Sunday, December 20, 2009

2009 Huntsville Christmas Festival

Enjoy this years' Huntsville Stake Christmas Festival.

Don't miss #3 and #8.
podcasts.pngchristmasfestivalpodcast.png* If you'd like to load those files in iTunes, just go to Advanced -> Subscribe to Podcast... and paste in this link: It should appear in with your other podcasts; depending on your settings you may have to click "Get all" to have it actually download them. Let me know if you have trouble, this is my first podcast feed. =)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dilbert creator on making decisions with incomplete knowledge

When my kids first go out on their own, I hope they read this.

Slow Dance

David L. Weatherford:

Have you ever watched kids
On a merry-go-round?

Or listened to the rain
Slapping on the ground?

Ever followed a butterfly's erratic flight?
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?

You better slow down.
Don't dance so fast.

Time is short.
The music won't last.

Do you run through each day
On the fly?

When you ask: How are you?
Do you hear the reply?

When the day is done,
do you lie in your bed

With the next hundred chores
Running through your head?

You'd better slow down.
Don't dance so fast.

Time is short.
The music won't last.

Ever told your child,
We'll do it tomorrow?

And in your haste,
Not see his sorrow?

Ever lost touch,
Let a good friendship die

Cause you never had time
To call and say, "Hi "?

You'd better slow down.
Don't dance so fast.

Time is short.
The music won't last.

When you run so fast to get somewhere
You miss half the fun of getting there.

When you worry and hurry through your day,
It is like an unopened gift thrown away.

Life is not a race.
Do take it slower.

Hear the music
Before the song is over.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Maybe we're not supposed to "love" our jobs

Scott Adams:
There's a natural limit to how happy a person can be at work. If work becomes fun, your boss will stop paying you to do it and start charging other people to have that fun in your place. So let's agree that work has to be a little bit unpleasant, at least for most people. Still, despite this unpleasantness, many people have a feeling called job satisfaction.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Car keys stopped working?

Just a tip, my truck key has been sticking a little for years now, but today it got so bad I couldn't open either door. I borrowed Kyla's key, and it didn't work either.

My first thought was that the key was just old and worn down, but then I thought -- "Hmm, why would both keys be worn down, since mostly only my key gets used? Maybe it's the tumblers in the door part? But then why wouldn't the keys work on either side?"

Then I realized, "Ah! Maybe one of the pins is just stuck in there!" So I put some 3-in-one oil on the tip of my key and pushed it in and out a few times, and voila! Now both keys work perfectly in both doors.

Hope that helps somebody.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Changing hairstyles, part 3

Oh. Snap.

Looks like battery acid may not be the end of this story.

Any chance this lady had a headlamp with leaky batteries like mine?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Still running out of fossil fuels...

You mean we only have a few years left of fossil fuels? Again?
In 1914, the Bureau of Mines said that U.S. oil reserves would be exhausted by 1924. In 1939, the Interior Department said that the world had 13 years' worth of petroleum reserves. Then a global war was fought, and the postwar boom was fueled. In 1951 Interior reported that the world had . . . 13 years of reserves. In 1970, the world's proven oil reserves were an estimated 612 billion barrels. By 2006, more than 767 billion barrels had been pumped, and proven reserves were 1.2 trillion barrels. In 1977, scold in chief Jimmy Carter predicted that mankind could use up all the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade." Since then the world has consumed three times more oil than was then in the world's proven reserves.

- George F. Will, Awash in fossil fuels, Washington Post, November 22, 2009
On the plus side, if they keep saying we're about to run out, eventually they'll be right.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Unemployment grows

Screen shot 2009-11-22 at 3.40.02 PM.pngCheck out this animation (via Daring Fireball) of how the unemployment situation has deteriorated over the last couple years.

It looks like the plague spreading, pretty scary.

The coloring is skewing your perceptions a little, though. My brain tends to watch how the brightness changes instead of the hue differences, but watch it and look at the scale. From 0% to 5.9% the brightness is roughly the same, but above that it tanks, implying a drop off a cliff.

In real life, going from 5.9% to 10% unemployment means another 4 people out of 100 are out of work. This is obviously not a good thing, but not the catastrophic death implied by the blackness of the picture.

Can somebody explain to me what makes Nebraska so special?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On cancelling Verizon service

Wow, switching cell carriers is apparently a big deal to the carriers. They go to a *lot* of trouble to keep people, which says to me they're making a lot of money on us.

Anyway, all I wanted to do was cancel my Verizon service.

Try #1

This afternoon I called their customer service line. I kindly asked them to cancel my service, saying that we'd already switched to AT&T. (I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to guess why.)

That operator proceeded to literally spend an entire hour with me on the phone, taking me down different paths obviously designed to keep me with Verizon: "With all cell carriers you have 30 days to change your mind, just go back and cancel." "You owe it to yourself to try this new Verizon phone, no cost or obligation, I'll even ship it to you free and give you both lines next month for $15. If you don't like it, ship it back free and you pay nothing." "AT&T's coverage is bad, their support is bad, and they're more expensive, you should definitely select your network carefully." "You know you can give your lines to someone else? Or convert one to a landline?"

Literally a whole hour of this!

Wow. That was emotionally draining. I had great reasons for switching, but this lady had several strong avenues, totally dodging my reasons and trying to remove any excuses I had for not staying on.

Finally, I just said, "You know, you're right, I need to think about this before I make any decisions. Thanks..."

"Oh, you're quite welcome. We're so glad to have you as a Verizon customer."

(As an aside, I am sad to go -- in any group of people I always had better cell coverage than everybody else. Verizon's been good to us. It's only 2 years, though, and a lot will change by 2011.)

Try #2

Two hours later, I was a little smarter.
me: "Hello, I'm calling to cancel my service."

Verizon: "Oh sure we can help with that. Were you concerned about the cost, or the phone? or the network?"

me: "No, just personal reasons."

Verizon: "Uh... Okay, I understand. You know you have several options for these lines .... Have you considered any of those?"

me: "Yeah, we understand all those things but we just need to do this."

Verizon: "Okay. It's asking me to put a reason in here and they won't let me put 'personal reasons' in there..."

me: "I guess 'expense' would be the best thing to put, but it's complicated."

Verizon: "Okay."

Done and done.

Friday, November 13, 2009

"Why would anyone buy a Mac now?"

There was a bit of a lively discussion the other night about Macs and PCs. A friend had picked up an Acer Laptop for about $350 with a pretty impressive spec sheet (15" monitor, dual-core processor, 4 GB RAM, 256 MB graphics card, Windows 7). He had looked into Macs but the closest thing to that was the MacBook Pro 15" for $1600. Ouch, what a price difference!

Then he poses the question: "Why would anybody buy a Mac now?"

Hmm. Well, I can't imagine he came to me looking for objectivity, I'm fairly well biased. Still, are we really that disparate now? A $1250 premium for a Mac laptop does seem pretty onerous, especially since Macs and PCs were supposedly on par pricewise for awhile there.

We should probably mention here that at least some of that cost savings on those PC laptops is advertising -- apparently companies pay PC manufacturers to include their software on the machine. So when you boot it up, you get a ton of ads, spyware, and other junk you have to turn around and clean back off. What a mess. I'd pay $100 just to not have to mess with that. So we're up to $450, but that's a far cry from $1600.

So what'd I say to him?

I told him different people value things differently, and I could think of at least 25 things I valued enough more on the Mac to make it worth it for me.

"No way!" he says. "You can't think of 25 things."


  1. No viruses. What is that peace of mind worth?

  2. Awesome process scheduler. The mac prioritizes the user interface much better than Windows. Doesn't seem to matter how busy the computer is, I can still move the mouse around, switch windows, etc. Windows (and linux for that matter) have always let the interface suffer when the machine gets busy.

  3. Window manager not in the kernel. Huh? This means that the part of the OS that draws the windows is wedged into the core of the OS, but runs as a separate process. Why is this good? Ever have your Windows-windows stall, i.e. stop drawing? You drag them and they act like a cutout of that part of the screen? Happens all the time on Windows, but rarely on the Mac (actually never, but I hesitate to use that word).

  4. Time Machine. Plug in a spare drive, accept the OS's offer to make it a Time Machine drive, and it builds you a back up, taking regular snapshots as incremental backups (but not wasting drive space!). Their solution is quite elegant (uses unix hard links), each snapshot looks and acts like your entire disk file structure. Very nice!

  5. Spotlight. Fast system-wide contextual search. Maybe Windows 7 does this better, but none of the Windows versions I've ever used have done this well.

  6. Expose/Spaces. Supposedly Windows 7 just stole this from the Mac, but I'm guessing they did a half-keister job of it. I love being able to invoke expose or spaces in the middle of a drag.

  7. Unix. The Mac is a unix machine under the hood, and it's very nice. I have written lots of perl and awk scripts to do stuff for me, and it's great being able to have perl create emails for Entourage (Mac equivalent of Outlook), or to pipe the output of a unix command to my text editor. Also has X11, so much of the open-source stuff from the linux community is available as well. I love rsync. Love that I can type "open ." in a terminal window and have the Finder open a window of that subdirectory; or drag a file from the Finder into a Terminal window and have it insert the path to that file. SSH/sshd built in. Find. Apache webserver. Super stable. Etc.

  8. Robust networking. I come and go on my laptops, and they always just happily connect to the network wherever I am, wired or wireless. I could never get Windows to do this.

  9. Column view in the Finder. I've grown to love this view. The sidebar shortcuts are also a huge time saver.

  10. Long battery life. My work laptop gets 5-6 hours off a single battery charge. My home laptop is older, but usually gets 2-3. I was lucky to get 45 minutes out of my Windows laptop.

  11. Built-in PDF generation, editing. Anything you can print in the OS you can make a PDF of. I use this *all the time*. Also, you can delete and reorder pages, then save a copy. All built-in.

  12. No reboots necessary. I seriously can't remember the last time I restarted either my work or home laptops. I put off OS updates just because I don't want to have to reboot. I love an OS with long-term stability!

  13. Good sleepers. I just close the lid, and when I open the lid, they're back up and usable faster than I can get the lid opened all the way. My Windows laptop would always drain the battery whenever I just closed the lid, and the machine would be off the next morning when I opened it back up. I wanted to drop-kick it into the parking lot. On the Mac, when the battery's about to die it writes the contents of RAM to the hard disk, and when you power up it reloads the RAM in about 10 seconds and you're back in business. Awesome.

  14. Multi-touch trackpad. Windows laptop trackpad stunk -- no multi-touch, inconsistent response, etc. Mac laptop is a joy -- 2 finger scrolling, 3 finger page turns, 4 finger expose control, and more.

  15. Quick window zoom. Hold down control and swipe 2 fingers up or down on the trackpad (or hold down control and spin the mouse wheel). Fun, and I use it all the time.

  16. Best of 2 worlds. A platform with native MS Office, Photoshop, Quicktime, and unix terminal all in one. Any other platforms do that? I can also run Windows and Linux in a virtual machine, having all 3 platforms on one machine.

  17. Great keyboards. I love the new flat keyboards, they have a nice touch.

  18. Auto detect monitors. Everybody at work who plugs their Windows laptop into a projector or external monitor has come to expect trouble. Not me, monitors come up fine, even hot-plugged.

  19. iChat with screen sharing. If mom calls needing help with her computer, I can be looking at and controlling her screen in about 20 seconds, all with built-in software. Awesome. Pretty rare, though, she doesn't need help very often.

  20. One-click flash drive eject. Why does Windows make this so hard? Snow Leopard made ejecting flash drives a joy, no more "you can't eject this drive because an application is using it..." errors.

  21. Built-in screenshots. I can take a snapshot of any part of my screen with a single keystroke, very cool.

  22. Built-in zip and unzip. No WinZip necessary. I prefer tarballs myself, and also has bzip2.

  23. Built-in dictionary/thesaurus. I use this all the time. You can even do a spotlight search for a word and one of the options is the definition in the Dictionary app.

  24. Applescript. System-wide almost user-friendly scripting tool. Lets you do things like automatically build a spreadsheet from the contents of an email filtered through a unix command, then email it to someone, all automatically. Does require some skill but not a CS degree.

  25. Quicklook. Highlight any file (or files) in the Finder and press space and get an instant preview of it. Another huge timesaver.

  26. Mounts and compatibility. NFS, SMB, AFP, FTP, VNC connections supported natively (probably more). Macs can read FAT32/NTFS drives, but PCs can't read Mac HFS+ drives.

  27. Disk images. Built-in support for encrypted and non-encrypted drive images. I store all my sensitive stuff on one of these and don't worry about my laptop getting stolen.

  28. Acceleration sensors. Laptops have acceleration sensors such that if it detects that it's falling, it quickly parks the drive heads on my hard disk before it hits the ground to keep from damaging my drive.

  29. Drivers. Almost no futzing with drivers. With my current batch of hardware I didn't have to install goofy drivers for any of it, not my printer, scanner, digital camera, or digital video camera. Ever try installing a printer under Windows? Never works the first try, often not the second either.

  30. Unobtrusive. Somehow on PCs I feel like I'm always tripping over the interface, it's always asking me dumb questions or notifying me of things I don't care about. Or not working for reasons I can't determine (and my Windows using friends can't either). The Mac works, and stays out of my way and lets me work.

There's 30, want me to keep going? =)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A little bragging...

Can I just take a timeout from my usual blogging fare and brag about my wife for a minute?

Kyla and her running partner Kathy after their last race

Yesterday morning she ran a half-marathon. Yes, a real half marathon. Just over 13 miles in just over 2 hours. How cool is that? To be able to just start running and keep going for a couple of hours, now that's just incredible to me. She wasn't even sore afterward. Awesome.

Way to go, babe!

Go To The Source

Joseph Smith:
Search the scriptures-search . . . and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you; . . . you will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation. - Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp 11-12

Brigham Young:
I have uniformly exhorted the people to obtain this living witness each for themselves; then no man on earth can lead them astray. - Journal of Discourses, 6:100

John 16:13:
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth...

Matt. 7:7-11:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

I love it that when it comes to religious things, we don't have to take anyone's word for it.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Scale in biology

Ever wonder how big a red blood cell is compared to the flu virus? Or a single chromosome compared to an atom?

This is the coolest thing I've seen all week.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Healthcare Costs

I never paid much attention to my medical plan at work, until a few weeks ago when people started complaining about healthcare premiums being higher in AL. I hadn't noticed.

So when my benefits-selection stuff showed up, I decided to do a little research on the plan I had selected.

Check this out:

YearMy healthplan cost as a percentage of my salary (gross)
(move to AL)
(good raise)
(also good raise, but not good enough!)

Can you believe how fast this is climbing? And this is adjusted for my salary!

Surely there are better alternatives, especially for people like us who aren't getting as much as we're paying.

One idea is to just save the many thousands of dollars we're putting into health-plan premiums, pay cash for whatever services we need, and if someone needs a major operation, get it done in New Delhi or Costa Rica.

I have no confidence that Congress will come up with a healthcare plan that works on purpose. But they might get lucky...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Whose fish?

Not a Walleye Pike

Yesterday I ran across a puzzle on, supposedly created by Albert Einstein and accompanied by the assertion that only 2% of people can solve. Looked like fun so I tried it.

In case that link ever goes down, here are the clues:
There are five houses in a row in different colors. In each house lives a person with a different nationality. The five owners drink a different drink, smoke a different brand of cigar and keep a different pet, one of which is a Walleye Pike.

The question is-- who owns the fish?

  1. The Brit lives in the red house.

  2. The Swede keeps dogs as pets.

  3. The Dane drinks tea.

  4. The green house is on the left of the white house.

  5. The green house owner drinks coffee.

  6. The person who smokes Pall Malls keeps birds.

  7. The owner of the yellow house smokes Dunhills.

  8. The man living in the house right in the center drinks milk.

  9. The man who smokes Blends lives next to the one who keeps cats.

  10. The Norwegian lives in the first house.

  11. The man who keeps horses lives next to the one who smokes Dunhills.

  12. The owner who smokes Bluemasters drinks beer.

  13. The German smokes Princes.

  14. The Norwegian lives next to the blue house.

  15. The man who smokes Blends has a neighbor who drinks water.

There are no tricks, pure logic will get you the correct answer. And yes, there is enough information to arrive at the one and only correct answer.

There are a couple of references on ways to solve this on Coudal's website, but none of them seemed very good to me. I solved the whole thing in only 15 minutes or so, and their approaches looked hard. So, once you've got the answer, check out my approach here. If your way is better, put it in the comments, I'd love to see it.

Good luck!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Malware on the Mac

I've said it before, but after this story from Computerworld, I'll say it again: your Mac can't stop you from downloading and running malware*. This time it's video codecs from Russian websites. "For helping you play diss videos our vebsite, download diss program and it help you."

These days, as long as the website looks reputable you're pretty much okay. That may not be the case forever, though, so make sure you're being careful. "But hey, how am I supposed to know what a reputable web site looks like?!" Here are the websites for a few of my favorite Mac apps: Firefox, Keyboard Maestro, MarsEdit, CSSEdit, Transmit, 1Password, BBEdit, Delicious Library, Google Earth, MacTracker, and Adobe Photoshop.

Caveat websurfer.

* "Malware" is not a virus. Viruses self replicate, often without the user even knowing. Viruses are rampant on Windows. Malware, on the other hand, is a program that does bad stuff that the user installs willfully, usually because the they think it's a game or free software.

Friday, September 18, 2009


No, this isn't me.
Okay, so I'm not much of a bodybuilder, most folks who've seen me in person could probably guess that. It's too boring. I always preferred to be doing something, like playing tennis or racquetball or sand volleyball or rock climbing.

Well, if you're at all like me, you might enjoy this article, Bodywork, from Outdoor magazine. Notable quote:
What I didn't know [in high school] was that my favorite machines and free-weight lifts were destroying me. Those contraptions and benches are designed to isolate and supersize muscles. But isolation is the enemy. Every sport we do as outdoor athletes demands that the full body participate. You don't biceps-curl your way up an ice climb or bench-press your way down a river. ...

During a frigid mogul-skiing contest in New Hampshire, my left humerus squirmed from its cozy socket on a misplaced pole plant. I credit the shoulder injury to the military presses, which, with their extreme range of motion, stretch and degrade the ligaments that are intended to hold your shoulder in place. Shortly thereafter, I herniated a disk in my lower back, a condition that had me nearly crippled for most of my twenties. Thank you, bench press, which makes your lower back weak relative to your chest, arms, and shoulders. Much later I would blow an ACL skiing powder in Canada. Didn't even fall. My quads simply overpowered my hamstrings in a turn and pop! Blame the seated leg press.

Another interesting point, the bodybuilders aren't the strong ones:
Michol Dalcourt, a longtime professional hockey trainer in Canada, witnessed this dynamic firsthand when he compared the performance of seasoned pros, placed on machine-dependent workouts, with rookie skaters just off the farm. "Ask a farm kid what they do and it's 'Chores,' " says Dalcourt. "Moving stuff. Shoveling. .... They never set foot in the gym, but they were stronger."
I always associated strength with exercise, but now I'm starting to think the connection should be strength with work.

Work generally adds value to things too, often making money, or at least improving the value of your property. Better than the "stir water" approach of gym exercise, which costs you both time and the price of a gym membership.

I'm sure my wife will be happy to take me up on this one. =)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Changing hairstyles, solved

Those who've had any interaction with me in the last 6 months know that I've had an interesting time of things.

Laptop and fire issues aside, perhaps most notable was my unusual haircut:


Except that's not a haircut. Back at the end of March my hair started falling out in a stripe around my head.

But let me back up, I have to tell you this other story first.

Tuesday, March 10th. No lunch, and a rather stressful day at work. After work I head over for my racquetball league match, which proves to be one of the most intense games I've ever played. I lost too. =(

Getting home, stepping through the back door, I knew something wasn't quite right. I couldn't see quite straight. Looking at Kyla, it almost looked like I was looking through a gemstone or something, with pieces of my vision fractured and shifted around. Scary.

I went in to the living room and lay down on the floor and soon was asleep. I remember Kennedy (2 yrs old at the time) kept trying to climb on me, and I kept pushing her off since I was feeling dizzy and hurting oddly -- I'm sure I scared her and hurt her feelings.

When I woke up I knew things were worse. I was more dizzy, and it sort-of hurt, almost like the pain you get from really loud noises except it was quiet. I laid my head back down and stared at the TV. I watched as the closed captions go by, but quickly realized I couldn't read the words. I could see the shapes clearly, it's not that they were blurry or anything -- I just couldn't process those shapes into letters or words. Now I'm really scared. I can't read!

(Note, curiously I tried to say the alphabet and I could...)

I tell Kyla something's really wrong, that it might be a stroke or something, so she goes in and starts checking the internet for symptoms. I go in and grab my cellphone and call my dad. I describe my symptoms (poorly), and he says, "Sounds like you're having a migraine, go take a couple of aspirin." I go in and grab the medicine, the whole time feeling dizzy and almost like I'm going to pass out. I pick up the bottle that looks like the aspirin, but I can't read the label. "Regan, does this say aspirin?!" Maybe I'm having an aneurism??* I take two aspirin and go lie down on the floor. Dad, still on the phone, says, "Yeah, something's wrong with you, you're not making a lot of sense." Great.

I hang up and Kyla calls our paramedic friend, Greg, who suggests that it might be a TIA, and says we need to get to the hospital asap.

Long story short, we call 911, freak out our neighbors, and they put me in an ambulance. About the time we leave for the hospital, I can start reading things again. Ah, finally things are starting to improve.

Sort-of. Except the medicine is worse than the disease. Hospitals are miserable places, not due so much to people as to process. I was moved 4 times over the course of 1 night, and was woken every 30 minutes or so by someone wanting to check my blood pressure, get another blood sample, or introduce themself as the new nurse on duty. I don't care, I'm tired!

The EKG, CAT scan, and MRI went off fairly quickly, before midnight. I had to stay, however, because they wanted to do an ultrasound on my carotid (?) arteries, and nobody could do those till 8 am. (So why wake me up every 30 minutes again?) Thankfully Kyla was able to come soon after I got there and stayed with me through the worst of it -- it would've been much worse without her.

Bottom line? They don't find anything. No stroke, no evidence of TIA, nothing. (Except a little plaque in my carotid artery, which is apparently normal.) "Atypical migraine" was the diagnosis. They said they'd tell me what to do different in life, but they couldn't think of anything to tell me. I don't drink, smoke, do drugs, not overweight, etc.

Then they tried to put me on cholesterol medication. What? Was my cholesterol high? No. So why put me on that? Oh, because it might have contributed to your arteries getting plaque in them. But that amount is normal, right? Uh, well it's just a "preventative measure"... Uh uh, no way, I'm not doing it. I'm really bitter about the shotgun trial-and-error approach the medical community uses for making medications. As David Hamlin says, roughly, "you don't get to shoot the side of a barn with a shotgun, draw a circle around the hole, then take credit for a bullseye." Especially when you have no clue what you just destroyed inside the barn.

They send me home.

Another sidenote, in case you're curious, this is how the hospital and insurance company reconciled:


Click to see the whole thing. So the hospital collected less than 3% of that bill. Make sure you have your "97% off" coupon the next time you go to the hospital, nice to save a little money here and there.

Okay, anyway, back to my hair story.

Three weeks later my hair starts falling out like the picture above. Now I'm really scared. I immediately make an appointment with the doctor. They think it's a bad haircut. "You should go see a neurologist about your migraine, maybe it was a TIA. No idea on the hair."

At the neurologist: "No way you had a TIA or a stroke, you have none of the risk factors or signs, and looking at the test results, the likelihood is pretty much zero. Let's talk about migraines. Family history of them?" Yes. "Unusual stress?" Yes, some. "Missed meals?" Yes. Consistent symptoms, bingo. "Migraine symptoms depend on where in the head they occur. Yours was a little lower in your brain than where most people experience them, but about the same."

But what about the hair?

"I don't know, I thought it was a bad haircut. It's not neurological, that's for sure."

Great, back to square one. At least it's not some form of cancer, insanity, or known alien abduction torture technique. We talk to about a dozen other doctors -- and the best we get is maybe an allergic reaction to latex on a headband on the MRI (wait, what headband?)...

I spend a few months like this. I practically shave my head so it doesn't look so creepy, and people who don't know the story think I was just being weird. Still no clues on the cause.

Then, a break.

In ~July I go to climb in the attic and put on my Energizer 1W headlamp**, and instantly realize that the headband on the headlamp follows the bald line around my head perfectly. Perfectly.


Ah, now we have something! There's no way that's a coincidence! I mention it to Maureen at work, who says she might be able to help. "Somebody put Nair on your headband, I know it! Bring it in, I'll get it tested." You know someone who can test it?? Like CSI? I don't know anybody who would put Nair on my headband.

Another couple weeks go by, and then the verdict comes back from the chem lab. Ready for this? Battery acid. All over the headband.

Oh sure, that makes sense, I remember one of the batteries in there blew up a few months back and I dumped them in the trash and put new ones in. And yes, as a matter of fact, I do wrap the headband around the whole lamp and battery compartment.

The tech was apparently quite surprised that I didn't have burns on my skull. Maybe my hair protected my skull.

Here's how I look now.


So, mystery solved. Hair's back, and no new migraines. Lessons? Learn to relax better, and watch out for Kirkland (Costco) batteries leaking in your headlamps, I guess.

Glad we finally got answers to that crazy sequence of events. And I hope it never happens again.
* BTW, I learned that aspirin is the *wrong* thing to take for strokes and aneurisms, as it makes the blood flow easier and therefore bleeds more freely into the brain. It's a good thing, however, when minor inflammation in the brain (?) constricts blood flow to take an anti-inflammatory like aspirin or ibuprofin.

** Energizer actually calls these "headlights". I think it's ironic that the guy whose blog is called "head-lights" has an experience like this actually being caused by one.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

President's address to the kids?

There's a lot of uproar around here about President Obama's upcoming televised speech to the kids in schools.

What do you think? Should parents keep their kids home that day?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Canon networked printer and Snow Leopard

A very short post -- a couple days ago Canon released new drivers for their MX700 (and probably others) that makes it so they work over the network with Snow Leopard. Hooray.

What I still don't understand is how SL is supposed to automatically download the drivers you need for your printer -- how's that supposed to work, and why didn't it?

BTW, wanna know what *really* changed for Snow Leopard? John Siracusa answers that in a massive 30-page in-depth review.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Snow Leopard: First impressions

A few first impressions of Apple's new OS:
  • Easy install. The simplest (and therefore best) install experience I've seen.
  • Snappier. A little, at least -- I haven't really noticed huge increases on anything yet, though. Maybe 10-20%?
  • Weirdness on first run. For the first few minutes, spotlight couldn't find any of my apps -- then a few minutes later it could. System Preferences (under the Apple menu) wouldn't launch, then a few minutes later it would.
  • Keyboard Maestro/Spaces weirdness. Any of my Keyboard Maestro macros that switch spaces occasionally require me to run them twice for them to actually switch. Not sure what's going on there...
  • More disk space! Hmm, where did that extra 10GB come from on my disk? Uh, maybe some of it came from here -- a "GB" represents about 74 MB fewer actual bytes in the count now, so what looks like an extra 10 GB is actually closer to 9 under the old accounting.
  • Scanner. Preview can grab images directly from my scanner.

There doesn't appear to be anything else that's really changed.

One thing I'm really excited about (but haven't seen yet) is in ejecting disks -- the old OS would just basically say, "No, this disk is in use..." SL will actually tell the apps to let go of that disk, and if they won't, it tells you which ones are hanging on. Very nice.

Worth $29? I guess so -- though from what I've seen I wouldn't break any speed limits getting to the Apple store.

UPDATE: My mom tried installing SL and in the middle of the install it seemed to crash, so she force-quit and restarted, only to discover that those steps corrupted the HFS+ disk catalog. Proceed with caution, and make sure you have all your stuff backed up (including those painfully large Entourage databases).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Colors in light

Pretty good explanation of how colors in light mix, and how some aren't "real", only perceived.

I'd seen this image before, but now I finally understand it!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Big Picture: Hiroshima


When I was in grade school, most kids seemed to think that a nuclear bomb would blow up the world. Apparently, however, there were structures within blocks of the "hypocenter" that were still standing, at least in part.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Crayons on an LCD TV?

Ah, the joys of having a 3 year old.

I tried the "soft cloth, water, and mild soap" that Sony recommends, but it did nothing.

Crayola has whole document on cleaning crayons and other of their products off of things. They recommend WD-40 for cleaning crayons off of plastics.

So I tried it lightly in a small spot in the corner, and it seemed to worked great, so I went for it. Sprayed it on one of those Viva cloth-like paper-towels (since I didn't have any other soft cloths around), then lightly wiped over (and up off) the surface. The crayon seemed to dissolve almost on contact.

There was a slight residue left, so I used water and the Viva towel to dampen it, then a dry one to dry it. To my eyes it looks great.

Of course YMMV. (i.e. don't blame me if you try it and it messes something up! =) Hope that helps somebody.

Monday, July 27, 2009

BBEdit "invisibles" characters

Thinking about building a font for BBEdit, and wondering what characters it uses to represent invisible characters, like spaces and tabs?

Of course you're not.

Unless you got here via a google-search, in which case you might be. Here's what the BB-folks came back with:
  • Carriage returns: 0x00AC (172), unicode name "NOT SIGN" (¬)
  • Nonprinting characters: 0x00BF (191), unicode name "INVERTED QUESTION MARK" (¿)
  • Non-breaking spaces: 0x2022 (8226), unicode name "BULLET" (•)
  • Tabs: 0x2206 (8710), unicode name "INCREMENT" (∆)
  • Spaces: 0x25CA (9674), unicode name "LOZENGE" (◊)
Hope that helps somebody out there.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Firefox 3.5 tip

Finding that Firefox is opening links in the current tab in Firefox instead of in a new tab as you'd prefer? Me too! =)

ff-icon.pngThis seemed to fix it:
  1. Type "about:config" in your browser location bar, then accept the warning
  2. Right click in the window and select "New" -> "Integer"
  3. Paste in "" as the name, and "3" as the value (no quotes)
If that doesn't work, type in "" in the filter bar, then right click on each of the preferences that match and select "reset".

That seemed to work for me.

Good luck!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Kenneth Cope, and music for kids

A couple weeks back Kenneth Cope happened to be coming through Huntsville and accepted the invitation to come and talk and sing at our church in Madison.

I wasn't even really sure who he was when they made the announcement, but I decided to go when I realized that he wrote and sings a few of my favorite LDS songs, such as "Once Upon a Time", a song about miracles in the scriptures. Or "Brothers", a song about Joseph Smith and his ever-faithful brother Hyrum, who Joseph begged not to follow him back to Carthage where he knew he was soon to be killed, but who would not leave his brother's side.

Kenneth was also going to do a "fireside" for the youth as well, but that was cancelled. Unfortunately many inferred from the wording of the cancellation that *all* of his presentations were cancelled, so when we arrived, there was almost no one there -- just the Bishop and his wife, Kenneth, and one other member.

At 15 minutes before it was to start, I got up to use the restroom, but as I got up I saw Kenneth in the back, and he seemed to think I got up to go talk to him, so I walked up and introduced myself. He's a very friendly, happy guy (a former bishop, too), and I chatted with him for a few minutes.

So here's why I'm writing this post...

In talking to him, I asked him if his kids were interested in music, and how he fostered that interest. He said that all 3 enjoyed playing instruments, and the key was just making it fun for them. "Find music they like, and they'll want to learn to play it."

It sounds obvious that people do things they find fun, but like most parents I tend to default toward the mindset that the kids should be doing the things we tell them to. Fun? What does that have to do with anything?

But I didn't really get into piano until it became fun, i.e. when I got a book of Enya sheet music. I hated most of the music I had to play in my early lessons. Similarly, I loved soccer as a kid because I had only ever played it for fun. Baseball, on the other hand, was a serious sport according to my coach, and fun wasn't the point. Come to think of it, whether I enjoyed something depended a lot on the attitude of the guy (or gal) in charge.

And when it comes to my girls, I'm the guy in charge.

His presentation was excellent, by the way, very spiritual. Not many dry eyes at the end. Curiously he mentioned my name during one of the songs, basically complimenting my smile -- the downside of being complimented for something is that you end up putting in extra effort to live up to it!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

FileVault performance on OS X, Leopard (10.5)

fv.pngA couple of data points on FileVault performance on a new 17" MacBook Pro with Leopard (10.5.7):

Write speeds (4 tests):
  • 1 GB (from /dev/zero) write to non-FileVault space: 16.43s, 15.97s (about 60 MB/s)
  • 1 GB (from /dev/zero) write to FileVault space: 39.18s, 39.03s (about 28 MB/s)
Read speeds (6 tests)
  • 1 GB read from non-FileVault, write to non-FileVault: 16.52s, 14.60s
  • 1 GB read from FileVault, write to non-FileVault: 16.32s, 14.25s
  • 1 GB read from FileVault, write to FileVault: 36.3s, 35.41s

It's possible that disk caching might be affecting the results -- anybody know how to tell??

Bottom line:

It looks like there's a nearly-2.5x penalty in write speeds when writing to a FileVault-ed account, 27 megabytes/sec vs. 60 megabytes/sec. You do pay a price for some peace of mind. On the plus side the read speeds appear to be about the same.

Don't forget, if there's a chance someone's going to walk off with your machine, make sure you power it down. =)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What's new with the iPhone 3G S?

People keep asking me this... Well, here's the answer, from MacWorld. This is a list of all the hardware improvements in the latest version, coming out next Friday (bracketed comments are mine):
  • The faster processor, more RAM, and new video circuitry
  • Improved battery life
  • The improved camera hardware [autofocus, tap to focus, 3 MP instead of 2]
  • Video recording, trimming, and sharing
  • The digital compass [also maps will rotate based on which way you're facing]
  • Voice Control [dial and/or control the iPod-part with your voice]
  • Accessibility improvements
  • Built-in Nike + iPod support [no dongle required, just the sensor in your shoe -- why doesn't it just use GPS?? maybe for people who run on treadmills or inside...]
  • HSPA7.2 compatibility
  • Open GL ES 2.0
  • Hardware encryption
  • Environmental improvements
The new iPhone OS 3.0 supports a bunch of new stuff too, including whatever was keeping the TomTom folks from releasing their software. The TomTom offering looks awesome -- though I wonder how hard it is to answer the phone when it rings... Or if you're on the phone if you'll miss a turn??

See the MacWorld article for more info on the new OS.

"... and why don't you have an iPhone yet?"

The lack of TomTom software was one thing keeping me from buying one. The other two are (1) having to switch to AT&T, and (2) the cost.

All my family (and my wife's family) is on Verizon, so a switch would mean going back to counting minutes (yuck).

As for #2, a pair of $200 phones plus $89 (1400 minutes on 2 lines (or $199 for unlimited)) + $30 data plan (required) + $30 unlimited messaging = $149 per month still feels a little pricey -- that's about twice what we're paying now for cellphones. It would save me from having to cart around a TomTom and an iPod, but I could buy new iPods and TomToms pretty often with an $80/mo. savings.

I figure our time's coming, just not yet.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Hostnames with Airport Extreme

Just a quick tip for a narrow segment of the population.

If you have an Airport Extreme* (APX), and you want to refer to the other machines on your network by name instead of by IP address, set the "Computer name" in System Preferences -> Sharing. That computer will then be available at "(computer name).local".

The APX may need to restart to recognize the new name, which is done by going to "Base Station" menu -> "Restart..." in the Airport Utilities tool (in the /Applications/Utilities folder).

If you don't want to add ".local" on the end, go into System Preferences -> Network, Airport, Advanced..., DNS tab, then add "local" to the search domains. Looks like this has to be done on each computer.

* One sidenote -- the APX is a $179 wireless 802.11 dual-band (g and n) router. I absolutely refused to pay $179 for a device that I can get from Linksys or Belkin for $59. Until, that is, after 3 years of irritating reboots (and trying to talk my wife through reboots), painful setups, and irregular behavior, I finally had enough and bought the APX. I had always figured I just wasn't a networking guy, but the manual setup of the Apple router required understanding of all the same concepts and it worked consistently right out of the box. Sorry Linksys and Belkin, try again.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

File templating on the Mac

Have you ever been looking at a folder in the Finder and thought, "Now, what I want to do is make a new Word document here..."

It's not easy. Without this, that is: New File Here (AppleScript)


Download this file, double-click it to decompress it, then drag it into your home directory -> Library -> Scripts. (Create the Scripts folder if it doesn't exist.)

Then you should be able to select "New File Here" from the scripts menu when you're in the Finder:


If you don't see that icon, go to Applications -> AppleScript and run the AppleScript Utility, and select "Show script menu in menu bar".

I use Keyboard Maestro to link that script to ctrl-n.

Now what do I do?

Step 1: Go ahead and run the script. It'll offer to create a templates folder in your library directory, and then it'll open it for you.

Step 2: Copy whatever templates you'd like to use into that folder. I went into Word, Excel, etc., and created blank files that looked exactly like I want new/empty files to look when I start one, and dragged those into that folder. Or you can use templates like envelopes, letterheads, etc.

Make sure you use the right extensions on the filenames. That's how the script knows what type of file you're wanting to create. (If you don't specify an extension when it asks for the new filename, it makes BBEdit text files.)


Update: Now the file's actually readable! - BH, 4 June 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

What I learned by reading Alan Greenspan's book

ageofturbulence.pngReading Alan Greenspan's book, The Age of Turbulence, has been a fascinating experience for me. I always struggled to understand how the world's economy works, and I think (perhaps dangerously?) that I mostly get it now.

So here are the questions I wish my kids would ask me someday about it, and the responses I think I'd like to give. Not sure how much is directly attributable to AG (some of it's probably Warren Buffet too), but I won't take personal credit for any of it that's right.

So how does the economy work, anyway?

Simply, the world is full of people making things other people want.

You (or someone you love =) makes or does something for someone else, and they trade you for something you want -- usually money.

Another way to think of it is "adding value". If you buy parts for $10, put them together and sell the product for $100, you created $90-worth of value. People make money and provide for their families by adding value. That's how places like Hong Kong and Singapore and Japan, with very few natural resources, manage to be such wealthy places -- they've figured out how to add lots of value to "stuff".

We're constantly consuming that value too, e.g. making a $3 burger disappear, putting miles and years on our cars that decrease the value, etc. So if we just stopped working, we'd quickly consume the value we've stored in the fridge, bank accounts, gas in the car, etc. -- and that's when the pain starts.

But as we figure out how to create value faster, our standard of living improves.

How come the US is so much better off than places like Africa and South America?

We in the US are incredibly more productive than they were a few hundred years ago. Why? Division of labor is one reason. If you have enough people around, each person can do one thing and get really good at it, and therefore be really efficient.

Education is another. It helps us figure out how to waste less time and make stuff better, faster, and cheaper.

Time is yet another -- it takes awhile to figure out how to build really good cordless drills, but now that we've got it worked out, lots of people can have one and use them to create value faster than we could before. We as a society invested the time, and now are reaping the benefits.

Here's an example. Suppose I could build 50,000 incredibly awesome dishwashers a day for $10 apiece, everyone would certainly be impressed at my efficiency =) -- and pretty soon everyone would have an incredibly awesome dishwasher, and their lives would (arguably) be better for it. Although an extreme example, that's a big part of what's going on. We build lots of great stuff faster and cheaper than other places, and have been doing it for awhile now.

... But China makes lots of things cheaply, how come they're still so poor?

They're doing better now, actually, but they still have problems. One, even though they produce *tons* of stuff, in many cases they're not adding as much value as their US counterparts. I'm sure iPods are made up of 5-cents worth of raw material (silicon, lithium, carbon, etc.), which (mostly) Chinese companies turn into a $15 unit (that's a guess) that Apple sells for $149. Apple's adding the lion's share of the value with their engineering, design, marketing, distribution channels, etc.

AG talks about another problem that other countries have: limited (or absent) property rights. If every time I get something it gets taken away from me (stolen by thieves, confiscated/taxed by the gov't), I'm going to start putting my energy into protecting or hiding my stuff instead of building whatever it is I'm good at building. So I go down to only a hundred $10 dishwashers a day and spend the rest of my time putting bars on my windows and a wall around my house. Then we might as well be in South America. And a lot fewer people will have incredibly awesome dishwashers.

Why can't the government just pay for everything?

It could.

China and Russia are great examples of the government trying to do and pay for everything. Have you heard about hordes of people wanting to emigrate there? Me neither, those places are mostly economic wrecks. Yet how funny is it that the Obama administration's policies look a lot more like socialism/communism than what brought us to where we are today.

AG talks about "economic populism", which is what South American presidents tend to end up with -- promising to spend government money to do all kinds of things for the people that the government can't afford to do. It gets them elected, but isn't a sustainable way to run a government.

For example, just because you promise free national healthcare doesn't mean that a bunch of doctors, nurses, and pharmacists will start working for free -- someone has to pay them to do all that work. In other words, somebody somewhere has to be producing the "value" that will be given/paid to those doctors and nurses -- and if it's not the employers of productive employees, who will it be? Likely you and me. And if you get sick more often than most, you probably like the sound of that. If not, though, you'll be paying for other people's doctor bills. Simple as that.

Remember, it's *our* money the government is spending! And although I'm fine with them building roads, maintaining the military, running the courts and police, etc., I'm not thrilled about government giving money to abortion clinics, paying for everyone's health care, sponsoring people's unemployment, subsidizing farming, etc.

So why not let American businesses foot the bill for the national healthcare system?

Consider how much of the value created in this country comes from American businesses. A lot! Jobs too. But our businesses are competing with those from China, Singapore, Japan, etc. Pushing the healthcare burden onto our businesses slows them down and drives up their prices. My $10 dishwasher will have to get a bit more expensive if I have to pay ten thousand dollars a year in healthcare for each of my employees -- and that makes it easier for a Chinese company to come in and undercut me. And if they do and drive me out of business, I'm out of a job, and not only do we lose my business' contributions to the national healthcare system, we also have a few more unemployed people to support.

American business is the engine that drives our country forward and creates value -- let's streamline it, not burden it down!


This next one's a little different from the other questions, but I'm not sure where else to put it:

If we get a lot of our oil from the Saudis, why don't they jack up the prices? It seems like they've got us stuck, a rich country with an oil addiction seems like a perfect target for price gouging.

I never understood this, I just always assumed they would be happy if the prices were to skyrocket and stay as high as possible.

But as with every balancing act, AG points out that as prices go up, people start figuring out how to get their energy elsewhere, or how to go without. And if pressed, we could come up with some cool stuff that would permanently lower our consumption rates. With Venezuela and Russia also churning out oil, a drop in consumption would upset the balance and put a glut of oil on the market and force prices to instead go far lower. (If everybody in the country already had one of my incredibly awesome dishwashers, how much do you think I could sell one for?) According to AG, that scenario happened in the 70's and the rate of "growth in consumption" "never fully recovered even as prices fell".

If that's the Saudis primary source of income, you can see why they don't want to mess too much with it.

Just a reminder, none of this is really mine (except for the wrong stuff) -- credit goes to AG (and to a lesser extent Warren Buffet). Still, if you made it this far, I hope that means you found something interesting or useful. =)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Decathalon

running.jpgI heard an interesting story a few months back (not sure on the source).

Supposedly a guy entered a decathalon. He was a pretty good athlete, but not really the best at anything. In the 100m he was fast, but only came in 3rd. He wasn't great with the javelin, came in 7th. In fact, although he did fairly well on most events, he didn't win any of them.

When the last event was over, he was feeling pretty down on himself for not doing better. However, once the scores were tallied, this apparently mediocre athlete won the gold!

Why? Because in the decathalon, it's not the single event that matters, but the overall performance. That's true for life too.

Many extraordinary businessmen have extensive resumes and train-wreck marriages. Others have hundreds of Facebook friends but can't run half that many yards without collapsing. Still others have nice cars and neglected kids.

The key is balance.

This is the best counsel I've found so far for finding it:
"Most men do not set priorities to guide them in allocating their time and most men forget that the first priority should be to maintain their own spiritual and physical strength; then comes their family; then the Church and then their professions, and all need time."

- Harold B. Lee
I like the "all need time" part -- start with solid priorities, but be sure to allocate time to all.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Amazing bicycle skills

This guy's incredible:

FYI, his name is Danny MacAskill. He's 23, and has been riding for 12 years. Given this video, I would be very sad but not at all surprised to one day hear he'd been killed doing this stuff.

Until that happens, though, I suppose I'll just sit here and be amazed. Don't miss the part starting at about 3 minutes in. Wow.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The spam that almost got me...

Check out this email I got today at work:


I'm pretty cautious, but I just about clicked on the "To see it, click here" link.

It's a good thing I didn't, that link points to a .exe file located on a server named "". For those really not into computers, that link points to a Windows "executable", i.e. a program that very likely will do bad things to my computer. Clicking on it could have downloaded and run it (maybe with a dialog box asking me about it, I didn't want to press my luck trying it).

I think what kept me from it was seeing that "received" is misspelled. Misspellings are common in phishing and other spam emails.

The other thing is the link itself. I don't trust *any* emails I get, including the links in them -- especially HTML ones. Again, for the uninitiated, there's really two main types of emails you can receive -- plain text, and HTML formatted. HTML allows you to have formatted text with underlines, bold, multi-colored, etc. text. With plain text, it's just letters and numbers. Links in plain text emails look like this: In HTML emails, you can make links with pretty much any text, like this. Even worse, if I were malicious, I could make a link that looks like a link to CNN, but takes you to Amazon's webpage: In this case, the bad guys put a link to a trojan horse (I presume), masked as "here".

So how can you tell? Most email clients (Entourage, Outlook Express, hopefully others) will show you the real url (address) of a link down in the status bar at the bottom of the window when you hover over it with your mouse.* In this case, I did that and immediately saw that the link wasn't at, but at that "" site.

If you're not totally sure where the link goes, try to copy the link and paste it into a text editor (TextEdit on the Mac, Notepad on the PC), then if it looks okay, you can copy/paste it into your browser's address bar. That's much safer.

Lastly -- was I worried? A little, I still don't have a replacement Mac at work so I was using a Windows PC. Do .exe files affect Macs? Nope. =) Macs can't natively run those types of files**, so they're not really dangerous.
* Sadly, that does *not* always work with your browser -- malicious websites can fake the text shown in the link on the status bar. Google's search results pages even do little tricks with that text, showing you the bare link you're going to, but really linking to another google url that keeps track of which result you clicked before actually taking you there.

** ... unless you have vmware or parallels installed and run it through there.

Swine Flu in Madison probable: Madison schools closed till Monday

See here.

Wow, I never expected schools to shut down over an illness like this. The news today said 36,000 people in the US died in 2005 from the flu/pneumonia. A tiny fraction of that die in Mexico from this thing, and when it shows up we shut down all the schools in town? Curious.

Imagine a real pandemic where we're asked to stay in our homes for 3 weeks. Wouldn't it be great if we didn't have to race to the store hoping there was food left to keep us going that long? =)
* Full disclosure: we'd be lucky to make it 3 months without access to a store! But we're working on it!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Mac-Specific Virus Threat"?

Oh, FoxNews, you're really starting to get on my nerves with your lame, inaccurate reporting!

You imply with your title that there's a new virus in town specifically targeting Macs. What you don't say is:
  • Trojan horses are *not* viruses -- viruses replicate on their own. To get this trojan horse, you had to download a hacked copy of iWork '09 off a pirate website and install it.
  • This thing's been around for months, it was discovered in January.
This is one of the first instances of a malicious trojan horse on the Mac. There have been other proof-of-concept vulnerabilities in Safari and QuickTime, but those were pretty quickly patched.

Bottom line, Mac-using family and friends -- don't go to pirate sites, free mp3 sites, or any porn sites. If you stay away from those, you're still pretty safe using a Mac.

Oh, and watch out for FoxNews, too. =)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How to avoid one traveling nightmare

You may have noticed I haven't done much blogging in the last few months, and with good reason -- it's been a rough few months!

Quick summary: my work Mac blows up, I can't work, bring my personal Mac into work with tacit (not explicit) permission from my boss, corporate suspects me of industrial espionage and confiscates my personal laptop for 3 weeks, now I *really* can't work, that finally blows over, but I still don't have a workstation; I accidentally burn half my front lawn to the ground; check engine light comes on in my truck, diagnosis seems easy to fix, but I mess up the bolt head on the part trying to get it off, still not fixed; have a *terrible* migraine after losing a game of racquetball, so bad we think it's a TIA (mini-stroke), so I go to the hospital they do $12k-worth of tests and find nothing wrong, though some lightheadedness and headaches linger; 3 weeks later the hair on the sides of my head starts falling out, leaving me looking like I got a bowl cut, maybe caused by slight hypothyroidism which was maybe caused by the contrast dye they used in the CT scan -- or it's all caused by the stress of thinking I could've been about to die? doctors have never seen it before, no mention of anything like it on the internet; despite the fact I got a flu shot, I get a nasty case of the flu perfectly coincident with an out of town meeting to kick off the last of our work on a program, since a week or so earlier it was announced our program was going to be cancelled.

In summary, I hope spring '09 never happens again!

Back to the subject at hand, my flight yesterday from Tucson to Dallas was delayed by 3 hours, which made me miss my flight to Huntsville -- the last one of the evening.

So at 9pm I called the travel services company, and they made me a reservation with a Holiday Inn -- "just catch the shuttle from the airport". So I got on the HI shuttle, and rode for half an hour only to discover that it was the wrong Holiday Inn! Grr!

Lesson? If you take an airport shuttle to a hotel, make sure it's going to the right hotel! Just because it has the name of your hotel on it doesn't mean it's the right one!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Easter bunny

I found this on the counter this morning:


I'd like to know the answers to these questions too. =)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sacrament prayers comparison

There aren't many prayers in the LDS church that are written down or that need to be repeated word-for-word, but the two prayers blessing the sacrament are examples of ones that are. Our priests are asked to memorize them to get their Duty to God award, but it's tricky because they are similar but not identical.

So today I put together a comparison of the two that should make it easier to see and remember the differences:

Click to download a .pdf.

Any other priests quorum advisors out there? Hope this helps someone.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Office

I don't usually recommend The Office since some of the episodes are a little crass, but these recent clips are just too funny to not share. Enjoy.

Doggy dog:

Princess Unicorn:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

McKinley quote of the day


Today at lunch:
Me: "McKinley, where did this chicken nugget come from?"

McKinley: "Um, they cut up dead pigs and find the chicken in it?"
Wow, the pig is an even more magical animal than I thought. =)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

OS X trojan horse

To all my Mac-using buddies -- don't be tempted by pirated copies of software on file-sharing sites, specifically iWork '09. Slashdot is reporting that someone has embedded a trojan horse in iWork '09 and distributed it over file sharing sites.

Note, this is not a virus, it can't infect your computer without your permission. If you're installing the software, you're granting permission! Support good software by buying it legally.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Mall during the inauguration

This is the mall during the inauguration ceremony, as taken by the GeoEye1 satellite.

I actually enjoyed reading the inauguration speech. There was little that I could argue with in there. My favorite quote:
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

I wonder who wrote it.

For me the question remains: in 4 years, will our nation be better off? Will we be more likely to blame others or our government for our personal failings? Will social programs become the lifeblood of more Americans, being easier and more profitable than holding down a job? If abortions become easier to get, will they be more likely to be gotten? Or will violence abroad increase as tyrants smile and nod through diplomacy but do what they please knowing no one will stop them? Will we still be allowed to own guns to protect ourselves? Will churches lose official status for refusing to marry gay couples, or for taking other moral stands?

I'm still nervous about the answers to these questions.
Check out this interactive zoomable photo of the inauguration -- double-click to zoom, then hover your mouse over a person to see who it is. Not all the people are labeled, but probably all the ones whose names you've heard are. Very nice!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Buying good reviews

I love Amazon's review system for researching stuff I want to buy -- but it looks like I'll have to start being more careful now, check out this story. Yep, a Belkin representative was paying people to put in glowing reviews for their products, and vote down the negative ones. Ouch.

I think Amazon should suspend all Belkin sales for 90 days as a signal to any other companies considering padding their products' reviews.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Steve Jobs on "leave of absence"

Today Steve Jobs announced that his medical problems are "more complex" than he originally thought, and is going on a medical leave of absence until the end of June.

It's a sad day. Truly he's not looking very good, and I can't help but feel my heart go out to him and his family.

Nobody questions that an Apple without Steve Jobs at the epicenter will be different -- in 1997, he was basically tossed (back) onto a bloated, sinking barge*, and somehow managed to rebuild the whole thing into a sleek, giant luxury cruiseliner without sinking it. Amazing.

I've been listening to The Tao of Warren Buffet, a neat little collection of his lessons learned on investing -- which just happen to apply broadly to lots of other stuff in life.**

It's a great book, and has me thinking now: How is this change going to affect Apple as a company? How much does Steve Jobs actually do there? From what I can tell, he generally has a pretty tight grip on the wheel and rudder of the ship, and doesn't hesitate to turn hard sometimes. He's often been found turning against the "winds", and has mostly been right, and that instinct and vision is hard to replace.

You could say that pretty much anything he touches either turns to gold, or gets treated as gold, even long after the shine rubs off. His temporary replacement, Tim Cook, may well have the former, but it'll be a long time before he's earned the latter.

In fact, if you went back 2 years and inserted a Steve-Jobs-to-Tim-Cook transition in 2007 but left all the product announcements and direction from those 2 years intact, I bet half a dozen times since you'd have seen big op-ed pieces declaring Apple's glory days to be over and Tim Cook to be the failed steward of a once great empire. It's human nature to overemphasize imperfections, and when you have a big change like that it's easy to point to that as the cause, regardless of what the upside looks like.

I think it's also important to note that Steve Jobs didn't design the iMac, the iPod or the iPhone -- that was Jonathan Ive. Steve also doesn't build anything, nor does he write software. The guys doing all the design and writing the software and building the hardware are still there, doing it.

In some ways Steve just acts as a giant filter on all the garbage that inevitably gets dreamt up by engineers and designers with caffeine addictions living in Silicon Valley. Probably even from his bedroom he can still do a lot of that.

Me? The stock's down 6%, so I'm thinking of buying some.
* ... that used to be his own cute little yacht, but had a bunch of big ugly shipping containers welded onto the sides by "professional business-people" ...

** I love the one about you getting a car, then being told that it's the only car you'll ever own and it has to last the rest of your life. Any rational person hearing that would realize if it's going to last, they'd better take really good care of it. Well guess what -- that's exactly what we've got with our bodies and minds. Only one of each, and it's got to last.

Oh, and the hood's welded shut so if any of the parts go bad, we'll have to cut through the sheet metal to get to them. =)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Password-less ssh logins

I'm not sure where else to post this, so I thought I might as well post it here.

We have a process for logging into a remote Mac or linux computer using ssh without a password. It looks something like this in the terminal:

Create a pair of rsa keys:
cd; mkdir -p .ssh; ssh-keygen -N '' -C '' -f .ssh/id_rsa
... then copy that .ssh folder to your home directory on the remote machine. Easy as pie.

But one of our users couldn't make it work. His .ssh folder contents and permissions were identical to the other users, but it still wouldn't work. We even tried copying another user's .ssh folder over and using that. Still no joy.

An obscure posting on some unix help website gave us the answer: his home directory was group-writeable. Once we did a "chmod g-w ~" in his account, and rebuilt the .ssh folder (who knows why we had to do that), everything was back in business. SSH is notoriously particular about the permissions in the .ssh folder, but apparently it is also particular about the user's home directory as well.

Somebody out there needs this, I hope they find it here.

The "megapenny"

A billion dollars isn't unfathomable anymore... It's only about $3.25 for every man, woman, and child in America. What's $700B between friends?

But lest you lose perspective, the megapenny site will show you what a billion pennies looks like-- and the pile of pennies in this picture isn't quite it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

On backups

My brother just asked me about backups for his Mac laptop, so I thought I'd share my 2 cents on the matter with everybody --

You really don't need a backup until something goes wrong. And what could go wrong here in America? =)

Lots of stuff. Here are a few things that can go wrong, from most likely to least likely:
  1. You accidentally delete/overwrite a file
  2. Your hard disk dies
  3. Your computer is stolen (or destroyed)
  4. Your house is burglarized or burns down
  5. A large bomb destroys half of the city
  6. An EMP wipes out all electronics in the region
Don't let your kids play with EMPs in the backyard!

With most of those (all except #1), you lose *all* your data, which includes pictures, emails, iTunes songs, etc. So here are a few solutions, and a list of which problems they address:

OptionEasy?Rough costTime to get back up and runningProblems addressedWhat gets lost
Backup cloned hard drive connected to your machine (cloned once a week or so)so so$100up and running in minutes1 (maybe), 2Up to a week's worth of stuff
Backup time machine hard drive connected to your machinevery easy$100up and running in a couple hours1, 2up to an hour's worth of stuff
Backup time machine hard drive stored on the other side of townvery easy$100up and running in a couple hours (after you drive across town to get it)1, 2, 3, 4, 5whatever you've done since the last time you plugged it in
Online backupscumbersome?maybe $20/month?varies, probably many hours1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (all depending on the service)depends on the particulars of the service
DVD backupsvery cumbersome$1-3 per 4.7 GB disclikely many *many* hours to get back up1, 2, 3, 6whatever you haven't burned to discs

My advice? Go with the backup TM drive stored on the other side of town, and periodically make DVD backups of important files. It's cheap, and covers almost everything that can go wrong.

Hope that helps!

Does anyone read this thing?

views since Feb. 9, 2008