Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Sunday, September 06, 2009

My New Mac Tablet (Note: Misleading Headline)

So far, here's the one hitch I've run into after upgrading to Snow Leopard: Photoshop Elements 4 stopped working, even after installing Rosetta as prompted.

This was not an incredibly big deal, though I needed it enough that I decided to buy Elements 6. And it comes bundled with the Wacom Bamboo Fun graphics tablet, which I've had my eye on for a while, so it was the perfect excuse to get one. Didn't find any good deals, so I just popped over to Best Buy and got one.


Then, I started running into problems.

* My Macbook's internal optical drive is dead, so I've been using a borrowed external DVD drive. However, it was still at work.

* Okay, no problem: It's 2009, so I download the tablet drivers and Elements 6 demo, figuring I could use the Elements serial number on the download.

* Find out that the Elements DVD serial won't work on the downloaded demo. Annoying, but I get by in 30-day trial mode.

* Get to work the next day. Insert install DVDs. The external DVD player, which I used to install Snow Leopard, doesn't see the discs.

* Look up the internet. Find that Snow Leopard not seeing external DVD drives is a known issue. Find workaround: With DVD inserted, plug and unplug the FireWire cable.

* Go to Install Elements off the DVD. Installer fails, due to critical errors reported to an error log that I can't find. Try to uninstall. Uninstall fails.

* After more searching, finally find and run CS3Clean Script to uninstall previous stuff, then finally reinstall Elements 6 off the DVD.

It was a pain in the ass.

I also had to reinstall Adobe Flash Player, but it turns out that this was a good thing, since Snow Leopard comes with an older version with security holes.

Anyway, I'm still getting used to both Elements 6 and the tablet. So far so good, though.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

An Afternoon of Mild Disappointments

After a haircut this morning (not disappointing), I went to see District 9. I liked it (especially the parts where the bad guys go *splash*) but I was mildly disappointed by it, mostly because it had been hyped so much and I went in with really high expectations.

Parts of it were uneven, and parts of it felt like a standard buddy movie (even with aliens, it's fairly well-trodden ground). Everyone was interested in collecting and using the alien weapons (robot fighting suits!) except the aliens themselves, which was odd, though I guess an alien uprising would have been a different allegorical movie. And the The Nigerian gangsters felt like they were spliced into the plot to provide a convenient device.

Overall, the plot left a lot unexplained, in a very unsatisfying way. At least with Alien Nation (to which this movie owes a lot), we knew the Tenctonese aliens were slaves, which is why they couldn't go home. In District 9, the aliens have the means to go home -- one really smart prawn has been hiding the key to their return for 20 years, and they even have the fuel -- albeit in a form they need to furtively scavenge and refine -- like meth cookers -- from recovered bits of their own technology.

Anyway, it seems fairly well set up for a sequel. District 10, anyone?

Afterwards, I stopped by Reston Town Center to visit the new Apple Store. Though I missed the grand opening festivities, it was still loud and crowded. This one, I didn't have big expectations for -- after all, it's just an Apple store -- but it's also disconvertingly small. Narrow. Especially when compared to the nearby stores in Arlington and Tysons Corner. It doesn't take up the entire former Eddie Bauer store space (there's another store next door).

Then I stopped by The Counter for a burger. The space is shiny and nice, the staff is friendly, they have beer, and the burger is... average. Maybe "solid" is a better word. I would say overpriced.

The fries are shoestring style and good, though I guess I'm a french fry philistine -- my favorite is still the heavily-seasoned kind that come frozen in an institutional-sized bag.

Anyway, here's a cameraphone picture:


I still haven't been to Ray's Hell Burger yet, so the best I've had around here is still Joe's Burgers in McLean.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Time Machine Saved My Ass From a North Korean Suicide Cyberattack

I don't actually think my Mac was taken over and forced to self-destruct by North Korean cyberattackers (or whoever it responsible for that bit of business), though the timing is a cute coincidence.

The Problem
On Friday night, my Macbook's hard drive died. I discovered this at about 4am as I staggered relocated from the sofa to the bed, and noticed that the screen was a shade of blue I hadn't seen before.

That was a kind of waker-upper.

I did some poking around. I couldn't get it to boot from the DVD drive, though I think that went south on me last week (refused to play a DVD movie), so that wasn't really a surprise (but it was still really inconvenient).

I was able to boot off my external Firewire drive -- Disk Utility couldn't even find the internal hard drive, so I figured it was toast. I was able to get online, though, so I made an appointment at the Apple Store the next morning and went to bed.

The Resolution
Saturday, I went to the Tyson's Apple Store (the first in the nation, lest we forget) for my 11:20 appointment. The store was pretty busy, with a line of iPhone activators (complete with an armed rent-a-cop to maintain order), but I only had to wait 5 minutes at the Genius Bar.

The tech hooked and looked at my machine. The hard drive, at only 21 months old, was indeed dead. Fortunately, even though I was outside of the warranty, they agreed to replace it (though I was on my own on the optical drive -- at $400 to fix, I decided to leave it be for now). I left the machine with them and went home, computerless, though only for a few hours -- they called later that evening and I was able to pick it up.

The Recovery
I was relatively calm through the whole process (probably overly so), since I was banking on the fact that I had a fairly recent Time Machine backup (from July 8, as it turned out) sitting on my backup drive.

I hadn't been that religious about my backups, frequently getting the "it's been 10 days since your last backup" message, and I haven't used it to migrate or restore a computer, so I guess I should have been more nervous: I would have been kind of screwed if there were any problems with the backup. But I set it to restore, then left the house to go carouse at the Town Center.

When I got back, the machine was fully restored from the backup and good to go. The only thing I didn't get were some minor changes I'd made in the day and a half between the backup and the crash. But I can always re-download that porn.

The Aftermath
Well, the combo drive is still borked, so I'm going to have to figure out what to do about that. Even if I can get a better price at a third-party repair shop, I can't really spare being without my computer for a few days, and I might be better off putting the money towards one of those fancy new unibody Macbook Pros (not sure if I'd get the 13 inch or the 15 inch). Not only would it be an upgrade, but it'd give me a little redundancy.

Somewhat ironically, I'd been on the edge of upgrading my hard drive, anyway -- I'm running a bit low on free space. I still can't feel good about that "21 months to failure thing," though.

I'm really glad that the Time Machine backup worked. I will have to be more rigorous about my backups.

Thankfully, this happened over the weekend, so I didn't have a lot of work to do. However, having a lot of my data in the cloud would have made work easier to do. I still have a long way to go (especially on consolidating and making my documents and mail accounts accessible), but it would have been workable.

Most disconcerting of all was how my routine was disrupted, and how my communications and search safety net was cut off. My phone's browser could get me through basic searches, and I've gone longer without being online, but really didn't like being forcibly disconnected.

I make a lot of noise about our dependence on technology and connections, but I'm in the same boat as everyone else. It was really uncomfortable. Must think about this some more.


Friday, January 30, 2009

The Macbook Makeover Is Free, But the Wardrobe Upgrade Will Cost You

The case of my Macbook cracked on Wednesday, right at the spots where the nubs on the screen bezel contact the palm rests.

I didn't bother taking a picture, because it's a known issue and looks exactly like all the other Macbooks that have experienced the problem.

I scheduled an appointment at the Apple Store in Tysons Corner (which is the nation's first, incidentally) -- they took a look at it, and since it's an acknowledged issue, fixed it for free (even though it's out of warranty).

So, I've got a brand-new top case and keyboard, and screen bezel. It's almost a good thing that this happened, as my case had been getting awful grubby (because I'm a greasy, dirty person). Now, it's like having a new computer:

The dark spots are shadows, not dirt. Not yet, anyway.

My Macbook has been a real trouper (outside of the occasional unexplained kernel panic). I don't baby it, but I don't abuse it (outside of running too many Firefox tabs and windows) -- I may spring for more RAM and a hard drive upgrade, because it just works and I have no real need for a new model right now.

Anyway, I didn't get away completely free. I had to kill about an hour while the Apple Store Geniuses made the fix, so I stopped by Banana Republic, which I am somewhat chagrined to admit is the perfect store for me.

I usually just head straight to the back, to poach from the sale racks. Though this time, they were having a sale, taking 30% off all previously-marked down items:


The dress shirt, a small, slim fit stretch poplin number, was $9.09. The other shirts were about $10 (except the red v-neck, which was $17 -- red costs extra, apparently). The pants were $9.09 and $10.49 -- it'll probably cost more than that to get them hemmed. And the cushioned leather wing tips were $23.79. So that's a dress shirt, 3 other shirts, two pairs of pants and a pair of shoes for $95.

This is why being a guy rules. (Not least of which is, if you don't really care about fashion -- and why would you? -- you can pretty much wear clothes until they fall apart. Or you get fat.)

Incidentally, I would have gotten more things, except the selection of smalls is usually pretty limited. I have no idea what the Freakonomics blog folks are talking about -- smalls are pretty hard to come by, and I rarely see any XS clothes (some of which I can wear, some I can't), as opposed to XL and XXL stuff, which I see plenty of, and shake my tiny fist at.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

I Don't Need Help Crashing Firefox

Firefox has typically been a little crashy for me, but it's gotten worse with some of the newer versions, especially now with

And, I admit, I flog it pretty hard -- I usually have several windows open at once, each with lots and lots of tabs going. (Right now, it's 2 windows with a total of 16 tabs, which is nothing. I still prefer this to using a feedreader, though this may change, since I just installed the now-free full NetNewswire.)

Anyway, crashing out is generally only a slight inconvenience, thanks to Blogger's draft autosave, and the window and tab restoring features of the invaluable extensions Tab Mix Plus and Session Saver (currently in the sandbox -- I haven't tried Session Manager yet).

I find, though, that there's one thing I can do to consistently cause Firefox to crash: If I've already got an overburdened browser session going, when I mouse over the Firefox Help menu (with the integrated search box), the browser will freeze up, then crash out.

I'm assuming that I just need more RAM, but it reminds me of some of my past Macs. Many, many Mac OSes ago, I had a work machine (I forget if it was the Quadra or the Powerbook 5300) that would crash when I hit the Help key on the extended keyboard.

Since I only hit the Help key by accident, I ended up prying it off the keyboard. Problem solved. I may still have it somewhere.

Likewise, on one of the compact desktops with the external volume buttons -- when I hit them, the machine would freeze up. I ended up covering them with tape.

Then as now, I never aspired to be a true Mac power user and actually figure out the root cause (e.g. I had MacsBugs and ResEdit but it was like giving a graphing calculator to a caveman), so I just tried to avoid the symptoms.


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Friday, November 23, 2007

Tabbing Through Web Form Fields in Mac OS X

While I've always liked Macs more than PCs, over time, I'd come to appreciate one thing about Windows: Since it basically started out as a graphical shell over the DOS command line, it meant that you could do just about everything in Windows using just the keyboard (including repositioning windows).

Macs have always been built around the mouse (which makes it a little harder to defend the lack of a two-button mouse for so long), and it shows... though OS X does give it essentially a command line underpinning.

Case in point -- for a long while now, I've been annoyed by the fact that using OS X and Firefox, when you try to tab between form fields on a Web page, it skips drop-down menus. Since I was doing most of my stuff on the PC at work, this wasn't a huge problem and I never bothered to look into it, but now that I'm exclusively Mac, I found it intensely annoying.

I did a little searching around for an extension or something to change, so I found to my chagrin that it's just a simple settings change in the Keyboard & Mouse preference in Leopard (and probably previous versions) -- in the section marked, "Full keyboard access: In windows and dialogs, press Tab to move the keyboard focus between:" change the selection from "Text boxes and lists only" to "All Controls":

Why this isn't the default is baffling to me.

I'm sure I'm the last person to figure this out. (However, remember: Just because you know something doesn't mean that it's common knowledge, and just because you didn't know something doesn't mean it's obscure.)

Now that that's squared away, in System 7 and 8, I used to have an extension that assigned hotkeys to menu items (similar to Windows menus) -- I have to find the OS X equivalent.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

It Started With the Blackwater Wife and the World Gold Cabal

It's been an up and down day today (which, despite whatever time stamp shows, is still Thursday).

I woke up in the middle of a dream confrontation with a blonde cafeteria worker (who I think I'd seen recently guest starring on CSI) who was married to a Blackwater contractor and who was trying to add a $1.75 surcharge to my meal to offset the global conspiracy that's trying to corner the world gold supply.

(Maybe I should send that in as a Ficlet.)

Up and down. Call it a wash.

I was a few minutes late to my session at the outplacement center, which was basically "So You Wanna Set Up a Consulting Business?" I saw a few familiar faces, and it was actually pretty useful. I don't know that I want to go the full-time consulting/contracting racket, but I'm looking at my options. It's been a month since the layoff -- I'm starting to get bored, so I'm trying to actually, you know, look for a job now.


After that, I picked up a few groceries, got home around 1pm, and then... hit the wall. I just could not stay awake. I guess I should have stopped in and got that cup of coffee. I was fading in and out until about an hour ago.


In an update, after being balky yesterday, my new printer seems to be working again. On the one hand, that's good, and on the other hand, it makes me a little nervous -- hardware problems generally don't spontaneously fix themselves. So I'll need to keep an eye on it and decide if I'm going to return it or not.


Lastly, I see that Apple released its last Tiger update. As I still have the Leopard DVD sitting on my desk, I was debating installing it, since I was waiting for the first Tiger update, but lo and behold, it's out today. So no more excuses -- I guess I'll back up my drive and install it tomorrow.


Oh, and my credit card statement arrived yesterday -- I saw a 5 dollar charge from AOL. I'd had AOLbyPhone since forever (hey, freebie for internals) and forgot about it until I saw the charge. So I called to cancel. I think I got the Philippines call center -- the rep was very competent and courteous, and it went smoothly once I spelled my screen name using the military phonetic alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, etc). I guess I could have tried to get a refund of the last charge, but I decided not to push it.


A few folks are meeting out tonight, and I basically slept through Refresh DC, so I think I'll just stay in and keep a little bit ahead of the game today.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Is it Friday already?

One thing I've found out -- Fridays don't really feel like Fridays when you don't have a job.

I've been mostly channel surfing today, mixed in with occasional bursts of photo editing. The Godfather was on, which explains why I have a pot of linguini on the stove right now, as I'm easily suggestible.

Yesterday was a mini-reunion for our group at Sweetwater, which was okay. Afterwards, I went to Carpool for a bit, then stopped off at the Barnes and Noble for a bit before popping over to Clyde's for a bit. Nothing particularly notable.

Afterwards, though, I couldn't get to sleep. So I just flopped on the couch for a while. Oddly enough, I did wake up at an hour approaching normal.

Oh, and as it turns out, I got slightly screwed because I bought the new Macbook right before their latest speed bump, and I'm just out of the 14-day return period. But I'm not going to worry about it too much.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Macbook Story So Far...

Okay, I ordered the Macbook on Tuesday. Got it on Thursday. It had a trackpad bump. They gave me a new one. iSight didn't work, but I fixed it. Here's what else happened.

It's All About Connections

I had a damned of a time getting the MacBook to connect to my home network Thursday night. It was fine with an unencrypted connection, but as soon as I turned on encryption, it refused to recognize the router and tried to assign itself an IP from the on-board Airport card (which resulted in a whole lot of fail).

It took me a long, long time, but after a lot of searching and reading, I finally was able to get it unfucked -- I had to update the firmware on my router (a D-Link DI-624, which is now "end-of-life" -- if it happens in the future, I'll probably need to get a new router), and it started working normally.

(I guess that explains why my sister was never able to get a wireless connection with her Mac laptop. Sorry about that.)

Back That Azz Up

Now, I can't find my license key for Retrospect Express to do an auto-restore from my external drive. But I figured I could use this opportunity to do some cleanup, instead of copying everything straight across the Evergrowing Pile of Unexamined Crap. So I manually restored what I was able, and I'm in the process of getting updated versions of all the other programs I need.

I'll be doing a lot of fine tuning and tweaking over the next few... years... but I'm basically up and running. The only hardware I need and don't have right now is a printer, so I see a lot of Kinkos in my near future.

What's the Word? Thunderbird!

The main thing I'm wrestling with now is getting Thunderbird to work across my various and sundry accounts. Moving my personal mail to Thunderbird is a big step for me -- outside of an extended tryst with Eudora way back in the day, I've pretty much been using PINE for everything. (Pine Is Not Elm.) The command line is just so much faster, but I'm tired of bouncing HTML mail to another address so I can see everything.

Since my only experience with Thunderbird to date has been on the corporate network, I'm still trying to figure out how to get the IMAP from over here, and the SMTP from over there. Oddly enough, hooking it up to my AOL account (which I have back now), was fairly painless... well, once it grabbed 3,000 sent mails and 20,000 received mails (and that's only from 2004 or so).

Sign Here, Please

Even though I'm not 100% running yet in T-bird (I can still use PINE, so it's not a big deal), I did spend an inordinate amount of time twiddling with my e-mail sig. I'm trying to use elements from my old, text-only sig, and mash them up with stuff from my newer HTML sigs (including the Feedburner headline animator) -- here's what I got so far:

 ### | Joe Loong | joe@joelogon.com | AIM/GTalk/etc: Joelogon
-0n0-| "...the Recording Angel, making occasional adjustments
 \-/ | in the direction of the interrogation..." -- William Gibson
     | Dumb Things: http://www.joelogon.com/blog

hair on fire

Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Four lines of text, an ASCII picture, and two animated gifs. I know, I'm a bad person, and I risk angering the antispam guardians. Also, the ASCII pic looks especially vulnerable, since the non-breaking spaces aren't sticking. We'll see if it lasts.

I also removed one of the quotes I've been using for a dozen years or so (sorry, Bert), though here it is for posterity:
"*shake shake shake* HELLO? The Web is not a reference source! It's a cesspool of dubious information!" -- barton
Even in a world of Google and Wikipedia, I think it mostly still applies.

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Effects of a Layoff, in Facial Hair

Here's what a week of unemployment has done to me:

The Effects of Unemployment

Actually, that's two weeks of beard right there -- a week of sick and a week of slack. What you see is what I get. And that's it -- nothing more, nothing less. (How could there be less?)

It's unlikely I'll keep it much longer -- if I do, I'll need to clean it up a little. The iSight camera isn't catching it well, but the word "patchy" does not do it justice.

Speaking of which, this is also the first pic I've taken using the Macbook's built-in iSight camera, uploaded via Flickrbooth. And following up on my trip to the Apple store, they took a look at the bump on the trackpad and just replaced it with a new machine (since I'd only had it for a day, barely).

I fired up the new machine last night, but when I tried using Skype, it wasn't recognizing the camera. I was afraid I had another lemon, but I did some searching around and found that resetting the System Management Controller (SMC) fixed it for other folks with similar problems. (Real simple -- pull the battery and hit the power button for 10 seconds.)

I'm still fiddling with the Macbook to get it just right (I'm also taking this opportunity to go over to Thunderbird for all my personal mail -- I've been using PINE all this time) but I'm pretty much up and running now, and I'm almost caught up on everything I missed last week when I was offline (I'd used my work laptop for nearly everything, so I needed to get the new system up and running). I guess I'll cover all that excitement in another entry.

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