Strange Brouhaha

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Travel Report, part II

One thing you need to understand about this trip is that the primary intent of it was for my parents to spend time with my daughter. It wasn't a vacation in the traditional sense; in fact, for me, it wasn't really a vacation at all. I've started doing some part-time QA consulting work for a company here in town, and I brought that work along with me. In addition, I completed a review of the new McAfee wireless security software while I was there. Those two things consumed pretty much all of my available time for the first week. As a result, I didn't actually do much other than work; I barely even went outside.

Having said that, the stuff I did get to do was great.

My brother-in-law is a firefighter. Towards the end of our trip, we got to visit his station and see all the equipment and the trucks and such. It was pretty cool. We even got to eat at the station--as you can imagine, it was a fairly protein-laden meal. Fire trucks are neat. It made me want to get back into model-building, just so I could build a fire truck. It's too bad that model trucks are so expensive, too bad that you can't find the right equipment, and too bad that I'm allergic to the glue.

I went with my mother, daughter and niece to the Hawaii Children's Discovery Center. It was really nice. We have a Children's Museum here in Madison, but the Honolulu facility is huge! It's a great place to bring kids--kind of pricey, but you can get there when they open and spend hours and hours inside. I know Lani would have cheerfully stayed for the entire day, had they actually been open that long.

We also went to a free concert sponsored by a hotel chain. I won't mention which one, since they mentioned it once every five minutes during the show--I figure they advertised themselves enough and I don't need to do it for them. There was some great music and some good music and some music. I don't want to be too critical, since I doubt I'd do that much better, but two of the singers were flat and that's kind of a shame. But it was good to sit in Kapiolani Park with the breezes blowing and music in the air. I felt lucky: we were sitting under some birds and the one time one of them really let loose, the wad of crap missed me completely. Seriously, though, some of the instrumentalists just shredded, it was great.

Did I mention that I'm a terrible vacationer? I really am, and I submit as evidence the fact that I took not one single picture while we were there. I made sure there were fresh batteries in the camera and everything, but the camera itself never even made it out of the suitcase. I had intended to let Lani use it, but couldn't even muster that up. Fortunately, my dad had gotten her a couple of little disposable cameras and she took some nice-for-a-six-year-old pictures.

Those were the major things I did, except for getting together with some old friends for some good food. That's for tomorrow.

(And how sad is it that I never got around to going swimming?)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Travel Report, Part One

I am a terrible traveler.

Let's get that out of the way right up front. It's the stone truth: I'm a bad traveler. I don't mean that I'm a bad vacationer, although I'm that too, I mean I'm a bad traveler. I don't like it, and I suspect most people don't: people who say "it's the journey, not the destination" love metaphors just a bit too much. A plane ride is a means to an end, a necessary evil, something to be endured rather than embraced.

I've done it enough--been on this route or a variation thereof nearly three dozen times. Sat and sweated through the final 90 minutes of flights that seem to last for 90 years. Ached and groaned and wedged myself in and out of small airplane seats meant for 14th-century children. Obsessively calculated travel time by in-flight entertainment: "The movie is over, that's 90 minutes down, only three hours left." Avoided looking at my watch because I knew I'd just be depressed.

I suspect the root of my travel anxiety is that air travel is something that I cannot control. I like to be in control. If I drive, I can take the route I want. I can stop if I want. I can listen to the radio. I can have silence. None of that applies in an airplane: if I decide that I want to stop and get out and stretch my legs...well, I guess a person COULD make an airplane land, but there's jail time to consider. If I want the FFFFFFSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH of the engines to stop, too bad. If I think taking the highway would be nicer than taking the Interstate...too bad. If you can control the journey, then it's enjoyable, but as with most other things, if you're just sitting there, it's boring as heck.

I'm sure it's also got something with being stuffed cheek-by-jowl with so many strangers. Whatever it is, I'm bad at traveling. When I travel, I want to START. I don't like the waiting. I want it to start so that it's that much closer to being finished.

I'm a great arriver, though. I've instantly loved pretty much everywhere I've been: Madison, Detroit, Boston, Atlanta, New York, New Jersey, Des Moines, Chicago, Mitchell, Wall, Minneapolis, and so on--just because it's NOT an airplane or car or bus. Traveling itself may have been a big downer, but arriving in Honolulu was fantastic. We walked from our gate through the breezeway, and even jet fuel fume-laden fresh air was better than canned, recycled airplane air. It's always good to see my mom and dad, whether it's here or there. And it really helps that at either end of the flight is a home-cooked meal and a comfortable place to sleep.

So I really only have two stories about the flight itself.

First, this electronic checkin crap has to stop and it has to stop now. Who benefits from having people fumbling around trying to check themselves in? (Note: I know who benefits. Not anybody on the consumer end of the transaction.) I miss having people who--at least in theory--know what they're doing hitting keys and checking bags in and handing out boarding passes. I miss the human interaction, and when I say that, you know it has to be serious.

Second, traveling with louts is kind of fun, if only because you get such great lines out of them. The three people in front of us arrived at literally the last possible second: had we not stopped to take on some cargo, thus delaying us for five minutes, these people would not have made it on board. Naturally, they were the worst kind of drunken loudmouths, exactly the kind of person you want your six-year-old daughter to be exposed to. They were yelling about the incompetent shuttle cart driver who couldn't find the F concourse in the airport. "Couldn't find F!" yelled one of the ladies, "Bring him over here and I'll show him F!" It was funny. Less funny was "Ma says they got bingo in the Catholic churches. Maybe we'll win a pineapple. Ha ha ha! A pineapple. Hey, can we win a pineapple at the bingo? A pineapple! At the bingo! In the Catholic churches! A pineapple!" I heard a lot about the damn pineapple; these people were part of a larger traveling group, so there were drunken louts all over the place near us, and each time we got "Couldn't find F!" and "A pineapple! At the bingo! In Honalula!"

To sum bad, arrival good.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Little League World Series

While we were in Hawaii, the Little League team from Ewa Beach was making its way through the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania. They won the U.S. Championship on Saturday and in an exciting extra-innings game on Sunday, won the International Championship.

Home In The Isthmus

I spent the last thirteen days in Hawaii. It was fun. I saw old friends, caught up with my family, met my niece. I'll have a bunch of trip reports and a restaurant review in a bit, but right now I need to rest.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Turning Torso

I came across an article on about Turning Torso, the new 54-story Swedish office and apartment building. Does that thing look neat, or does it look neat? You can also have a look at the official Turning Torso website, which is cool too (and don't worry if you don't know Swedish; there's an "In English" button).

Buildings like this kind of make me glad I never actually went to architecture school.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

What, you want to know another reason to love Notebook?

Okay, I'll give you one.

One thing that would make Circus Ponies NoteBook even better is if there was a way to insert a cell above the current one. As it stands, when you're done typing in the current cell, you hit enter twice and you get a new cell below. This is fine if all you ever do is add notes in a linear fashion.

Nobody ever does.

A lot of times--probably about half the time I use the program--I find that I need to go back and insert a cell above the one I've finished typing. Now, this is not impossible: there are several ways to do this. For example, you could up-arrow and then enter, or you could create a new cell and use Cmd-Shift-U to move it up. You can also drag and drop an empty cell to its new location; this becomes mildly annoying if you have long cells. I'd like to see a function in NoteBook, probably Shift-Return although I'm open to suggestion, to insert a cell above the current one without muss or fuss.

I sent an email to Circus Ponies' support address today, and a few minutes later got a reply from the lead developer himself. Regardless of whether my suggestion actually makes it into the program, how cool is it that the top dog answered my email himself so fast?

I'll say it again: using this program has changed the way I think and the way I organize my thoughts. It is a killer app for the Macintosh, and anyone who owns a Mac and uses it for work needs to have it. Period.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

How could anybody not want this?

You really really need a new knife block. Look now, because who knows when they're going to change the page.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Fall TV

I barely watch the television anymore, and when I do, it's Toon Disney or Cartoon Network--a far cry from the days of thirty-five episodes of Law and Order every night. The only time the TV is on is when Lani is watching it.

Still, CNN's article on the fall TV season has some interesting nuggets in it.

I'll watch an episode or two of Kitchen Confidential. I have no confidence in the Fox network's ability to make a good TV show other than The Simpsons, so I'm not really expecting much.

The show that sounds the best, concept-wise, is probably Prison Break, which has a plot that seems so obvious in retrospect that I wish I had thought of it. It's reminiscent of a Batman story arc from a few years ago, but only in very broad strokes. (Nightwing had to break in to Blackgate Prison for something after the quake hit Gotham. Yes, I am a dork.)

Reunion is another semi-interesting one, but the one-year-per-episode thing leaves me cold. The "Big Chill" setup is mildly entertaining, but I doubt I'll even pay any attention. Fertile fodder for ideas, though.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


The University of Hawaii's football mascot is suing Electronic Arts for using his likeness without permission.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

He's at it again!

My favorite reviewer is back with a review of the world's smallest MP3 player. The thing is less than an inch on a side. (Yes, it really does displace less volume than the iPod Shuffle, weighs less, and has more features. I used to want a Shuffle. No more.)

Friday, August 19, 2005

We're Okay

The tornado that hit Stoughton, Wisconsin didn't do anything to us.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Haken Continuum

If I had the money--about $5700 for the full-sized model with a flight case--I would buy a Haken Continuum MIDI controller tomorrow, solely because it's neat. Be sure to check out some of the sample audio and video.

I mean, I don't even do that much MIDI, and I need a better digital piano long before I need an instrument I'd barely be able to even play, but still...this thing is neat!

Update 8/13: It would be cool if you could use a non-standard controller to control a light bank or some of the other things that you can control with MIDI. It could really open up the definition of performance: "Hey, man, come out to the show, I'm playing the lights tonight."

More Notebook Love

In a recent job interview, I was asked what the best piece of software that I had ever used was. Naturally, I answered "Circus Ponies Notebook." My experience with this software just keeps getting better and better.

Here's a story that just proves that you should always always always read the manual: I was thinking to myself tonight, "Self, Notebook would be even more perfect if it could encrypt notebooks. That way, I could use it like CodeWallet and keep all of my passwords in one place so that I wont have to remember them all!"

Guess what?

Notebooks can be password-protected and individual pages can be encrypted.

How do I love thee, Circus Ponies Notebook, let me count the ways!

Thursday, August 11, 2005 did they survive?

A truck carrying nearly 16 tons of explosives detonated in Utah. Check out the picture attached to the article; there's nothing left but a twisted piece of frame and some random parts in a crater between 20 and 35 feet deep and over two lanes wide.

Now, I'm going to assume that they mean that the trailer detonated and was vaporized, because the article goes on to say that the driver survived the explosion. How? How do you survive something like that? I mean, you've got a shrapnel-loaded firebomb going off, what, fifteen feet behind you? Unless there's some mundane, that's amazing. Was the guy lucky? Or was the trailer designed to shield the cab from accidental detonation?

I'd prefer not to find out first-hand.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

OS X lookupd

I've just started having a problem on my Mac over the last few days: lookupd is pegging the CPU, turning on the fan and chewing up my battery life. lookupd is the OS X daemon responsible for, well, looking stuff up. It caches information about DNS, user accounts, NIS, and so on and so on; do a "man lookupd" on your OS X command line for more info.

For some reason, it's started, every so often, running absolutely nuts. This has started since I replaced my DSL modem, although I can't really conceive of how a new external piece of hardware would cause the daemon to use all the available CPU time. I suppose it's possible that lookupd is getting stuck somehow because the firewall won't let it through, but that sounds farfetched to me.

The temporary fix to the problem is to send SIGHUP to the process so that it will restart cleanly. This at least returns the lookupd process to status quo ante (yes, the second time I've used "status quo ante" this week), but it doesn't exactly help figure out what caused the problem in the first place. Time to start digging, I guess.

(By the way: "sudo kill -HUP ", where is the process ID of lookupd. You can get that with Activity Monitor or from "top".)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

WiFi Speed Spray

Here's a great eBay auction for a spray that will speed up your wireless network by scrubbing the air. Yeah, it's funny, but you wait: in five years, we'll have stuff like this for sale for real. I mean, if people can be made to believe that coloring the rims of your CDs with a green Sharpie will stabilize a high-end CD player's laser to provide better sound reproduction, then people can be made to believe that WiFi speed is controlled by air quality. Frankly, I think the only mistake made here is that they didn't charge enough; shoot, audiophiles will pay $1000 and more per foot for speaker cable.

Interesting Article

Hey, check out this review of the new Archos Gmini 402 portable media player. I think the reviewer has some interesting things to say.


Monday, August 08, 2005


I took my poor, dead modem down to the ISP this morning and gave them my ticket number and walked out with no new modem because they didn't have any. That is, I walked out after they picked me up off the floor. No, actually, I just laughed and made a joke and went home to wait; the nice lady said that they'd have someone bring one out to me as soon as possible, which turned out to be just a couple of hours later.

After all the necessary fiddling (turning off DHCP on my wireless router, turning it on on the modem, rejiggering connections, resetting the firewall, etc. etc. etc.), everything is set up to status quo ante. Hooray, now I can go back is it I use the Internet for again?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Poor, poor me!

I woke up this morning, and as always the first thing (second thing) is the old email check. Opened up the computer and it cheerfully informed me that it was "Working Offline." Well, it's not particularly useful to have your email client offline, so I disconnected and reconnected the wireless. Bzzt.


Check the IP address in the Terminal window, and it's Uh-oh. That's not a good sign; you get 169.254.x.x when your computer can't reach the DHCP server. (For those that don't know, DHCP is the protocol that automatically assigns your computer an IP address if you don't assign static addresses.) Troop back upstairs to check the DSL modem.

We get signal; main screen turn on. Still, we've been having some trouble with the connection over the last few days, so I decide to reboot it again. Unplug the power, plug it back in...uh. Our DSL modem has a big green light that flashes when the modem tries to connect. I'm not seeing any flash. Power is on, Ethernet connections are up. No "Internet".

Check the IP address on one of the other computers. 169.254.x.x. Gah. So it's obvious that my modem, which is providing DHCP to everything, is messed up. Unfortunately, that means my wireless router is messed up, and it means that my whole network is hosed.

So I had a fun morning, reconfiguring my network, pulling out the DSL modem and calling my ISP to ask for another one, reconfiguring the router so that we could still have the internal network up and running. In a way, that's good, because there's a firmware update for my router that I've been meaning to apply: my router configuration security heretofore had consisted of changing the administrator password and forgetting what it was. So I can patch now.

Anyway, we're without access to the Internet until Monday, when the ISP office opens and I can replace the modem. I'm sitting at Barnes & Noble right now, writing a review and paying (ugh) for a wireless connection so that I can check my email and make this post.

What am I going to DO without my lifeline? :)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Odd, odd errors

The Nation published an article online yesterday called What's My Name, Fool?, by Dave Zirin, about the Big Business of sports. I can't really argue with his points too much, but it was hard for me to take his writing seriously. Here's why (and yes, it's minor compared to the overall point):

As the popularity of sports rose among working people, factory owners began to see the benefit of establishing plant teams as a form of labor management. This synthesis bore team factory names that remain today like the Green Bay Packers and the Milwaukee Brewers. The Chicago Bears, who trace their roots to Decatur, Illinois, were known as the Decatur Staleys, named after the A. E. Staley Company. Their first coach, George "Papa Bear" Halas, was a Staley manager.

The problem with using the Brewers in this argument is that the current team didn't exist until the 1970s, and was called the Brewers not because of its affiliation with any particular brewing company, but because Milwaukee had a long tradition of teams named "Milwaukee Brewers"*. Before that, the franchise existed in Seattle as the Seattle Pilots. Technically, I suppose we're both right; the name "Brewers" itself probably does reflect corporate origins, but today's Brewers are a 1970s creation having nothing to do with any kind of "plant team". The Packers are a much better example.

You know what else irked me? This is the introduction to a book, and nobody bothered to correct the name of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA." It is not for God's sake called "I'm Proud To Be An American (Where At Least I Know I'm Free)." That just seems sloppy.

* Long history: The Brewers were one of the original teams in the American League at the beginning of the 20th century. They became the St. Louis Browns almost immediately. There were a bunch of minor league teams called "Milwaukee Brewers" for a while, then the Boston Beaneaters/Doves/Braves moved to Milwaukee and did not take up the Brewers name. In the mid-60s, that team moved to Atlanta to become the Atlanta Braves. In 1969/1970, Bud Selig and company bought the Pilots, moved them to MKE and named them the Brewers. I think I have that chronology mostly right. Corrections welcome.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Take that too, why not?

They took the land.

They took the monarchy.

They took OHA.

Now, apparently, they're going to take away Kamehameha Schools as well. The 9th Circuit of Appeals has struck down a ruling that upheld Kamehameha's right to admit only Hawaiians.

What a sad, sad day. What's next? Hawaiian Homelands?

Is Sovereignty the only answer?

Let's book a flight!

This was a success:

Phase I was meant to boost domestic tourism and featured "touristic caravans," or convoys of dozens of cars escorted by 120-strong contingents of police and military, bristling with assault rifles and machine guns along roads considered unsafe because of guerrilla activity.

Now Colombia is ready to move ahead in its quest to become a tourist destination. Sounds great. We can hit it on the way to Baghdad. Who's coming?

Actually, I'd kind of like to go to Molvania and see the Great Plains. I hear they won some kind of award.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Lee Child

I've been averaging a book a day for the past couple of weeks. They've covered a wide variety of topics, from mystery writing to non-fiction writing to software testing to playwriting to...well, just a lot of things. I've also been working my way nonsequentially through Lee Child's mystery/thriller series featuring former MP Jack Reacher.

And no, MP in this case doesn't stand for "Member of Parliament."

If you like tough-guy books with fantastic plots, then you must read these books. I don't even know which one came first, and it really doesn't matter. Once you read one and grasp the basic concept of Reacher, then you're good to go. In faaaaact...

Reacher is a former military policeman, RIFfed and adrift. He has no ties, as the sole remaining member of his family, and has never known anything but the military life; the son of a Marine, he spent his childhood moving from place to place. He decides to wander the country, going wherever he feels like, whenever he feels like, and he always manages to find trouble.

The plots of the books themselves stretch over a rather large range. In one, Reacher is asked by the Secret Service to penetrate their security surrounding the Vice President. In another, a woman he hitches a ride with convinces him to help her get out of a jam involving her husband. Perhaps my favorite is the one where he goes undercover for the Feds to find someone he thought was dead.

The books are all really tightly written, and I appreciate the fact that Child manages to avoid a lot of things that you think you can see coming a mile away--like betrayals and reversals and deaths that never come. I spent most of one of the books getting more and more upset because I just knew that a very likable character was going to get killed, prompting bloody revenge. Never happened.