Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Wipe This

I was glancing at the snail mail spam newsletter from Delta Airlines and I noticed that they used walkie-talkie as a verb.

Fortunately, I was sitting on the throne while reading.

Memory Lame

So, I'm considering a memory (RAM) upgrade for my ancient PC.

As much as I try to kill it, it still works. It was the only one of three machines at my disposal that quietly and successfully accepted the insertion of an ancient scanner last week. Without whimpering. Works fine.

And, as much as I like to harsh on Microsoft, the fact remains, there's a lot of stuff out there that's only available for the PC.

It's like driving a Chevy was, two or three decades ago: I'm not loving everything about the ride, but most of what's easiest to add on demands a specific platform.

Coasting along with that metaphor for a bit, consider the cost.

I'd like to have just a pinch more performance in a machine that's running pretty much as well as can be expected. But, on the other hand, every dollar put into this old machine's hardware is a dollar that I could be spending on the next machine. More importantly, I can't easily reuse the new parts. But, on the gripping hand*, it's really not so much money, and my ride could be much improved.

What to do, what to do . . .

Okay -- let's invoke LiveChat with some tech support people!

I talk with Alyse_GWPR070 at gateway.com and explain that I've seen an offer for some PC133 RAM chips. Gateway offers only its PC100 RAM chips for my machine. Can I use these PC133 RAM chips on my old machine?

No, she assures me. They won't work. They might fry your motherboard.

I go back to the previous site, crucial.com, that recommended the PC133 chips. (This site is the top non-sponsored link returned by Google when searching for "memory.") I fire up LiveChat with them.

"Gateway tells me that PC133 chips will fry my motherboard."

"Nonsense," Akbar tells me. "They'll work fine."

Now, you know, and I know, that both of these poor bastards are in thrall to a script from corporate that dictates their every response. You know, and I know, that they are both being paid commissions for every sale that they make over LiveChat.

Yeah. Big waste of time.

But I give crucial.com credit for allowing a guy named Akbar to use his name in LiveChat in Dick Cheney's George Bush's America.

Should I make a decision on such an irrational basis?

Well . . .

. . . I mean . . .,

. . . it would save me a few bucks.

Sometimes, I hate our freedoms.

*You don't know "gripping hand?" Read The Mote In God's Eye.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

I Couldn't Resist This One

It's too easy to make jokes about the VP and his errant shotgun -- it's like shooting . . . never mind . . . so I have resisted (mostly) the urge to pass them along.

But this one was pretty good. According to The Washington Post, Steve Martin posted the following on HuffingtonPost.com:

Vice President Dick Cheney, while hunting wild geese in the Rose Garden, accidentally shot President Bush twice, once in the heart and once in the head. "I didn't really shoot the President twice," said Cheney. "The second time I shot him, I was president. It wasn't until my third shot, where I accidentally shot my own foot, that I had shot the president twice."

What? You want more? Oh, okay. Go here.

One For The Songbook

Sam: Why preach to the choir?
Toby: Because that's how you get them to sing.
-- The West Wing

TC sent me a nice piece that appeared on the OpEd page of the Friday's LA Times, "The Divine Irony of 'Intelligent Design,'" by Garret Keizer.

I've never heard of this guy, but this piece is definitely recommended.




There will be no links to the NY Times for a while. I'm still mad at them for yesterday's crossword puzzle.

Clue: L train (four letters)

Answer: (Just let your mouse hover here.)

Friday, February 24, 2006

And speaking of bad sources of support . . .

. . . I just noticed this headline/lede from my NYTimes.com newsletter:

Homeland Security Would Share Duties for Disaster Response Under Proposal
The Bush administration advocated giving federal agencies from the Pentagon to the Department of Justice a greater role in the nation's disaster reaction plan.

W thinks the Army can do anything, evidently. I guess he must be in an even more opaque bubble than I thought.

No way will I read the rest of this story. I'll just proceed directly to banging my head on my desk.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


(Nauseatingly Cute Cat Story)

After more than ten years of having nothing more to do with my computers than an occasional tentative walk across the keyboards (the mice held no attraction), the resident manx has suddenly discovered that screen savers are, in fact, well worth staring at.

First, it was the Hubble Telescope slide show. Now it's some random swirly thing. That's even better.

She is absolutely entranced.

Do I dare touch anything?

Well . . . the power save mode is about due to kick in.

And by that, I mean she's about to have a nap.

Not on this keyboard, you fat load.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Won! oh . . . Too? (Tu! Qué Random!)

So, what have I been wasting time on lately?

Glad you asked.

Listening to Duke Ellington, hearing about a new baby, researching digital codes, researching digital codecs, . . .

Like that.

Wait a minute. Point of clarification, please!


There is a difference between codes and codecs.

And no.

The baby's not mine.

The Duke, however . . .

The Beethoven and the Shakespeare of my time, baby.

Own that.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

He's, Surprisingly, Not So Old

William Safire, long a favorite of mine on language isssues, if not so much on the political, wrote a column concerning the current state of the blogosphere. It appeared in the Sunday NYTimes Magazine. It's a good read. It taught me some new words.

Check it out.

Unlike much of the good and smart stuff at the Times, this one is free. Probably for a week or so, anyway.

I mean, how can you not love a guy who can use the words superannuated and blogasm in the same short space?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Post 100

I got all nervous about this post, given the milestone. I finally decided that it wasn't worth that much angst.

Let me just say thanks to everyone for reading and writing.

Phew. That's done.

American-Sanctioned Censorship

There was a story in today's New York Times concerning the appearance before the House of Representatives by four executives, one each from Google, Yahoo!, Cisco, and Microsoft. The issue at hand: the companies represented at the hearing are accused of cooperating with the government of China in hamstringing the free flow of information over the Internet to desktops in China.

I don't suppose that there is much argument about the guilt of Google, et al, in this matter. The arguments made by these companies, as presented in this story and in numerous others for the past few months, are pretty weak. They sound a lot like the arguments that weapons manufacturers make -- "if we don't sell it to them, they'll just get it somewhere else."

The thing that struck me as most telling in the story, however, was a bit peripheral to the main issue. It seemed to me to be the most honest thing I've heard someone from Congress say in a long while (emph. added):

But Representative Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat, took up Mr. Lantos's question later and asked if Congress ought not be ashamed itself, for having granted China trade status as a most favored nation. Mr. Wexler said that it was "duplicitous" to blame the companies for doing what the government had legally sanctioned them to do, and that the firms were in a "no-win situation."

That suggestion drew an incredulous response from Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican. "Most favored nation status?" he said, "Who lobbied for that? Come on. The corporations did."

And there you have it: an admission, on the record, that Congress is powerless to resist the lobbying efforts of big corporations.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Whaaaaat? Oh, okay ...

Just installed a new anti-spyware program. During the information that flashed by on the screen, I saw the following message:

Now installing: UNWISE.EXE

Not a good feeling.

But then I remembered that the installer program that many of these programs use is the Wise Installer, and so, this must be the uninstall utility that comes with it.



Okay, not really.

But this story does turn the headline "VP Assassination Attempt!!!" on its ear, doesn't it?

You have to wonder, considering the last VP to serve under a president named Bush, about the irony of Cheney going quail hunting, though.

It's also fun to ponder the reaction of Justice Scalia, the next time he gets invited along to slaughter some fowl.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Runt #1

There is a pretty good piece of writing that just came to my attention.

Maybe you would like to read it.

Okay, so it's on my site. And yeah, I wrote it.

This full disclosure stuff hurts sometimes . . .

Friday, February 10, 2006

Garrison Great. Again.

If you're like me, you sometimes listen to A Prairie Home Companion and wonder whether Garrison Keillor has maybe lost his mojo just a little bit. The music is still always great, and GK's personality is as likeable as ever. But, after the wonderful political stuff that he had been doing in 2004 and before, he seems to have backed off from his masterful skewering of W.

I read an interview with him a short while back, and he said something about feeling uncomfortable doing political stuff on APHC. His show, his choice. I miss it, though.

However, he's back on Salon.com. His latest piece, "The Little Man", is an absolute must-read.

Here are the first two paragraphs, just for a little taste:

Feb. 8, 2006 | The headline of the AP story was "Bush Urges Confidence in His Leadership" -- which is like "Author Says Memoir Is True" or "FEMA Offers Contingency Plan" -- and I didn't bother to read further. The Old Brush Cutter never got the knack of urging, and whenever he tries, he looks small and petulant, like a cartoon of himself. He photographs well in formal situations, and he is good at keeping a low profile when necessary, which is a key to survival in politics, as in boxing, but when it comes to the hortatory, he gets all hissy and squinty.

As a preacher, he is not in the top 50 percentile, and if his name were J. Ralph Cooter he would be hard put to find work in any of the persuasive professions. But there he is, giving the State of the Union, more or less in charge of the shop, or on a first-name basis with those who are, and so long as he refrains from perjury and tax increases and doesn't wear a dress to the Easter Egg Roll, he will probably slide along OK.

And it gets way better from there.

Frequent readers of this blog have heard me make the pitch for subscribing to Salon before. If you, the current reader, haven't, then I'll say it again: Subscribing to Salon is the best $35 that you will spend for any kind of reading material. Bar none. Just do it.

Thanks to MK for the original link (and for the gift subscription which clued me in three years ago!).

This Isn't "Just a Theory" . . .

. . . I have proof.

There is a massive conspiracy afoot. Some dark force is making off with all of the used floor lamps.

Think about it. When you go into any used furniture store, you'll see massive amounts of used table lamps. They have so many of them that they have to put them on places other than tables.

You couldn't clear the store of them if you had a baseball bat and a system full of greenies.

They are on desks, bookcases, bureaus, chiffarobes, . . . even the floor.

But where are the used floor lamps?

KK and I were in yet another such store today, having scarfed down some Sal's Pizza, and consequently, brimming with inner warmth and good cheer. This store had four large floors, and maybe two floor lamps. We were looking at one of them -- kind of a silly thing from back in the days when "Think Big" was a happening design store -- when over bustled the salesman.

"Is this the only floor lamp you have?" I asked.

His eyes shifted. "Yes, uh . . . Yes."

"Okay, we'll take it," says KK. The guy quickly offers to knock 20% off the price on the tag and hurries us over to the counter.

I ask, "How come there are never any floor lamps in stores like this?"

The salesman mumbles something about "no one uses them anymore . . . all the used ones are rusty . . . they just get stored in people's garages . . ." and gives us the bum's rush out the door.

Like it wasn't completely obvious by then that he was One. Of. Them.

Perhaps I should be donning my tinfoil hat now.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Another One for the "Duh" Files

Reading my newsletter from the NYTimes this morning, I came across this blurb:
Heading into this year's elections, senior Democrats said that they sense they had failed to exploit Republican vulnerabilities.
You know that feeling when you laugh, but your stomach hurts for a different reason altogether?

Jon Stewart was right (he always is) when he said, last year, that the next time the Democrats come back to power will be after the Rapture.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Man, I Wish I Could Get A Job Like This

In a much more entertaining story in today's NYTimes than the one that provoked the screed below, we read of one Mark Sidall. Dr. Sidall studies leeches and the bacteria that reside in their throats and intestines.

Some excerpts:

By the time Dr. Siddall joined the museum in 1999, the evolution of leeches had become his chief obsession. . . . To collect leeches, Dr. Siddall and his colleagues take off their shoes, roll up their pants and wade into the water, even if its waist-high muck [is] full of electric fish. "You can't set traps for leeches," Dr. Siddall said. "We are always the bait . . ."

Leeches appear to have evolved their own partnerships [with bacteria] . . . It is particularly tough to study these bacteria, because scientists need to find leeches with big bacteria-housing organs to dissect. It turns out that some of the biggest are in a species that lives just on the rear end of the hippopotamus. . . .

As queasy as this all might make you, I think it's a fascinating article. And the close-ups of the leech in action on some human skin? Call the resident teen or tween in for a look. I'll bet you you get a "cool!"

What's The Limit On This Credit Card, Anyway?

From an article in today's NYTimes, titled "Bush Budget Plan for $2.77 Trillion Stresses Security:"
As the president was taking office in January 2001, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal budget would run a surplus in excess of $5.6 trillion between 2002 and 2011. Now, after tax cuts, a terror attack, a recession and a war in Iraq that has proven far more expensive than the administration projected, the budget office predicts deficits for the five years starting Oct. 1 totaling more than $2.2 trillion.

I knew when I cashed that $300 check in the summer of 2001 that my guilt was well-founded.

And how many times have we heard this man promise to "cut the deficit in half in the next five years?" When, exactly, is day one of the next five years?

But thank goodness we're slashing funding for frivolities like education, environmental protection, and insulating poor people's houses.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Compassionate Conservative. Let's give him a big hand.


Q: What, exactly, have you been doing lately?
A: Well, I went to a really good funk party. That wiped me out for a couple of days.

Q: Is that it?
A: No. I also downloaded a pretty cool piece of software, installed it, and wrote a review of it.

Q: God help us everyone. You wrote another one of those interminably long things about some computer fiddling that you do that no one cares about?
A: Of course. Although, in my own defense, there's a kind of executive summary thing at the top.

Q: (*sigh*) I suppose you now want to give us all a link . . .
A: (interrupting) You bet! Here it is: read my review of MailWasher Free 5.1!

Q: (unintelligible)
A: Why, certainly! I would love some feedback, proofreading, what have you.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Yes? Yes!

So, the saga continues.

I gotta say that I feel a little bad for harshing on Yes Computers in a previous post. (Maybe you want to read that one first.)

To review: I had brought an old iMac in for a memory upgrade, and after some backing and forthing, I ended up with memory adequate to support the upgrade to OS X that I had planned. I had also purchased the distribution of the latest version of OS X, and was assured that installation would go smoothly. The option was to pay labor rates to have them install it, and, hey, this is a Mac, right? It just works, right?

Okay, I'll install the OS upgrade myself.

Round about noon, with the morning's coffee comfortably ensconced in my veins, I put the first of four CDs in the beautiful Indigo. She is preening with her new luxurious allotment of RAM. She snarfs up the CD, pops up a folder window that offers a few files. One is "Install OS X." Another is "Read Me Before Installing OS X."

I am one of those peculiar people who actually likes to read documentation, and so I click on the latter. The dark blue lady apologizes, but she's unable to open the file.

No problem. I look around some more in this folder and come across another one called "Read Me Before Installing OS X.pdf."

Ah, good. PDF file. I know what those are. Double-click.

Once again with the profuse apologies.

"Is it actually possible to have a computer that was built after Carter was president that doesn't have Acrobat Reader on it?" I ask my cat. (She is helping with the installation by alternately walking on the keyboard and stretching out on top of the mouse.)

The miserable feline does not deign to respond. She jumps off the desk, bored with the whole thing, and starts trying to bite a piece of tape off of the box that the blue lady shipped in. I decide that if she's gonna choke, she's gonna choke, and set about downloading Acrobat Reader.

The Mac Internet Connection thing works flawlessly, thanks to my superior bookmarking on the other computer. I know my IP's nameserver's address in dot notation, I know the name of the SMTP server, I got this mofo. Kinda wondering about how this Internet Connect thing isn't "just working" without a whole lot of help on my part, but . . . no matter. Download Acrobat, unStuffIt, install it. Back to the Read Me file.

Hmmm . . . okay, this all looks good. My system seems to be fine. Best to use the handy Software Update menu thing to be sure that the firmware is up to snuff. Double-click. Click. Click. Click. Now we're ready to begin some serious upgrading!

Click that file icon saying "Install OS X". A really cool window pops up with a giant brushed steel X and one button, labeled "Click here to install."


You gotta know what's coming, don't you?

Yup. The CD drive grinds away for a few minutes, and then an error window pops up. With a helpful error code of "-2."

"Well," I say to the cat who has lost interest in the shipping tape and is now trying to pretend that it is okay to rub against the precariously placed coffee cup, "they did say to call if I had a problem with the installation."

Beep-beep-beep. Beep-beep-beep-beep.

"Thank you for calling Yes Computers. Please listen to this menu carefully, as our options have changed . . ."

"They all say that," I tell the cat. She is now nearly comatose on the couch.

(dah-dee-dah, dum dee dum . . .)

". . . Press 3 for tech support . . ."


"Yes Computers. Josh speaking."

Hey! No hold music! Now I start babbling. But I soon recover, and get my point across to Josh, who then says, "Hmmm . . . I've never heard that before."


"Why don't you bring it down, and we'll take a look?"

(????. !!!!!!!!!!!!!.)

"Sure, I'll be right down."

I pull the plug on the beautiful blue lady, and into the mighty Passat we go. I score the most excellent parking space possible, stroll in, plop her down on the counter, and Josh and Dave come over and listen to a rehash of the symptoms.

"Okay, it's possible that the CDs were bad. Let's take a look."

(They're gonna look at right away? Too much!)

We plug things in, Josh comes over with fresh CD in hand, starts doing Mac weenie tech guy stuff to look at the firmware, or perform an alternate boot, or some such thing. He is not looking happy. (I can't believe I'm being allowed to watch.)

"There's something wrong with this CD drive, I think. I can't even hear it moving."

I kid you not: I bellow for quiet in the store.

Since this is a town filled with skinny college kids and massage therapists who never speak in a tone of voice louder than a coo, and I'm kind of a big guy with scary long hair who is wearing a big black coat, my half-kidding command actually works. Silence descends.

I get a raise of the eyebrows from Josh, like, "Why didn't I ever think of trying that?"

We (we!) try some more stuff, and it becomes clear to us (us!) that the CD drive has gone over one pothole too many. I ask about the possibility of installing the OS from an external DVD drive, and Josh says, "That should work," and being no dummy, prepares to hand it off to Dave. Then his conscience overcomes his common sense.

"Lemme just check one more thing," he says. Click. Click. Click. "Uh oh."

(Now what?)

"Now what?" I ask.

"This hard drive isn't big enough to install OS X."

I have nearly fifteen minutes' experience running Mac computers, so I decide to argue. "Whaddya mean? I checked Apple's site, and they say that I need 3 gigs of hard disk space to do the install, 4 gigs if I want to install the developer tools. I've got over five!"

Josh explains that this is all true, but that OS X needs 10 gigs of space for temp files during the actual installation process. He proceeds to show me that I have an 8-gig hard drive. I don't know how to make a Mac show the size of its hard disk drive, so I try to hide how I'm impressed.

I plunge ahead: "Can't you use an external hard drive for the temp space?"

A look of patience mixed with pity. "No."

(Crap.) "OK. What are my options for a new hard drive?"

We settle on a good price for a new 40 GB hard drive, installed for free. And this time, they'll do the OS upgrade, also for free. "Should be ready tomorrow. We'll give you a call."


I walk out and go around the corner to visit my friend Cindy, as long as I'm downtown, and she runs a framing shop, and I have something that needs framing. Because she's my friend.

After a nice hour hanging out in the friendly confines of Off The Wall, I get conscious of my parking meter status and say good-bye.

Oh, wait. Just thought of something. Do these guys know that I want the developer tools installed when they put the new OS on? I decide to swing back by Yes.

I walk into the service department like I own the place. The people up front are evidently still quaking from my earlier polite request that everyone shut up, and no one challenges me.

Josh and Dave are working away. They look up. "Hi!" I say. "Is it ready yet?" Just kidding, of course. Then I take a closer look. Dave is actually sitting in front of my machine. (Holy shit!)

He looks up. "Well, I put the new hard drive in, but the machine is not seeing the external DVD drive. I can't do the installation."

(Now I'm all mixed up. These guys actually put the hard drive in already, and started in on the installation. In an hour?)

We go back and forth, and they are not looking at all happy. They have been talking about it, and have concluded that the CD drive is not only broken all by itself, but that it's so badly broken that it's causing a conflict with the external drive. Dave is happy to confirm that the DVD drive works when plugged into another machine.

"So, where are we? What are my options now?" I'm thinking, I've bought this RAM upgrade, and this new OS distribution, and even a new hard drive, and now -- nothing works. Well, the new RAM and the new hard drive work, but I can't get OS X onto this fresh hardware.

"Well, I hate to have to say this to anyone . . .," starts Josh.

"But there comes a point when it's just not worth trying to upgrade an old machine, right?" I finish. He nods, sorrowfully.

However, they're not out of options yet. They have a used PowerMac for sale -- cheap. Only $250. It already has a 40-gig hard drive on it, and a DVD drive, and 512 MB of RAM. It needs only a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse. I can use the keyboard and mouse from the iMac, right? Right. How about using the iMac (a completely self-enclosed computer and monitor) as the monitor? No. Everyone asks that. Sorry. Won't work. They point out that the PowerMac will work with any monitor, however, and . . .Hey! I have an unused monitor at home! They offer to pull the new memory out of my old iMAC, reinstall the old memory, pull the new hard drive and reinstall the old one, all for free. The new memory can be exchanged, for free, for an additional 512 MB in the PowerMac, and the old hard drive can be returned, also for free.

I say, "Cool!" and go home to get the old monitor. I plug it into my PC to make sure that it still works. It does. I head back downtown. This time, I have to park like nine miles away, of course.

I walk in. They already have everything uninstalled, installed, and reinstalled. I've been gone maybe twenty-five minutes. We plug my monitor into the PowerMac. Works. There's the 1 GB of RAM, there's the 40 GB hard drive. Check. I fire up the iMac. (I can't believe I'm in a service area, being allowed to plug things in and turn them on. Not only that, I've been back here so long that other customers are starting to ask me questions. Which I answer. Heh heh.) The iMac boots -- there she is, back to her original configuration state. Dave pulls the PowerMac apart, to show me where everything went. (Free lessons from hardware guys!!!)

We walk to the cashier. I pay for my new (used) computer, retrieve my old (new (used)) computer and monitor, my OS X distribution, my keyboard, mouse, and various and sundry cables and disks, and we pile them onto the counter. I load it all back into the Passat, and head for home.

One way of looking at this is that I spent $650 on a free computer, out of which I ended up with a working keyboard.

Another way of looking at it is that I spent $650 and received in return: two pretty good computers, short only a keyboard and a mouse, a RAM upgrade for the better (albeit uglier) machine, a copy of the latest and greatest operating system, useful employment for a monitor that was just taking up space, and an entirely rewarding and educational experience with two hardware guys.

Throughout the early part of today was paranoia: what if these guys read my flames of them on this blog? Now, I hope they do, because I just want to say: thanks, Josh and Dave.

And now, I have only one problem remaining.

When you swear off the PC world, and fall in love with a beautiful Indigo, how do you explain to her about a teal computer?

My cat just yawned.

Lizza To This

I didn't watch last night's State of the Union address. I usually do watch them, despite the gut-twisting that invariably ensues, out of a sense of civic duty. I really thought the speech was scheduled for Groundhog Day (see the AA post below).

At any rate, I caught up with the news this morning.

Ryan Lizza, writing about the speech in today's TNR Online, "Bush's Diminished Presidency," talked about the whole SOTU thing being a bit less than wonderous, for this president in particular, and speculated about doing away with it altogether (emph. added):

Finally, by a president's sixth State of the Union speech, everyone is a little tired of the whole spectacle, especially the press. In a president's first year in office, calls for banning the State of the Union aren't usually widespread. But by the sixth year, you can't read about the event without being reminded that the whole thing is a silly twentieth-century contrivance not even required by the Constitution.

And as we saw last night, the president doesn't always have a whole lot to say by year six anyway. But there was one moment that spoke in favor of keeping the tradition alive. Bush's statement that "Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security" was met with raucous applause and cheers from Democrats. Bush seemed genuinely taken aback and embarrassed by the response. It punctured the pomposity of the event and was probably the closest our system ever gets to a Prime Minister's Questions-style drubbing of the president by the legislature. Let's hope there's more of it in the future. So two cheers for the State of the Union, the one opportunity each year for Congress to publicly humiliate the president.

Sheesh. Now I really am sorry that I missed it.