Dept. of Windows Boneheadedness

So I went to lunch, and since I was on battery, I closed my laptop before I did so.

When I came back, opened the Dell, and restarted my aircard, Firefox and TBird were back in business. However, Outlook threw an error stating, basically, that it was working offline now, and that to get Outlook back online, I should start Internet Explorer and tell IT to stop working offline, and that then Outlook would play nice.

Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot. Who writes software this way? I’m beginning to understand the isolation common to MS developer types, since there’s no way you could get away with behavior like this if you were exposed to proper developers.

(What’s also amazing is the level of talent I see from MS in the field, via their consulting organization, where I meet genuinely brilliant people frequently embarrassed by their employer’s products. Somebody oughta figure out this disconnect.)

The more Windows changes, the more it stays the same

In order to resolve the USB boradband modem problem on the MiniDell I mentioned earlier, I had to:

  • Un-install the modem driver
  • Un-install the AT&T management software
  • Reboot
  • Re-install the driver
  • Re-install the management software

Ah, Windows. It’s like I never left.

(I should note that in 2+ years of using modems like this on my Macs, this problem has never happened; further, in 10+ years of using Macs, this sort of take off and nuke the site from orbit problem-solving approach has been applicable maybe once or twice ever, as opposed to standard operating procedure. Sigh.)

Well, that didn’t take long

The mini-Dell is already causing me grief: all of a sudden, it’s refusing to recognize my 3G modem. Worked fine last week, and has worked fine for more than a year on the Mac. Ah, the joys of Windows.

“Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.”

The extremely smart and usually right Clay Shirky breaks down the newspaper problem for you. Hint: Unless they realize what business they’re actually in — which is to say, not selling paper — they’ll die. The digital world has brought changes that are unavoidably destructive to the old way of doing business as a newspaper, which depended on it being hard to duplicate and distribute information. There’s no way to undo that, and there’s absolutely no sane reason to want to.

But, as recent events have shown, no newspaper firm yet understands this, and so they continue to fail, fail again, and fail some more, all the while refusing to alter their business plans — and while this is happening, good people are being put out of work as a direct result of the failure of management vision.

Remember, the railroads weren’t broken by the automobile. They were broken by the mistaken belief they were in the railroad business. What their customers wanted was transportation; how the package moves from St Louis to Denver is completely irrelevant to the customer.

Made of AWESOME and WIN

Nine Inch Nails and Jane’s Addiction are touring together this summer; the branding is all about NIN|JA, which is beautiful. (With them on most dates is Tom Morello‘s new gig Street Sweeper, adding to the overall grooviness.)

Problem: No dates convenient to Houston. For this lineup, though, I’d fly; the principal bands here are up there with Willie on my persona list of “acts I’ve never seen but desperately want to.” Right now, the only really good candidate for me is the Charlotte show. Mike?

(Yes, really Jane’s; the lineup is Farrell/Navarro/Avery/Perkins, or the same lineup as the seminal EP and Nothing’s Shocking.)

Electrolite Goodness

Some folks are Georgia Tech are working on “ethical governor” technology designed to control the use of lethal force by unmanned, autonomous drones without any human intervention.

Clearly, this has some implications:

The 600 Series had rubber skin

The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

You may commence quivering now. I for one welcome our autonomous robotic hunter-killer overlords.

This kind of crap has GOT to stop

Get pulled over with a lot of cash? The cops might just decide to take it even if you’re not charged with any crime. Leaving aside raging due process concerns, law enforcement organizations get to keep a substantial portion of the property they seize in this way, which gives them an incentive to steal such assets when they think they can get away with it — which may or may not be the same thing as “when they think it’s actually evidence of illegality.”

I think we can also be safe saying that people with access to and experience with white-collar banking services are unlikely to use twenty large in cash to buy a car (e.g.), so the folks caught by seizure-hungry cops are going to tend to be poorly educated and from the lower strata of society — which makes them easier targets, since they’re correspondingly less likely to fight the seizures in court. Nice.

The Geekiest Thing I’ll Post Today

A New Sith is an amusing analysis of the original three Star Wars films in light of the information and connections given to us by the prequel trilogy. Viewed carefully, the new films support some surprising conclusions; one of the author’s main conclusions:

If we accept all the Star Wars films as the same canon, then a lot that happens in the original films has to be reinterpreted in the light of the prequels. As we now know, the rebel Alliance was founded by Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Bail Organa. What can readily be deduced is that their first recruit, who soon became their top field agent, was R2-D2.

Consider: at the end of RotS, Bail Organan orders 3PO’s memory wiped but not R2’s. He wouldn’t make the distinction casually. Both droids know that Yoda and Obi-Wan are alive and are plotting sedition with the Senator from Alderaan. They know that Amidala survived long enough to have twins and could easily deduce where they went. However, R2 must make an impassioned speech to the effect that he is far more use to them with his mind intact: he has observed Palpatine and Anakin at close quarters for many years, knows much that is useful and is one of the galaxy’s top experts at hacking into other people’s systems. Also he can lie through his teeth with a straight face. Organa, in immediate need of espionage resources, agrees.

(It’s possible I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m too lazy to check. Nearly nine years of bloggy goodness will do that to you.)

Oh my.

You will feel weird and potentially a little sad when I tell you that they’re making a live-action movie out of “Where the Wild Things Are“. I think that’s normal.

Then I will tell you that Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) is directing a script he co-wrote with Dave Eggars, and then show you the trailer. I have Hope, and I didn’t even mention some of the voices used for the wild things (Lauren Ambrose, Forrest Whitaker, Chris Cooper, James Gandolfini). It’s obvious they’ve expanded the plot a bit, but with those two on the screenplay it seems likely they’ve kept the spirit of the thing.


So, nearly three years ago, my friend Rob and I got into a conversation about “which two cities in the world are the farthest apart?” At the time, we thought we’d hit pay dirt with Barcelona and Wellington, which are about 12,338 miles distant on a planet only 24,901 around at the equator. So that’s cool.

Well, comes now a slightly different web tool that will show you where on the globe you’d end up if you dug straight through on a diameter line; turns out, a small town in New Zealand (Wellsford) and a point just north of Gibraltar are antipodes; the point opposite Wellington is on the A-62 between Salamanca and Tordesillas. Sadly, the point opposite Barcelona is in the Pacific.

(Houston (and most of North America)? Indian Ocean between Australia and Madagascar. And, sadly, despite the “digging to China” meme, you’d pretty much have to be in Chile or Argentina to actually do it.)

Something for Mississippi to be proud of for a change

Jackson stops enforcement with red-light cameras:

Mississippi’s capital city will stop issuing tickets and collecting fines when automatic cameras snap pictures of vehicles running red lights, city attorney Sarah O’Reilly Evans says.

The change in Jackson is being made immediately, even though a new state law sets an Oct. 1 deadline for the cameras to be taken down in the only two cities already using them – Jackson and Columbus.

In case you forgot: American ingenuity rocks.

Rands points out just how badass the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge was, which is something that folks outside the Northeast may not appreciate properly. Bridges on that scale were still in beta at that point — as he points out:

The Brooklyn Bridge was built from 1870 until 1883. A quick history refresher: five years after we finished shooting each other in the American Civil War, we started building [it].

Also, the article will give you an opportunity to answer the question “what’s a caisson?”, which is something you really want to know if you’re at all geeky. Trust me.

Both of the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge are in the water of the East River. Ever wonder how you dig a big hole in the bottom of a river bed? In the late 1800s? It’s called a caisson, which is a huge, watertight wooden box half the size of a city block. This monstrosity was constructed on the river, sealed with pine tar, and carefully floated to a specific location on the river. It was then slowly sunk to the riverbed by placing stone on top that would eventually become the foundation.

Done, right?

Wrong. With the caisson on the riverbed, it’s time to push it another 45 feet into the riverbed in search of bedrock. Workers did this through the continued application of stone to the top while workers in the caisson dug out the riverbed with shovels, buckets, and, when necessary, dynamite. There was nothing resembling an electrical grid, so there was nothing resembling modern lighting in this watertight pine-tarred box, which was slowly descending through the floor of the East River. There were no jack hammers, so when they hit rock, they used small amounts of dynamite to crack these rocks. In a pine-tarred box, at the bottom of a river, mostly in a very wet dark.

Get excited. Make stuff. It’s the American way.

Thoughts on Dealing with Windows Again

Photo 20.jpgFor political reasons mostly boiling down to craven materialism, I have to carry a Windows laptop on certain client jobs to avoid angering the thin-skinned Redmondites, and never mind the fact that I have sixty-eleven MS licenses for software on my Macbook Pro, or that my employer’s products make MS’s better, or any of that; it’s sort of weird, but there it is.

Anyway, so, this means the firm was willing to buy me a Windows laptop, and since there’s no way I’ll travel without my Mac, it needed to be small. So I got a refurbed Dell Latitude E4200, which is smaller than you’d think was reasonable for a “real” laptop (i.e., not an underpowered netbook). It’s also almost unfeasibly light (about 2 pounds), even with its Lilliputian power adapter factored in. (Also, geek bonus: 128GB solid-state drive.) (Before you ask: Yes, Vista Business. Why I don’t have a netbook for this political officer is a whole ‘nother thing, but it basically boils down to needing a build of Windows blessed for IIS, and MS won’t let netbooks run anything but XP Home, which lacks that ability by design.)

So I get a new toy, which is nice, but it also means I have a Windows machine that is “mine” for the first time in a long, long time, which is weird. I also get to play with some other new tech to keep me from being in perpetual “it’s on the other machine” hell.

First is Evernote, a contender for “brain bucket” software I’ve been aware of for a while. I first played with it about a year ago, but its Mac client was a joke, and the iPhone’s wasn’t much better. In the intervening year I’ve experimented with other contenders, including Yojimbo, DevonThink, and Voodoo Pad, but nothing really stuck. (Yojimbo came closest, but it hasn’t been updated for a year, and Bare Bones are openly hostile to user requests for status, or updates, or new capabilities; I ran into this with BBEdit years ago, which is one reason I use TextMate now.)

But now, with the need to be multiplatform, I gave Evernote another look, and they’ve come a LONG way. Sure, it costs $5 a month (instead of $40 or whatever for a one-time Yojimbo license), but that includes the ability to search, edit, and create notes in a single database from any of four platforms (Windows, Mac, iPhone, and the Web). Totally made of Win, if you ask me. Even if you don’t have cross-platform needs, the ability to keep your “digital notebook” in sync across home and work PCs could be killer; it jumps in appeal again if you have an iPhone. Check it out.

The other thing is Dropbox, which allows me to keep a folder or folders in sync across multiple machines. The Dell is likely to be my “work machine” only when politics dictate it, but having my current work files always available on either platform, or even via the web, is pretty killer.

(On the project in question, we’re also using Windows Live Mesh, which is sort of a (currently) Windows-only multiuser collaborative file sync tool. It’s very slick and cool for what we’re using it for, so folks with a single-platform need for these kinds of things should probably check that out, too.)

And a final note: As I get this Dell up and running in a way I find acceptable, with all my various and sundry apps and files in place, I notice something I’d forgotten about the Windows ecosystem: Would someone please tell me why every fucking Windows app developer feels the need to drop one or more shortcuts on the goddamn desktop when their program gets installed? Seriously, guys, what the fuck? I’ve been jumping through the download-install-delete-shortcut hoop over and over today, and it’s pretty frakkin’ annoying. It’s obviously the idea of some idiot consultard/marketing drone, perhaps the same one who told Windows software firms that they could be cavalier about changing things like default search engines, and that drone should be tarred, feathered, and sold to gypsies just as soon as we figure out who’s behind those auto warranty robocalls.

Get on it, Heathen Nation. I’m counting on you.

Facebook Infiltrations: Music Quiz

Right, so, it’s another one of those Things, this time about musical choices. Frazer tagged me, but I’m replying here since I don’t (usually) do notes at FB.

1. What are you listening to right now?

It’s a tossup:

  • The new Neko Case record, which means also her back catalog (mostly Fox Confessor)
  • Oddly, Brian Eno’s ambient works
  • The new U2
  • Black Francis, Powderfinger
  • Zoe Keating. Seriously, check her out.

2. As a teenager, what was a band you were ashamed to admit to liking?

I’m not sure I was ever really ashamed of anything except Twisted Sister.

3. And today?

I just turned 39. I have no time for musical shame. If it makes me happy, I’m glad to listen to it. I’m sure there are people at my age who would be mildly ashamed of admitting to purchasing and listening to The Wall again after so many years, though, as I did last week. ;)

4. Have you met an artist you admired? How did it go?

I’ve met and drunk beer with Pat DiNizio, who fronted the Smithereens, a band who lived in my tape deck for most of my high school career via their “Especially For You” record. It was really cool. (At a bar called Alex’s in Memphis, after the Smithereens played at a party at my brother’s alma mater.)

I got to hang out with Kathy McCarty of Glass Eye several evenings in Austin when she did a show a friend of mine put together out of Daniel Johnston’s music, and that was really rad. As part of that process, I met and spoke with Johnston himself a few times, too.

I’ve met-in-passing, ie just shook hands or whatever, with a larger group (Buddy Guy, Chuck D, Billy Joe Shaver, Eddy Shaver, Fred LeBlanc, Jonathan Richman, Mike Mills, yadda yadda yadda), but the only actual conversations were with those three.

5. Have you had dreams about bands or artists?

I can’t recall any.

6. What was your first gig attended?

(ack!) The Beach Boys, when I was in the fifth grade, ca. 1981. My mother took me. (Yes, I know that in 1981, they weren’t really the Beach Boys. Give me a break. I was 11.)

The first one I went to without adult supervision was ZZ Top in 1985 or 1986, for the Afterburner tour. I was 15. Mom still took me, but this time that meant she stayed at the Ramada across the street from the venue in Jackson, MS, and I walked across the road at showtime.

I was a small teenager, and kinda stuck out, I guess, so I was immediately adopted by two Marines on liberty who were extraordinarily pleased with their luck that day; someone had given them the tickets to the show. They discouraged rednecks from fucking with me, bought me beer, and gave me my first exposure to Miss Mary Jane. It was an excellent concert.

7. Which living artist have you not seen, but desperately want to?

Christ, that’s a long list. Shockingly few jazz giants still walk the earth and play occasionally (Ornette, e.g.), but if I keep it to popular music I think there’s only one:

Willie Nelson.

(To my eternal joy I don’t have to say Tom Waits, since I’ve seen him twice.)

8. Which artist or what band would you like to resurrect and see live?

Jon had some obvious ones I’d echo (Minutemen, Ramones). I’d add Stevie Ray Vaughan, whose music has always just blown me away. I’m not really a fan, but seeing the Dead at their peak is something that I’m sure was quite an affair. I’d love to have managed to take in at least one show. And getting a ticket to see Miles Davis during the Black Beauty shows would’ve been amazing.

But at the end of the day, my top wish here has to be Morphine.

9. Which song/riff/solo would you like to learn to play and sing just right?

Too many. I’ve tried to be a guitar player many times over the years, and either I’m insufficiently disciplined or constitutionally incapable. Still, I’d love to be able to play along with a credible blues riff, or be able to improvise well enough to pull together a smokin’ blues take on “Wabash Cannonball” like this guy I knew who owned a guitar shop in my hometown.

10. How many records do you own, or how many songs do you have in your iTunes?

10,000 in iTunes. Well over 2K CDs, I’m sure, most of which aren’t ripped yet.

Hurtling Headlong into Irrelevance

Pope Ratz has declared that condoms make the AIDS problem worse, not better.

The Pope courted further controversy on his first trip to Africa today by declaring that condoms were not a solution to the Aids epidemic – but were instead part of the problem.

In his first public comments on condom use, the pontiff told reporters en route to Cameroon that Aids “is a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems”.

Pope Benedict has previously stressed that the Roman Catholic Church is in the forefront of the battle against Aids. The Vatican encourages sexual abstinence to fight the spread of the disease.

After his election as Pope, Benedict described Aids as a “a cruel epidemic which not only kills but seriously threatens the economic and social stability of the continent”, but reiterated the Vatican ban on the use of condoms.

Christ. Talk about absurd adherence to dogma.

Dept. of Unexpected Birthday Wishes

So, I’m sitting here minding my own, and my phone rings.

It’s someone I was dear friends with (a vanishingly small number of you will care, but: Paul McMullan) in like elementary and middle school, and still friendly with in high school (different circles by then), but I haven’t seen in 20 years. He was driving to work this morning, and when the radio DJ said something about it being “Friday, March 13,” it clicked in his head that it was my birthday. So he called his mother, who called my mother, and in an hour or two he had my cell number, and twenty minutes ago he called me to say “hey, happy birthday, and by the way how’d the last 20 years go for you?”

That’s kind of cool.