave this way wasn’t hers.)

In the future, you can watch your home burn down from anywhere in the world!

A Fort McMurray family had a Canary system, apparently, and so they were able to watch their home burn down in real time on their phones. The fire comes in through the window at the left.

There’s audio. You can hear the glass breaking, and, eventually (but far too late), the smoke detectors going off around the time visibility becomes 0. The video continues after you have no more meaningful visuals, but given that audio continues the whole time I’m not sure if this is because the smoke was too thick, or because the video element perished ahead of the rest of the device.

In any case: Eeek.

In which I’m nerdy about keyboards

So I have a great keyboard, but it turns out one of the things that I really love about it — fantastic mechanical switches that feel really nice under my fingers — also makes it kind of loud, and even though I work at home, turns out I’m on the phone a LOT. And even though I use a headset most of the time, the Kinesis is clickyclacky enough that people ask me to mute ALL THE DAMN TIME.

Well, since the Kinesis — which was a gift from a pro bono client ten years ago, which shocks the hell out of me; who makes keyboards that last ten years? — really needs some TLC, I figured I’d try out one of the more well-reviewed other ergo keyboards in the interim: the Microsoft Sculpt.

Yeah, I know. But, turns out, lots of Mac nerds love it, and it’s cheap (or, at least, it’s cheap compared to the Kinesis, and so now I’m typing this on one.

It’s true: key feel is, while inferior to the mechanicals on the Kinesis, still far better than I’d expected. But it’s a different beast. All ergo keyboards have some idiosyncrasies; my Kinesis has for years been the functional equivalent of typing on an RPN calculator. Guests just can’t use it. But it’s not just the radical shape of the thing — even though the keys are essentially in a standard Qwerty layout, the modifiers are all over the place. I’ve been hitting enter with my right thumb for a decade.

Space is there, too. Backspace and delete are under your left thumb. Control, command, and alt are thumb keys on the Kinesis layout, too. That’s not all, either; the arrow keys are split between left and right (below the bottom row on the left) and up and down (same position on the right). To describe the Kinesis as eccentric is to understate things rather dramatically, but holy hell is it comfortable once you get the hang of it. (Obviously, all this assumes a pretty complete committement to touch-typing; the last time I checked, I was somewhere north of 90 words per minute.)

Microsoft’s entry here is almost quotidian compared to my Old Reliable. It’s still goofy compared to a flat keyboard, but it’s far closer to the norm than the Kinesis. It’s got a normal (but split) spacebar. The arrows are in an inverted T on the right, as you’d expect. The biggest shocks for me, in terms of adaptation, are doubtless to be

  • The placement of control/command/option on either side of the space bar, which isn’t terribly comfortable, and is especially hostile to the motions I’ve learned on the Kinesis for Cmd-Tab and such; and
  • The utterly baffling choice they’ve made with the number row.

Of the second point, let me explain. On the old keyboard the split was logical: 1-5 on the left and 6-0 on the right. This allows the keyboard to be used just as a traditional touch typist would, and it’s a critical thing.

Microsoft has, once again, gone its own way for no discernible reasons (and have apparently been doing this since their first “Natural” keyboard back in the 1990s). The numbers are unbalanced; the left hand handles 1 through 6, with 7-0 on the right. This might seem like a minor change, but as I noted it’s like nails on a chalkboard for anyone that actually knows how to type.

Plus, numbers aren’t the end of it — obviously, if the number row is shifted left, so too are the shifted versions of those keys; shift-8 is asterisk on most any keyboard, but now the eight and the asterisk are in the wrong spot. Plus the keys to the right of zero are now in the wrong spot, too (hyphen/underscore and plus/equals).

It’s a little thing, but it may well be enough to have me send this thing back. I can’t even fix it with remapping software, because there aren’t enough keys on the top row to shift things right (backspace is to the right of plus/equals).

The tl;dr here is that yeah, once again, I’ve run into a place where Microsoft subverts an agreed-upon standard for no good goddamn reason. What IS it with those guys?

No, YOU’RE a two-rotor wankel

Even people who aren’t gearheads tend to be at least provisionally aware that the Mazda RX-7 and RX-8 used a very different sort of engine than pretty much every other car. While the rest of the auto world had long since settled on a piston-and-cylinder design, the RX cars used something else: the Rotary or Wankel engine.

I knew this, too, and even had a vague idea how it actually worked — just a lot MORE vague than my understanding of conventional cylinder engines. However, if you’re curious, this excellent video runs down exactly how rotaries work by walking you through the actual parts involved (in this case, from a 1985 Rx-7). It’s pretty awesome.

You may have also noticed that, well, not only were the Mazda RX cars the only cars to use these things, but not even Mazda makes them anymore. Why is that? Well, fortunately, the same guy also made a video about why the rotary engine is dead. Again, I knew some of this, but not the underlying causes for them. Great, very accessible work here.

The tl;dr here, though, is kind of simple: because of the way the engine works, there’s an irregularly shaped combustion chamber, and that leads to inefficient combustion. A rotary is absolutely going to end up emitting unburnt fuel, which is terrible for fuel economy and terrible for emissions. The problem is exasperated by the fact that combustion only happens on one side of the chamber, which leads to enormous temperature differentials, which leads to problems in sealing, which means inefficient combustion, which means bad emissions and bad fuel economy again.

But watch the videos. He explains is really well.

Here’s something interesting…

Well, to me, anyway.

You’ve all played pool on a coin-op table in a bar, obviously. Did you ever wonder how the table knows which ball is the cue ball? It has to be able to tell somehow, because after every scratch during play it returns the cue instead of trapping it with the object balls.

Turns out, there’s two ways.

One method involves a big-ass magnet and requires the cue contain enough iron for the magnet to pull it to one side and change its pathway inside the table. That’s pretty neat. (Click through; there’s video.)

The other method involves a cue ball that is fractionally bigger (2 and 3/8 inches vs the standard 2 and 1/4) than the object balls, and uses a slightly different mechanism to do the segregation that’s perhaps a bit easier to imagine since it’s size based.

This information has implications, though.

First, it means that home or premium table cue balls won’t work on coin-op tables, because in those sets (a) all the balls are the same size and (b) none of them contain iron.

Second, a bar owner who needs a new cue ball for his table will also need to know which kind of mechanism his table has, because there two types of cue balls and the iron one won’t work on a table that expects an off-size cue, and vice versa.

Interestingly, the first several billiard supply shops I found online didn’t even deal with coin-op cue balls; they were all about the home or premium market. I assume this is because a bar owner (or similar) is dealing with some local amusement vendor and not the Internet most of the time, whereas folks searching for “pool table supplies” online are looking to outfit their own billiard room.

No idea why this information charms me so much, but there it is. (Also: Magnets!)

No, you don’t want to connect EVERYTHING.

People have been yammering about “The Internet of Things” for a long time now, probably dating back to the 1990s and Java and the idea of a fridge (e.g.) smart enough to know when you run out of milk. It’s a neat idea, but even moderately sophisticated software people see the problem immediately:

Every time you connect a device to the net and give it information, you’re trusting that manufacturer not to be stupid. If we can’t even trust phone and computer makers that implicitly, then why the hell do you think we ought to be trusting car makers or appliance vendors?

Look, information security is hard. There’s no goddamn reason you ought to trust your refrigerator with your Gmail password. There’s no reason to need a “smart” TV at all. Don’t buy a car with a wifi adapter, and be circumspect about turning on Bluetooth for anything but phone integration. That neat shit your friend can do with his Tesla? Yeah, it’s cool, but do you REALL think Detroit can do the same shit with the same level of execution? Christ, they can’t even make switches that don’t fail. Don’t ask them to do SOFTWARE.

Don’t connect shit to the Internet that doesn’t need to be connected to the Internet. You do not need to watch Netflix on your toaster. Trust me. I know things.

In which I do something MailChimp probably doesn’t want me to do.

I get lots of bulk mail.

Some of it is scattershot spam from bots or whatever, but a significant portion of the spam I get is stuff from people who should know better, and who’ve bought my address from some list somewhere else on the assumption that if I wanted to get mail from Party X, I also must want to get mail from Party Y!

This is never, ever the case, and it is never, ever legitimate to make that assumption.

MailChimp is increasingly seeing use as the bulk emailer of choice amongst these sorts of people, and because I’ve started seeing this pattern, I’ve taken a step I’ll bet MailChimp hopes doesn’t happen much.

I configured my mail server to sequester anything sent my MailChimp into a folder other than my inbox. It’s not going directly to spam, but it may as well be. I might survey the folder occasionally, but it’s out of my way. And the truth of it is that nothing of value is likely to come from MailChimp anyway.

This kind of thing wouldn’t be necessary if MailChimp was more serious about ensuring its clients were doing real opt-in. But they’re not, and I’m getting the idea that their whole business model is predicated on not being too much of a stickler on this point. They’re keeping out the Nigerian princes, but as far as I’m concerned the Marty McVey Mayoral campaign is no better than any other sort of unsolicited commercial message.

Take for example their “report abuse” method. First, you have to search their site to find a way to do this, but it’s there. Their approach involves a web form that requires the user know how to view the raw headers of the message to pull out a unique value that identifies the campaign and client.

Yeah, nobody is gonna do that. Nobody, I mean, other than me.

It’d be WAY simpler if there was always a “report abuse” link in the footer of every message sent through MailChimp, but that would produce actual reports of abuse, which are not in their interest. This way, they get to say there’s a mechanism for reporting and dealing with abuse, but their implementation means only nerds like me will ever bother doing so.

It’s reasonable to assume this means that MailChimp isn’t that interested in preventing abuse or getting reports of abuse from bulk mail recipients, because it’s bad for business. Most people who get spammed by a given campaign will just delete the mails when they come in.

As I suppose is obvious, at Amalgamated Heathen, we’re not most people.

In Which We Bitch About Name Collisions

I’m planning to upgrade my laptop this year, as is my custom. I do so every three years, give or take. Mrs Heathen usually takes my old one as hers for light duty (email, web, the odd Office doc), which also serves as my “emergency backup” machine until it’s recycled or donated when the next new machine enters three or so years later.

Laptops have gotten good enough that the three year cycle is starting to seem a LITTLE extravagant, but two things drive the upgrade this time:

  • First, I’m about to be out of warranty, and it’s my work machine.
  • Second, I have no backup, and haven’t since 2012. That year, we were robbed, and they got my then-2-year-old machine. A month or two later, the then-5-year-old prior machine gave up the ghost as well. We got Erin an 11″ Air, but I can’t work on that for lots of reasons.

There’s actually another factor, too: it seems like CPU power might finally have come to the point where I could buy something other than the top-of-the-line full-size Macbook Pro. Time was, a 4.4 pound laptop was svelte, but that’s just not the case anymore; the 13″ Retina Macbook Pro is a full pound lighter. (The Air and the newly introduced just-plain-Macbook are nonstarters for technical reasons.)

That said, I do worry a little: the 13″ laptop ships with a fast CPU, but it’s only a dual-core chip. The 15″ machines have quad-core chips, meaning they effectively have four CPUs while the smaller one has only two. And it’s not at all clear to me how much difference this makes to me.

I feel like my machine is only rarely CPU-bound despite its fairly heavy duty cycle — lots of Lightroom, plus I run a Windows VM all day every day. Memory is likely the bigger problem, plus I/O. But that’s a hunch, and I don’t want to marry a laptop on a hunch.

Turns out, there’s a tool I could use to watch my CPU usage over the course of the day. It’s an old-school command-line Linux-heritage tool called “sar,” but it comes with OS X. There’s lots of examples online of how to use it, but as is often the case with command line utilities, it looks like there’s some serious differences between the Mac version of sar and the Linux version.

No problem, right? Just ask Google, and be sure to specify the version of OSX!

Well, turns out, that doesn’t work so well.

Screen Shot 2015 04 09 at 9 19 13 AM

I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s Microsoft, after all.

I keep my personal calendar information separate from my corporate calendar. Work stuff is in an Exchange calendar, and personal stuff is in Apple’s iCloud calendar. Since the native Mac calendar can read from both servers, I can easily see my whole calendar there. Ditto on my iPhone and iPad.

However, heretofore, I haven’t bothered trying to show my iCloud calendars in Outlook 2010. It’s been a nagging thing-I-need-to-investigate for a while, but what pushed me over the edge was scheduling snafus brought about by the sudden influx of daytime medical appointments (scheduled, naturally, on my personal calendar) that were invisible to Outlook. See, 90% of the time, the calendar I consult before accepting a business appointment is the sidebar (“To-Do Bar”) calendar in Outlook.

That Outlook can’t see dinner parties is one thing. That it couldn’t see midday physical therapy sessions was becoming a problem. So, today, I went looking for a way to show all my cal data in Outlook, too. Turns out, getting that data in Outlook is pretty simple — you just download iCloud for Windows from Apple, and like magic you can see your contacts and calendars from iCloud in Outlook. Nice.

But because this is Microsoft, and they hate you, there’s a grotesque limitation. Sure, you can SEE your non-Exchange data in the Calendar mode in Outlook, but the To-Do Bar — which is the only calendar I ever use in Outlook — is limited to your DEFAULT calendar, and cannot show data from any other calendar, either from Exchange or another data source.


This makes utterly ZERO sense, because even if I kept my personal calendar data in Exchange, it’d be in another calendar, not co-mingled with every business appointment ever. Having NO WAY to show a real and accurate sidebar calendar in Outlook is just baffling. Or, rather, it would be baffling, if it weren’t from MSFT.

So much for at-a-glance functionality. If I’ve gotta switch modes to see my days, I’ll just turn off calendars in Outlook entirely and use the Mac calendar instead, because this is some bullshit. It’s also bullshit that gets WORSE in Outlook 2013, since the To-Do Bar has apparently been significantly dumbed down there. More reason to eschew that particular upgrade.

Dept. of Next-Level Crafting

Over at this Reddit thread, you can see a dress a woman made herself, from scratch.

By “from scratch” I do not mean a Simplicity pattern and fabric. I mean she started with a sheep, sheared it, combed the raw wool, then spun it into yarn, then wove the yarn into fabric, and then made the dress.

Oh, and she made the tools she used, too.

This is almost certainly the coolest thing you’ll see this month

Some folks in New York have figured out how to 3-D print an actual dress. Not “print a bunch of pieces and then assemble them,” mind you, which is what I thought this would be when I first watched the video; I mean they created the design for this dress — comprised of thousands of triangles and other shapes linked together — that could be printed all at once, and worn immediately out of the printer.

This is seriously some William Gibson shit right here. Check it out.

Oh, marketers

The surest way to communicate to me that you know nothing is to mention the “[Brand X] Technology” included in the product in question, where “Brand X” is clearly a meaningless, made-up term, and then be unable to describe to me what that means, and then insist that “no, it’s not a made up term.”

You may also opt to compound your error by offering to show me Gartner “magic quadrant” graphs favorable to the product in question.

You may complete the trifecta by getting huffy when I poke you about the fundamental fecklessness of both points.

Dept. of Coding Abominations

So, it turns out you can comment out comment characters in SQL.

-- /*
update resource
set IsDeleted=0, ExternalID=@externalID
where Code=@resCode
and ResourceSetID=@resSetID
-- */

In which I am geeky about day length

Somehow, I made it 44 years without every really paying attention to the day to day differences in the time the sun sets. My agrarian ancestors would be horrified, I’m sure, but for most of my working life the only real question was “is it going to be light outside when I leave the office?”

In the summer, the answer is yes.

In the winter, the answer is no.

And for most of my life, that’s all I noticed.

But a couple months ago, I started riding with a group at West End on Tuesdays and Thursdays; the ride starts at 6:30, which is much earlier than the rides I’d done in the past. This summer has been great for my cycling; I’ve lost weight and gotten stronger, both of which have made me faster. The route to the ride doesn’t change, so I could gauge my progress by what time I pass certain points, and especially what time I get home.

The first thing I noticed was that my “great ride” finish time got closer and closer to 8:00; a couple times, I even got home BEFORE 8.

The second thing I noticed was that not only did I never turn on my headlight, but most of the riders I was with didn’t even bother to bring one. Sure, if you took breaks and didn’t plan to finish until the bottom half of the 8:00 hour, you’d need one, but if you mashed hard and kept moving you really didn’t need to bother at all in June (earliest sunset: 8:17, on the first), or in July (8:15, on the 31st)

Of course, after July 1, days start getting shorter again, and by mid-August I was using my headlight on the last parts of the ride even though I was finishing at the same time.

I started to wonder — never having bothered to care before — about the rate at which the day was getting shorter. I’d blithely assumed the change was linear at first, but there’s every reason for it not to be. It’s just that I never had cause to notice it before because I’d never been outside consistently during the time in question.

Being a giant nerd, I went looking for data. It wasn’t hard to find. This month the changes from Tuesday to Thursday, and especially from Thursday to the following Tuesday, have been especially pronounced; the table quantifies it, but in a way I didn’t anticipate.

The surprise was that yes, the acceleration IS there in the last half of the year — but it had already happened. Each day in September is about 1:45 shorter than the previous one; there’s almost no variance at all. The first was 1:44 shorter than the last day of August, and the 30th will be 1:46 shorter than the 29th.

The giant jumps happened two months ago. July first was only 22 seconds shorter than the last day of June, but by the end of the month the delta had ballooned to 1:17. The change in August wasn’t as huge, but it’s still much bigger than September: 1:19 on August 1 to 1:42 on the 31st.

I just didn’t NOTICE until September, because (a) the average day-to-day change in July is so much smaller and (b) if I’m honest, I admit that the need to use my headlight made me much more conscious of the rate of change.

But those big bites in September really do drive the point home. There’s only about a nine minute difference in daylight between July 1 and July 31, but those 1:45 changes add up quick in September. The 30th is more than half an hour shorter than the first.

My ride on the 11th had three and a half minutes less sunlight than my ride on the 9th, just two days before. My ride tonight will have nearly NINE minutes less sunlight than my ride Thursday.

tl;dr: Orbits and seasons, man.

Dear Internet Explorer: You’re not even trying, are you?

I just needed to share a customer VPN landing page URL with a co-worker.

I have that link saved in my favorites bar, so I flipped over and did a right-click, chose copy, and then hit paste in the chat window.

And I got this:

/tmp/VMwareDnD/5141f9ae/New Client VPN.url

Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot. Under what fucking circumstances, Microsoft, would that EVER be something I wanted to share or copy? Any why would you decide NOT to have that action capture the underlying URL for the link?

I checked behavior in my other browsers; doing the right-click, copy thing with Safari and with Chrome yields the URL of the bookmark in question. Not so with Redmond, where apparently testing and polish remain utterly alien concepts.

This is awesome

This story about mistaken email identity reminds me of a tale from college.

Phone numbers on campus were, in dorms at least, more or less permanently set — room XXX would have phone number YYY, and it would stay that way. If you moved, your phone number changed. And if you knew that Dave lived in 213, you knew what is his phone number was — generally, one more that his neighbor to one side, and one less than his neighbor on the other.

This scheme was in place for years, and campus telecom liked it that way.

Well, they built a new rec center on the far site of campus, and the number allocated to the raquetball court reservation desk was a single digit off my friend M’s dorm room. He got LOTS of wrong numbers, often starting early on Saturday mornings. Campus telecom wouldn’t change either number despite his complaints, so he got creative.

He started accepting reservations, and giving out confirmation numbers.

It took about a week, but pretty soon the number for the raquetball courts changed. I can’t imagine how many irate players screaming about their confirmation number were involved, but 20+ years later it still makes me giggle.

Yet again we wonder why anyone listens to the likes of Gartner

For my whole career, I’ve been aware of babble and noise coming from “research” firms like Gartner and IDC. Their publications are, nearly always, bizarrely wrong or completely irrelevant to reality, designed mostly to please consultants who cite them and clueless CIOs who read them and feel clever, but neither pursuit has traditionally been tightly coupled to reality.

One of the drums they’ve adopted to beat loudly and often is the supposed decline of Apple, so much so that they declared Apple would suffer a DECREASE in Mac shipments this quarter — an announcement they made in advance of Apple’s own quarterly reports.

They were, of course, very very wrong, as Apple reported double-digit Mac sales growth in the period.

Apple’s sales figures not only contradict both IDC and Gartner figures, but also both firm’s market conclusions. IDC specifically reported that Apple’s Macs “lost market share over the past year. In U.S. shipments, Apple slipped to become the No. 4 PC maker, dropping from the No. 3 spot to come in at 10 percent market share, a 1.7 percent decline.”

IDC’s incorrect assessment of Apple’s double digit U.S. growth percentage as a year-over-year “decline” also calls into question its ranking of Apple as the fourth largest maker of conventional PCs in the domestic market, as the narrowest possible interpretation of Maestri’s “double digit” growth would essentially tie Apple with Lenovo in U.S. sales, according to IDC’s own figures.

More importantly, it also means Apple’s Mac sales continued to outpace the overall industry. Both firms reported that Apple lost share in the quarter. However, IDC estimated the U.S. PC sales increased by just 6.9 percent. Globally, it reported that PC sales fell by 2 percent in the quarter as Apple’s Mac sales grew by 18 percent.

Gartner estimated that U.S. PC sales grew at a slightly faster pace of 7.4 percent, still far behind the “strong double digit growth” Maestri reported for Macs. And Gartner’s numbers portray Apple and Lenovo as being even closer than IDC’s, suggesting that there’s no way Apple could have experienced a “double digit” percentage in growth without surpassing Lenovo to become the third largest vendor of conventional PCs in the U.S., behind HP and Dell.

Even more damning is the way they calculate PC vs. tablet sales:

In calculating their PC “market share” numbers, both IDC and Gartner include low end netbook and hybrid devices and Windows tablets. IDC also counts Chromebook web browser devices, but both firms exclude sales of Apple’s iPad from their PC sales figures.

If they had included iPads and other tablets in their PC figures, they would be forced to recognize Apple as being the largest computer maker by a wide margin. Despite much media handwringing about Apple’s year-over-year decrease in iPad sales, the company still sold 13.3 million iPads globally in the quarter, more than Samsung, Lenovo and Asus (the next three largest vendors, according to IDC) combined.


IDC, Gartner and Strategy Analytics have a long history of presenting carefully contrived data in press releases clearly designed to flatter their clients and denigrate their clients’ competitors, with Apple being a common target.

Beyond just serving the public relations needs of their clients, however, data promulgated by these marketing firms helped to obscure major shifts in the technology landscape, such as the clear and obvious shift away from conventional PCs that began with the appearance of iPad in 2010.

Fortune has an interesting backgrounder on how these estimates are created, and for whom, and (as you may surmise) reality doesn’t enter into it. Pleasing their clients does, and their clients are the other PC makers.

All of this is h/t Daring Fireball.