hung up, hanging on the line

On hold with Bell Mobility technical support regarding cell modem connectivity problems. Just as the tech person gets through, we get hung up on. I’m not going on hold again.

epia = teh h0sed

I tried to replace the noisy fansink on the old Via EPIA 800 yesterday. Seems that the hints at the mini-itx.com project page. My board didn’t have the fansink attached with thermal grease, it used some kind of very sticky pad.

So, in (gently) wrenching the fansink off the board, the board now won’t boot. It feeps loudly every few seconds, but there’s no video output. Feh. At least I dodn’t pay anything for it, but I hope that the RAM’s not broken, as I have plans for a small, quiet SMB/print server.

say something, anything …

It really annoys me that Natural Power Consultants have been so quiet about a blade failure at Crystal Rig. Not merely has it taken them two months to start repairs, but they haven’t come out with a news release saying what happened, how unlikely it is to happen again, and reassuring everyone that this is a) very unusual, and b) fully under control.

Wind farm operators aren’t alone. The actions of one in one country affects the industry worldwide. I mean, we’re even seeing questions in Ontario based on the Altamont experience. So, c’mon people, get hep.

All Is Not Green At The Viridian Design Online Store

Strange that the supposedly deep green Viridian Design online store only features one organic item out of twenty six on sale …

windows is killing usability, pt. 314

Sent some urgent data to a client yesterday. This morning, a couple of frantic e-mails in my inbox: “Our IT dept has blocked zip files ‘cos they’re a security threat. Please resend!”

So basically, Windows now means we have to:

  1. create the zip file
  2. rename it to .zap, .zep, .zop, .zup, … or whatever
  3. send the file
  4. the recipient has to save the attachment, and rename the file.

Listen, I want to go to a sensible place today. How long will it be before those alternative endings are compromised (or that Windows gets a less lobotomised security model)?

bad cables / wasted power

Don’t be tempted to use the enormous heatsink assembly on an Athlon XP to support the power loom from the PSU. I did it last night, in an attempt to free up the airflow (and noise) from the CPU. Mistake. It flexed the mobo enough to unseat the CPU, causing wacky power-up errors (with no diagnostics, since there was no CPU to be seen).

I’m getting kind of sick of wasted energy in computers. That’s partly why I’m building a fanless mini-ITX system. It’ll have all the power I need, while being small, quiet and unobtrusive.

this is not my galaxy

We’re just back from seeing The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. It was a mildly amusing movie, little else.

I’m fairly old-school when it comes to HHGTTG. I didn’t catch the original airing, but did hear it when it was broadcast before the second series. Good old Radio 4 Long Wave, 200kHz or so. I saw the TV series. I read the books. I have the scripts book. I even had the towel; my brother got me a membership of ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha for a year (I didn’t renew; a bathtowel is a hard act to follow). In summary, I remember it as Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings, but know it’s really Paul Neil Milne Johnstone.

So basically, I have an image of how it should be. Yes, the radio series was quite different from the TV series, which was again different from the books. But to me the differences are its strength. It’s clear that Douglas Adams had an immense comic talent, and the spontaneity of a show that was written only minutes before (and sometimes, during) broadcast is dazzling. It was the genius of the contrived plot and deus ex machina saves that made it so fresh.

So a movie carrying the Hitchhiker’s brand is out, and a lot of people find it funny. That’s good; I’m a big fan of anything that improves the gross national happiness. But while it was funny, it wasn’t inspired. There were no producers tearing their hair out over the writer’s legendary inability to meet deadlines. Everything was safe, corporate. With a legend, when you retell it, you have to add something. This retelling added nothing; it was a mish-mash of bits from the cutting room floor.

Don’t get me wrong, the actors did their part well. It was a good spectacle. I even laughed at parts. But I can only agree with my friend David Inglis, an even longer-time Hitchhiker’s fan than I. After seeing it on preview, he summed up the whole film in one word: unnecessary.

o o ==== o o

A wrecker’s in Oakville brought waves of 70s nostalgia. Amidst the other junk, I caught a glimpse of a Jensen Interceptor, the car that — when I was five — was quite the acme of motoring. Wide grille, double headlights. Absurdly long bonnet hiding a vast engine from the US, sweet rounded rear window. Slung low, fast; but refined — an Oxbridge sprinter toff on wheels. You drove this car, you were Ian Ogilvy; you knew he was slumming it in The Saint‘s P1800.

This Interceptor looked, well, intercepted. Its signature rear glass was broken. Its huge heart infarcted, rusted up like Flint. Sad, but like the other dinosaurs, time moved away from it.

bad scene chesterday

A very bad thing happened on the subway yesterday. Whether it was a fire at St George, or some undefined weirdness between Sherbourne and Bay, I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that by 07:55 we were told to get off the train at Chester. 7:55 is the time that my train leaves from Union station, so things were bad already.

Me and several thousand other folks were crammed on the platform at Chester. No-one was going anywhere. There were supposed to be shuttle buses, but there was no movement. People were just on the edge of freaking out, and there were ‘helpful’ suggestions flying about. Things got especially unhinged when extra trains came in, making the platform impossibly crowded.

Then a train came in which wasn’t said to be out of service, so people surged into it. The picture below was nowhere near as crowded as it had been:

chester, westbound, 07:59

So then no-one knew where to go. It seemed that many people were locked by indecision, so when I finally managed to barge my way to the stairs (featuring non-working escalators, crowded with static people):

chester, westbound stairs going nowhere, 08:00

All told, I was stuck down there for about fifteem minutes. It was very nasty. I’ve never been in such a large crowd in such a small space. Things almost turned ugly.

It did mean I was nearly two hours late for work (streetcar from Broadview got me in five minutes after the 08:43 train had left). I didn’t enjoy a nearly four hour commute.

atomic clock error

We have a Sharper Image Atomic Big Digit Clock with In/Outdoor Temperature. It picked up the standard time to daylight savings time shift perfectly yesterday morning.

This morning, though, I seemed to be running 10 minutes late. The clock was saying 06:56, when I was convinced it earlier than that. I check my watch; 06:46. Cooker clock, thermostat timer, microwave, NTP-synch’ed Linux laptop; all 06:46.

On resetting the clock, and letting it faff about for a few minutes while it listened to the NIST radio signal from Boulder, it got the time right. I guess there must’ve been a duff signal came through in the night. That’s what you get for blindly trusting technology.

pencils, pencils, PENCILS!!

Man, I bought a lot of pencils this week. There’s nothing quite able to cure that tactile jones than writing with a blade-sharpened wooden pencil on good paper. Let me see:

  • 10 Canadiana Naturals bare wood pencils (which, with irony almost morissettian, are made in the USA).
  • 2 Canadiana red marking pencils
  • 2 Faber Castell 9000 pencils. These are almost worth the 5× premium over Canadianas, as they don’t have those semi-useless erasers on the end that destroy the pencil’s balance.
  • a Staedtler 0.9mm mechanical pencil (which I’m never going to use the Opinel on, never fear).

So all I need now is a couple of non-photo blues and a bible highlighter or two, and I am the king of pencils!

I’m reminded of the “world’s biggest pencils” that were the coolest things an 8-year-old could have in a Scottish primary school. Brought back from exotic holiday locations, they were enough to win playground approval for a few days by letting your friends have a shot. I always wanted one of these 40cm überpencils, but it didn’t happen then.

When I did get one, it was three years later, and the cachet was gone. To compound the disappointment, the pencil I got depicted the staid provincial crests of Belgium on a cream-of-chicken-soup–coloured background. To write with it was to be a hamfisted infant again; it looped and swayed against my will. Its lead was narrow and the wood was tough, resisting all sharpening. There was no “sharkener” (as sharpeners were pronounced in my primary school) that would point the thing. It was soon consigned to the back of the cupboard.

How To Fix A Crashed & Screaming QuickBooks Timer

We use QuickBooks Timer to track our billing hours. It seems to crash with great regularity whenever you finish entering an item. When it does this, its usual two note happy acceptance chirp turns into a squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee that goes on and on and on …

I’ve found a way of fixing this without rebooting:

  1. Hit Ctrl-Alt-Del, and call up the Task Manager
  2. Select QuickBooks Timer, and ‘End Task’ (it may take several tries)
  3. Open a command prompt, and hit Ctrl-G, then Enter
  4. After beeping, and complaining that ” is not recognized as an internal or external command, operable program or batch file, the beeping will stop.

This has been a public sanity announcement.

Oh yeah, and what does *this* mean?

"click here to begin"
Windows says, “click here to begin”. Begin what? The insanity? A nice wee story about elves and flower fairies? Making embarrassing smells in public places?

99 years out of code: Y2K was so five years ago

plastic water bottle: bottled 1904, use by 1906
As seen on bottled water in a Holiday Inn Express: Produced 1904, Use By 1906. Either some grand conspiracy has kept the Edwardian invention of PET bottles and computerised inkjet printing out of the public eye, or somebody somewhere hasn’t quite got their date printing right.

drain, pt2

The city came to do the drain last night. They found bad stuff, but the guy was pretty sure it was on city property. Sure enough, when they came to CCTV the drain this morning, the city pipe was cracked and badly offset. So yay!, we don’t have to pay.

Unfortunately, we do have to pay up for the basement damage. Since this happened before, we have a monstrous deductable on our insurance policy. The City of Toronto Water and Wastewater Services (whose people have been great, so far) limit claims to $500, and we may not be eligible. So we’re going to be out of pocket, but not as much as we were in Januay 2003.

aarggh! delivery.ca and pizzaville.ca suck monkey bum!!

We like Pizzaville pizzas. We are shy, and can order them online at delivery.ca with no human interaction.

We ordered our favourite pizzas tonight, and waited. And waited. And waited! And waited!! So I call them. After getting hung up on once, they explain that the store we order from is closed, and so we can’t get deliveries. They claim that they called us. We don’t think so.

This is, frankly, crap customer service. We’re going elsewhere. The pizzas from 241 may taste of cardboard, but at least they deliver.

Oh yeah, and delivery.ca seriously endanger your credit card information by sending your data unencrypted to the server. I’d make that illegal, if I could. It’s the dumbest thing ever.

drain

Ah, the joys of home ownership: our main drain has done a bad thing again. A couple of years back, it was so choked with roots from a city tree that it flooded the basement with icky stuff. This time, it just made a wet patch on the floor.

It seems that the tree (planted about 50 years ago with the house) has got into the city’s pipe, partially collapsing it. We share this outlet with our neighbours, so it’s going to be more involved getting it fixed.

There are a couple of other houses in our short stretch of street that have needed this work done. Much as I like trees in the urban environment, when they get in your drains, it’s personal.

iTunes out, I does

Stewart registers for iTunes Music Store, and does not enjoy the experience.

So I registered with iTunes Music Store. With the buzz I was getting from users down south, I was expecting it to be like my favourite indie record store, only online. Um, no.

So I searched for artists I’m listening to right now:

itunes does not know joanna newsom
Ah, I see. It didn’t seem to have most of the artists I wanted. In all, it failed to find:

  • The Apples in Stereo
  • Devendra Banhart
  • The Decemberists
  • The Holy Modal Rounders
  • Bob Log III
  • Neutral Milk Hotel
  • Joanna Newsom
  • The Polyphonic Spree
  • Kate Rusby
  • XTC

As you’ll be able to find at least five of these in the most dismal mall chain store, it didn’t start off too well.

I browsed the music genres, and was shocked. There was no folk genre, but there was a roots one which seemed to overlap what I’d call folk and world. Confusingly, there was also a world genre. Oh, and people, disney is not a genre, it’s more a malignant/cryogenically-preserved state of mind.

(I was amused to see the appaling faux yokel band The Wurzels listed as roots. I guess they are, if you know the etymology of their name …)

So I found a RobynHitchcock spoken word track that I hadn’t heard from Millennium Thoughts. I downloaded it, and on trying to play it, it said:

do not make me authorize this again

I thought that the pretty proprietary interface would at least remember that it was me logged in at the store, and using the same computer. I guess that’s how paranoid those DRM types are.

Once I was over that, I decide to buy a whole CD: XO, by Elliott Smith. Since I knew that the service used a propritary encryption scheme, I figured on buning a CD, and ripping it later. So I selected the tracks:

and started to burn a disc. But it assumed I meant all the tracks I’d downloaded into some “playlist”, so now I have a CD with one Robyn Hitchcock track, and all of XO. Annoying. Especially when iTunes doesn’t burn CD-TEXT information to the disc, grr.

I wonder why iTunes uses something very close to the radioactive symbol for the “Burn Disc” logo?

I’m not impressed with iTunes Music Store. The content is woeful, the user interface is contrived, and the tracks are very expensive, and in a proprietary format I can’t use directly with my MP3 player. I’ll be giving it a miss in future.