Friday, January 30, 2004

Breaking up is hard to do...

As part of my continued intellectual development, I am an occasional reader of Internet wrestling news sites. Mostly I read the Pro Wrestling Torch and 1Wrestling (but I only read them from my Mac because if I read them with IE on Windows I get barraged with pop-ups and ActiveX installer requests). Well, all the best writers from 1Wrestling have taken off on their own, and now run a site called Pro Wrestling Insider. What's interesting about it is that usually these kind of breakups are handled like a bunch of whiny Star Trek nuts who have never been on a date arguing about whether Kirk or Picard was better (by the way, I stand behind Kirk).

This split, though, seems to have been handled amicably - the honcho behind the new site even was allowed a farewell column where he got to thank the old site folks and plug the new venture. Whoa - could Mideast peace be far behind?

Probably.

Great browsering news!

According to this MacRumors thread, the forthcoming Panther 10.3.3 update will include Safari 1.2 - the version with all the fixes and Good New Things Hyatt's been talking about in his blog. Typically it seems to be about 2 weeks from the time that MacOS build info hits the rumor sites until the update releases. So expect Safari 1.2 to hit late next week or more likely the week after.

Maybe at that point Apple'll restore the stand-alone download for Jaguar users.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

The late-January blahs

Gracie has a tooth infection. We're giving her antibiotics after taking her to the vet today, but the teeth in question will probably have to come out. Sucks for her, and expensive for us.

After catching up with fellow ex-Holyoker Woodge's blog , I followed his link to an AOL-sponsored site that takes your positions on issues and matches them to the professed positions of candidates.

I was a perfect match for John Kerry (which I pretty much knew even though he's not my favorite). I came almost as close with Kucinich, Sharpton, Dean, and Clark. My worst matches: Lieberman and Bush. But I knew that, too.

The snow from yesterday is rapidly blowing away in howling winds, but I took the shovel and scraped away the sidewalks anyway this morning. The old-fashioned shovel, at that.

And the last note for now: I ran a couple of conditioning cycles on my PowerBook's battery. They did help somewhat - in the first run, I had steady voltage for just over 90 minutes, then a steep drop to zero. After who full charge/discharge cycles, I got that up to a little over two hours. Still way below spec, but usable for now.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Snow can be fun

We only got about 2-3 inches, but it was an excuse to finally break out the Toro power shovel. It worked pretty well, cleared the snow, made manly power tool noises, and was easy to maneuver.

Of course, the snow was so fluffy I could have cleared it with a leaf blower, but that's besides the point.

This afternoon I upgraded my public server from e-smith 5.6 to 6.0 - the final Mitel-generated release. The contribs.org team (on which I serve, working on the documentation group) is working on a 6.01 release that's due RSN. It will address several minor issues from the Mitel release, re-brand the product, and lay the groundwork for some of the improvements we have on the drawing board. I've been running 6.0 inside my firewall for about two months now, and it's pretty slick.

There are some minor glitches that you may run into in a production upgrade (mainly if you're a heavy IMP user), but overall it was pretty smooth. I did have to modify my SpamAssassin setup somewhat to use Razor, but it's fine now.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Technology Digression

Today, I'd like to discuss the "new" phenomenon that seems to be sweeping the IT punditocracy - Social Networking. Essentially, social networking is based on the theory that a person's connections are currency of sorts. With roots in the old idea that any given person can be connected to any other given person with at most six intervening connections (the "six degrees of separation" theory), a social network can thoretically be used to find professionally or personally useful contacts, find jobs, or reconnect with old friends and acquaintances. The first wave of companies providing these services ultimately fizzled out in the dot-com bust, but a second wave of companies (Friendster, LinkedIn, Tribe.net, and their competitors) are gaining some traction. Job-hunting services like Monster.com are also building social networking sites, and even Google is getting into the fray.

In my own six degrees of separation story, Andrew Weinrich, the founder of the original sixdegrees.com is connected to me this way: Andrew's father is my dad's friend and longtime attorney. I think that's either two or three degrees. I'm not conversant enough in the theory to tell.

Anyhow, what I'm not certain about is the utility of social networking. For instance, there's a couple of hundred people (based on my e-mail and stats analysis) who read this blog on a semi-regular basis. I guess an argument could be made that I connect those people through a shared interest - my puerile ramblings. Were I, however, to try and build a network out of all of you, it would require something I'm not at all sure posess - the interest level to sustain said network (assuming you all wanted in).

I'm not trying to just bash the concept, though. There may be a good use there, especially within more specialized circles - for instance, the About page for LinkedIn describes how the founder was looking for a Flash designer, and after all the searching finally found one who happened to wander into the office to visit his friend in the next cube. Had all three been members of the same network, the designer would have been found much quicker.

That's a cute story, and an object lesson in what social networks can deliver. But imagine this. Let's say that the two cubemates were both members of a social network - but not the same one. Now the model breaks down to a degree (well, it actually breaks down entirely, but I'm being generous). It appears to me that all it takes is one break to ruin the utility of the network. Which is, of course, a problem.

Then there's the trust factor. As Adam Gaffin puts in this week's Compendium (this link is partially broken - scroll down to the 1/20 article for now), he just got what is essentially his first LinkedIn spam this past week. A financial advisor e-mailed him out of the blue. To Adam, that's spam - while to the planner, it's probably just an attempt to actually use the connections he sees in his network. Just because you're connected doesn't mean people want to hear from you.

And finally, the big question: How does a business make money from this? To paraphrase one of the canonical Slashdot comments, the business plan for social networking companies looks something like this:

Step 1: Hire workers to build website, purchase infrastructure.
Step 2: Open website, invite people to join for free.
Step 3: ??????
Step 4: Profit!

Call me a cynic, but I just don't see it.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Final (for now) phone update

I'd called Cingular customer service to troubleshoot the problem with Jane's parents' phone. They checked into it, but we needed them to power on their old phone for testing, and they weren't home yesterday. So we'd put off the testing for Monday (customer service is closed on Sunday).

But just for giggles, I checked it today and it's working fine now. It must have just taken longer to port that number over. We're going to send them the new phone Monday - I programmed in their phonebook earlier today.

My project today is to convert my old AirPort base station (graphite) to support WEP128, which is at least a little less trivial to crack (albeit still highly flawed). I have everything I need except a Windows laptop to do the surgery - it involves loading a hacked driver for the card on a Windows box and then re-flashing the Orinoco card that lives in the base station. As for the laptop part - I have a call in to a friend of mine with said laptop. I'm also going to take the Dremel out and fix the antenna cable routing this afternoon. When I originally hacked the base station, I was a little convoluted with the cable. I'm smarter about those things nowadays.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Birthday T-4 and counting!

David is 20 months old today. He is currently celebrating with a nap.

We had one glitch in the number switchover, it turns out. The phone we got for Jane's parents can only receive calls from another cell phone so far. Dialing the number from a land line simply results in a busy signal. Calling from it works fine - in fact, it registers caller ID correctly as well. So there's some sort of number portablity glitch that we need to correct.

My phone and Jane's phone work fine either way.

Friday, January 23, 2004

New Features!

Oh yeah - I added support for Blogger's Atom site publishing format. So now this blog is available as a feed for your newsreader. Whoo!

Daily notes

When I returned from the phone store yesterday with our shiny new phones in tow, I was greeted by the sight of our friendly carpenters, working dutifully at installing our new storm door. Just in time for the weekend's cold snap, at that!

It's already helped our pantry ward off the worst of the weather so far. I have to pick up a rubber seal for the bottom of it, though - that'll help even more still.

The phones are working just fine and dandy, by the way. The one disadvantage (so far) of Cingular compared to T-Mobile is that I have to enter my PIN code to check voicemail - even when dialing from my cell phone itself. With T-Mobile, If I called from the cell phone it knew it and went straight to my messages. That drawback is balanced by a 100% success rate in placing calls so far, and a much stronger signal in and around town. Synchronizing my new T616 was as simple as pairing it with my Mac via Bluetooth, and then running iSync. Boom. All was working. And for some reason, my old T68i never could handle calendar/todo sync, but the T616 has no such problem. The UI is also a lot more responsive, and there's more practical built-in key shortcuts. The T616 is definitely the T68i done right. Feels a lot more rugged, too.

As for Jane's phone, now I got her a Samsung flip phone (and an identical one for her folks). This keeps her from having to deal with key lock commands and such. Plus it's a little smaller. I can probably eBay the old T68i - there's still somewhat of a market for them and I still have all the stuff it came with.

Jane and David went to the Children's Museum here in town today with his friend Harry and Harry's mom. When they finally made it back, David was semi-sleeping, and went down for a nap with no fight at all. He's still out now, in fact. Yay!

While they were out, I took advantage of the opportunity and vacuumed the house, along with a few other tidying-up chores. Our two living rooms have pocket doors, and the edge trim has been coming off one of them for years. I came up with a way to secure it once and for all, and I'm going to finish the work once David's awake. because it involves a drill, a hammer, and a nail set. None of which are nap-compatible.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Random notes

The TV is back. This time it's in the basement, though - so at least we don't lose a room until it's sold.

That said, it's up on eBay right now. Rob listed it for us. Hopefully we'll find a buyer.

David's started addressing Gracie by name now, instead of just as "kittycat". He's also learned how to say both Jane's parents' names, and the names of my sister and her hubby.

I've had a couple of developments in the job hunt, but nothing definitive as of yet. I expect, one way or another, to have everything resolved in the next week or two.

The new iPhoto 4 is singlehandedly worth upgrading to the iLife '04 suite. I'll also get good use out of the new iMovie/iDVD combo, and maybe once I'm working again I'll pick up a cheap MIDI keyboard and play with GarageBand. It certainly seems cool enough.

Lesson to cell phone companies: We're in charge now. T-Mobile was OK, but they've had a lot of network issues lately. Dropped calls, calls not coming through, and having to make multiple attempts to connect were regular occurences of late. While I was living with that (figuring it'd improve), I was unhappy with my T68i. It was turning itself off for no reason, which really annoyed me.

So I called them back at the beginning of November about the problem. They said that I could send the phone in (and I'd be without it in the meantime), but it was at the end of warranty so if it still had a problem when it came back they couldn't do anything more. So I asked about a handset upgrade - I know the T610 has a better track record (and still has Bluetooth, which I am addicted to). They wanted to charge me $150 for it.

I put it off, and called tham back after a month, figuring all my lines were out of contract so maybe it would give them an incentive to be more generous. Nope.

So, no more chances. After shopping around for a while, I moved all three lines to Cingular yesterday, and will be picking up the phones a little later today. I'll even save about $15 or so per month, too.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Nobel thoughts

When I'm made a member of the Nobel Committee, I will lobby for the addition of a Nobel Culinary Prize (the Beard Award just doesn't cut it). My vote for the inaugural prize will go to whoever thought of freezing the White Castle burger and selling it in supermarkets.

If that person remains anonymous, then I would nominate the inventor of the Taco Bell Cheezy Bean & Rice Burrito. It's big, tasty, relatively nutritious, and under a buck. Truly a grand slam in junk food.

I'd also give a Lifetime Achievement Nobel to Alton Brown. For all the opposite reasons that I gave the previous two awards out.

Though an option for the first two would be a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. That'd work too, I guess.

D'oh!

I had to go into Boston this morning - I had a meeting in the Back Bay, so I parked at the Pru. But I made one crucial mistake. It's been so long since I had to drive into town that I forgot about validated parking - had I stopped and bought a cheap knicknack, I would have paid only $7. But I had to fork over $28 instead. A $21 mistake. Rats.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Browsering

That's my new word of the day. I find myself using Firebird a lot more for everyday browsering, especially the most recent daily builds as they approach 0.8 goodness. Though slick, Safari has just enough odd rendering bugs and inexplicable crashes (especially the current Panther build, 1.1.1) that I've started to shy away from it somewhat. If you haven't tried a Firebird build in awhile, give it a shot. It's getting real close, real fast - right now the biggest shortcomings I can see on MacOS X are that the "close window" key shortcut appears to be broken, the bookmark management still isn't quite there, and I've gotten spoiled by favicon support in Safari. Scrollwheel support still is a little jerky, too. But the rendering engine is speedy as heck, with better compliance (perceived) than Safari offers.

In other browser-related discussion, the Mozilla 1.6 release is rather useful for those who prefer the monolithic Communicator-style app. And short of a PageMill-class commercial application coming out at a budget price, Mozilla Composer is the best low-end visual HTML editor out there. I use it a lot when I don't feel like cranking out code by hand in BBEdit. Camino seems to be getting back on track after a lengthy period of ennui in the project - their 0.8 is also coming up fast. I haven't tried any Camino builds since last month, though. I'll hold off a little while longer.

On my wish list for all xGecko browsers would be better cookie management. It'd be nice to easily import/export cookies from either Safari or MacIE - not a critical feature, but a nice one. It would certainly make it more attractive to the layperson.

No major other news to report. David's napping right now - we kept him up pretty late this afternoon while we were out doing some errands. We went down to the mall in Saugus - Jane had a Gap gift card that she used to pick up mittens that matched a sweater she'd snagged locally a few weeks back. She wouldn't have bothered, but she lost one of her wool mittens she'd already had last week. But with the sweater, mittens, and a pair of Merrell knock-offs for David, she still has money left on the gift card. End-of-season sales rock.

In preparation for the Super Bowl, we're going to look for a suitable toddler jersey for David. Preferably Ty Law's number (24), since it's David's birthday, too. He'll be cute.

Currently reading: Under The Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer's latest book. It's basically about the Fundamentalist schism in the Mormon church, and how the fundamentalists have much deeper roots than a few wacky polygamists holed up in the Wasatch mountains. As Krakauer's books always are, it's utterly engrossing. I have two more library books waiting in the wings that I'll tackle as soon as this one's done.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Napless Saturdays

I just put David to bed - he's so exhausted it's funny. He refused to nap at all today - he got up around 9:30 (right as I was leaving to go to a geek show with a friend of mine), went full tilt until Jane tried to get him to nap at around 1:30-ish, then he was right back up within 15 minutes and going full-tilt the rest of the day. He cried for about 3-4 minutes and passed out hard.

I don't think we'll see much of the lad tomorrow. Perhaps I'll have relative peace for the Pats game?

Nah.

Baffling

I upgraded Jane's Mac to Panther yesterday. Sounds routine, right? Well, it was odder than one would presume. Here's what happened.

The upgrade itself wan't too tough - as a MacOS install rarely is. It completed the last of the three CD's, ran the registration wizard, and then stated that it couldn't connect to Apple. OK, that happens. But then, when returning to the Finder desktop, the Software Update application ran (as it does on login the first time), and returned nothing but a blank list.

So I ran it again. This time, all the updates I knew it needed showed up in the list. I set them to download and left the room.

When I came back, they had all aborted with an error. OK. Next, I tried opening Safari and connecting to a website. No go. Then I tried connecting to my website, inside the firewall. Fine.

A little more testing showed that I could connect to and ping resources inside the network, but couldn't go outside the gateway at all. Hmmm. Figuring that a setting had gotten munged, I tossed a couple of preference files that should be at fault (after checking to make sure Panther did know my gateway address). Rebooted. Still bad. At that point I had to leave to go to a party for a departing friend, but I jumped back on it when I came home later that night.

Once I came home, my next trick was to do a reinstall, using the "Archive and Install" setting. After finishing, it still didn't work. Baffled, I tried it again, but this time I turned off the option to preserve and import the old account info - that way, all the preference files would be recreated from scratch.

And it didn't work, either.

So I started fiddling with cables - her Mac is connected to the upstairs switch through two patch cords and a intermediate cable strung along the baseboard and terminated in both her bedroom and my office. - three in total. I verified a live connection. Then I double-checked the cable fit. All fine.

Finally, I swapped out the only one I practically could - the patch cord in my office from the wall jack to the switch (I couldn't swap out her patch cord because I didn't have any other ones that long).

Suddenly, it worked again. By this time, it was the wee hours, so I let the updates run mainly unattended.

I have no idea exactly why it didn't work anymore with the update to 10.3, except that maybe the Ethernet driver is a lot more sensitive to a marginal condition than it used to be. But it is fixed now.

This is the only system I've ever had a problem like that with, and my first experience with a MacOS X update ever that didn't go smoothly. And it came down to a patch cable swap. Go figure.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Delay of game

Due to below-zero temperatures, the installation of our new storm door has been postponed. It will now take place early next week, when the thermometer goes above, say, 20 degrees.

Otherwise, it's not quite as bad out so far as I expected. But I was spared my usual trip out for the newspaper - Hess is paying to give copies of the Globe to pretty much everyone in town today, and we had a freebie on our doorstep this morning.

So we're already 50 cents up for the day. Cool.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Yum, yum

Tonight, Gourmet Josh made authentic homemade macaroni & cheese - courtesy of one of Alton's recipes (the one for the stovetop variety). It was yummy, but there is one thing I've learned that has made me a passable cook in the last couple of years. It's to always have your meez together - that being short for "mise en place", a French term that essentially (for an amateur) means to have all your materials prepared, measured, and ready ahead of time. Read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential for a wonderful explanation, and a generally enthralling read. And don't order fish on Mondays.

This time, though, I didn't quite have it together, as I'd forgotten to grate the cheddar cheese. So in the process of frantically grating it, I managed to grate my finger at one point instead. Quickly remedied with a Sesame Street band-aid. And I didn't use quite enought salt. But we liked it OK, and David gobbled almost four bowls of it. But he pretty much skipped lunch so we expected that out of him.

I also probably could have gotten by with one fewer egg and a little less cheese. The recipe was written for 8 dry ounces of pasta and I scaled it up to 16 (the size of the box), figuring we'd get lunch tomorrow out of it for minimal extra effort. But it wound up a little too saucy - scaling the sauce portion up by 50% instead of 100% would have probably produced a better result.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Repairs

I had my first Internet outage in quite a while yesterday - Speakeasy lost the Level 3-supplied circuit they use for the backhaul out of Boston around 2PM, and the line wasn't restored until around midnight. So one learns to make do... I had the BNUG meeting to go to last night, anyways.

David had his little friend Harry over for an hour or so today while his mom went to look at a house she and her husband were considering buying. It's fun watching two toddlers try and be social.

I actually left the house today three times in the bitter cold - a newspaper run in the morning, a trip to the bank and the supermarket (with a stop at the gas station) mid-day, and a trip to the library that I just came home from.

It was freaking cold each time. And it's supposed to get worse tomorrow before it starts getting better.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Much delayed - Xmas video

We shot about fifteen minutes of Xmas video today - We couldn't really shoot the tree before because that huge TV box was in the way. It's not coming back until Thursday, though, and we're just starting to dismantle everything else, so we decided to shoot a pseudo-Xmas day video just now.

David plucked the pumpkin ornament off the tree and wouldn't put it down the whole time.

It looks like my Maxell second battery for the camcorder is dying pretty fast. I charged it overnight, and the power level dropped 20% as soon as I turned the camcorder on. The fifteen minutes shooting time used almost all of what's left. It hasn't been a good year so far for Li-Ion batteries in the Turiel household. The Powerbook battery is in rough shape, too. The problem (such as it is) is that a typical Li-Ion battery only has a life of 18-24 months before it starts losing the ability to retain a charge. That equals a few hundred discharge cycles at most. My Palm is a year old, so it should keep going for a while to come, but that'll be a pain once it dies (Palm batteries aren't user-replaceable). I'll blow off buying a Powerbook battery until I need to start taking it on the road again, and I can skip the camcorder battery entirely for awhile - I have another one that's in good shape.

Trust me, my next entry will be more interesting than battery talk. Really.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Today's final note

After getting Classic up on David's iMac, I can say one thing for sure. The program I did it for (Jumpstart Advanced Toddlers) sucks, big-time.

Why does it suck? Three major reasons:

1: It's resolution-dependent. It can't switch to 640x480 (the desired target) on it's own.

2: It is a Classic app, even though it was released last year.

3: Worst of all, it requires the CD-ROM. Why would I ever want to hand a CD-ROM to a 19-month-old boy? Am I that dumb? Even though 18 months-3 years is the target age for the program, it still makes no sense. Anything that a toddler would ever run on a computer should be installed fully to the hard drive, with no disk switching involved. I'll try tomorrow to see if I can make a .DMG of the CD and use that instead. If not, it's going back.

A minor setback

It's been a goal of mine to utterly eradicate Classic MacOS from our computing life. I removed it from my current iMac, don't use it on Jane's, and never installed it on the PowerBook after rebuilding it. Well, unfortunately, I'd picked up a neat-looking educational program for David a couple of weeks ago, thinking it was OS X native. Unfortunately, when I went to install it on his refurbished, Classic-free iMac, it turned out to require Classic. Dad-nab it.

Turns out getting Classic onto a newly installed, Classic-free G3 iMac running Panther is a pain. I'm re-doing things with a Jaguar disc in the hope it installs Classic as well. If that doesn't work, then I guess I'll break down and look up how to do it.

I don't mind trying to figure it out by screwing around, though - it's not like there's a deadline to give this to David.

Spamathon

On a typical day, between Jane's e-mail account and mine we get approximately 350 pieces of spam. One or two usually beat the filter and hit my inbox, while the people spamming her have a slightly better hit rate - she gets as many as ten in a day. Of the spams, I usually am the target of about fifty or so, she gets the rest.

Due to a goof on my part, I wasn't filtering admin mails separately - I used to put them into my own box, but I'd forgotten I stopped that a couple of months ago. Between spams and bounces (most of the bounces were for spams sent to the old BNUG address I used to host), there were around 4000 messages stuck in the account. I cleared all them out.

It snowed a little last night - when I got around to heading outside for a newspaper, Eddie had already been by and cleared it. I was a little disappointed, because I thought today would be the day to finally try out the Toro power shovel. Oh well, next storm for sure. Otherwise, we're going to start taking down all the house holiday decor finally this afternoon and that's about it.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Problem solved

Our electrician dropped in around 10:30 or so. He took a quick look, and determined that our main problem was that the sleeve around the ceramic socket was too long - it was preventing the CF bulbs from making good contact. That's why none of the new ones worked. He charged us a cup of coffee and a chance to play with David for a few minutes with us.

(He'll be coming back in the next week or so to install a light in our cellar stairwell and a new outlet by the stove, which will be billed for and paid accordingly)

So the family headed to Home Depot on the other side of town after lunch, where Jane picked out a new fixture. The old one used a single 60w bulb (or it's CF equivalent), the one she picked out uses two. I installed it right after we got home, and put a couple of CF bulbs in. Much nicer, properly grounded (the old one had no ground) and no fit issues. It also looks more appropriate to the period than the old fixture I took out.

Indy. I think we can take Indy. Especially at home on the grass. I'm definitely looking forward to being a couch potato next Sunday.

Sears Redux

Sears is bringing the TV back to us on Thursday. It was the least they could do.

Soon afterwards, we are going to bring our Sears charge card back to them. After we run it through the shredder.

And after we sell the TV, we'll get the new fridge at Best Buy, Sozio, or Tri-City.

In other news, our electrician called us back today and will drop by tomorrow morning. Splendid. And I learned a valuable lesson - grocery shopping is much easier right before a Pats playoff game in single-digit temperatures. The roads and the supermarket were both pretty much deserted.

David played his joke on Grandma Margie again tonight. He said it once, and then when Jane asked him to repeat it, he said "no", shook his head, and then giggled like a madman. He also learned to say "rice". Which helped him with 2 out of the 4 main ingredients of dinner - chili pie. He's got beans and rice down - now he just needs to learn how to say "beef" and "cornbread".

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Sears - sucking big-time since last week

About a month ago, Jane won a really nice TV set. a 36" Panasonic Tau series 36SL13, to be exact. Cool, huh? Well, it was, but it was also useless to us - we have a hi-def set in our family room, and we don't need anything that big anywhere else. So initially, we were going to eBay it. But beforehand, we decided to see if we could find out where the promotional company got it, and see if we could exchange it for something else we needed - namely, a new refrigerator.

The promo folks told Jane that they'd gotten it at Sears. Meanwhile, it's sitting unopened in our living room. We went to the local Sears, told them what was up, and they said "go ahead and bring it in, and we can work out an exchange". So, last Sunday, our friend Jeff and a co-worker of his came over and we loaded 250+ pounds of TV into the minivan. We drove it off to Sears that afternoon.

Finally, we get a call from them this morning. They won't do it now. Jane wound up reminding the store manager's secretary (because the manager wouldn't get on the phone) about how much we've spent there on major appliances alone over the last decade or so (our current fridge, our stove, the original washer/dryer we bought when we bought the house, the fancy new ones we got last year, our first big-screen TV, among others), and also pointing out that we weren't looking for cash - we just wanted to exchange it for something we needed instead.

We'll see, but I think once a store gets into Bureaucratic Weasel mode, that's it. If they stay there, we will do our best to force them to bring it back here, and then we'll eBay it. We'll also shred our Sears card and that'll be the last money we ever spend there. If they'd said from the beginning that they wouldn't do an exchange, we wouldn't be mad at all. But we actually went to the trouble of delivering it back to them. That makes it personal.

Brrrrr...

Nothing like a zero degree day to get the blood flowing. Ahhh...

Yesterday, in order to make things a little more bearable I puttied the windows in our draftiest rooms. That helped us somewhat - I did the windows in the "Paisley room" (AKA our main living room), the upstairs bathroom, and the kitchen window by our refrigerator. The rest of our windows aren't nearly as leaky as those.

And we had a weird electrical moment. We have an old fixture by the refrigerator - it was originally in the main part of the kitchen when we moved in, but I moved it to the fridge and put up a ceiling fan where it had been. Yesterday, the CF bulb in it burned out. No biggie, we keep that on almost full-time and it had lasted over a year.

Well, I put a new bulb in, and it didn't work. Neither did a third. So obviously, something else is wrong. Using my awesome powers of deduction, either the fixture itself has gone bad, or the switch has. That is not, however, something I want to screw around with to find out - because the consequences of a mistake could be pretty bad. So I have a call in to our electrician.

We discovered a neat baby furniture store over in Reading yesterday during out table/chair quest. They didn't have the one we were looking for, but they had all sorts of great other stuff. They'll definitely get a return trip from us for other stuff we may need. As for the table and chair, I'm going to try one last place today (the local Target), and if that doesn't do the trick, I'll bite the bullet and buy the cheap one from Toys 'R' Us/Amazon that costs $40, plus $20 to ship.

Just so long as we don't miss tonight's football game!

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Ka-Boom!

There's a phase in toddler development that's referred to in many of our books as "the language explosion". It comes when a toddler has grasped roughly 50 or so words, and usually sometime in the 18 month-30 month age range. At that point, the toddler makes some necessary mental connections and suddenly goes from learning a couple of words per week to learning as many as 5-10 per day. From there, it's a pretty quick transition to short sentences and the real beginnings of language. The details can vary significantly from child to child.

It looks like we've entered that phase now with David. All of a sudden, in the last few days he's started picking up new words a lot quicker, and when we give a word to him he parrots it back quickly, and then will start trying to associate it. He's also gotten a lot more playful with some of his pre-speech. For instance, yesterday Jane got him to say "Margie" (her mom's name). He kept repeating it back to her when she said it. Then, she called her mom up on the phone to tell her about this new accomplishment. And she asked him to say "Margie" while she was on the phone. You know what he said?

He said "No", shook his head, and giggled at her. And he wouldn't say "Margie" again until after Jane hung up the phone. I think he's discovered the joys of being a practical joker, too.

Tonight, we went and met friends down at the Burlington Mall. At one point, Jane was inside a restaurant with them while I was out in the mall proper - he'd gotten tired of eating and was tossing things so we decided a separation was in order. I had that duty tonight.

Anyhow, we went out into the mall, near the entrance. And as people were walking by out the door, he kept waving at them and hollering "Bye!".

Most of them happily waved back.

We were mean today...

We took David for his flu booster. Needless to say, he was not happy with that.

Afterwards, we went looking for a toddler table and chair set. We'd seen them at Babies 'R' Us and other places, but figured we could save some money by going to the local unfinished furiniture store, which is conveniently really close to our house. They had a couple of really nice sets - that cost nearly $200. They were gorgeous, though...

Needless to say, the $40 for a pretty well-regarded table/chairs set at Babies 'R' Us doesn't look so bad now. We'll head over there next time we're in Danvers. That and a toddler bed are the only furniture we need to add anytime soon, and we're going to get the bed from friends of ours.

In utterly unrelated news, we've decided that Walgreens does the best digital photo processing, compared to Walmart and Target. Actually, the Ofoto prints from Apple's iPhoto print ordering are even better, but they cost a lot more. Walgreens is right at $.29 per print.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

My first Stevenote

Today, I went to the Apple Store in Peabody to watch the satellite broadcast of Steve Jobs' MacWorld keynote. I hadn't been to a keynote since the show was in Boston, so this was the closest I've been in years to one.

(Of course, I hadn't seen any of the last few keynotes because I had a job, but since that's not an issue right now...)

Anyhow, it was an interesting step inside the patented Reality Distortion Field that Jobs takes with him wherever he goes. About 30 or so other folks were hunkered down inside the store with me watching it, too. After taking a step away from it and heading home, I can hit on the big announcements as such:

1 - Xserve G5, and Xserve RAID: Home run. They kept the 1u form factor somehow, and managed to squeeze a dually G5 in there. The only strike against it was that it ships next month, and not today. Xserve RAID now attaches to Wintel servers if you have a compatible FC card. Also good. Lots of neat new features, no price change, more storage for the $.

2 - iLife '04: If it were on the shelf today, I'd have bought it. At $49, why not? Upgrades to everything in the suite (except iTunes), and GarageBand looks awesome. Even I can make interesting music with it. The keyboard they're reselling is a really good deal, too. The GarageBand add-on packs will probably sell pretty well, too, and I think that money's pretty much gravy to Apple.

3 - iPod mini: The only disappointment in the bunch. Not the player - it's a terrific little player, the control wheel hack is real neat, and the capacity is tops in it's size range by a lot. The only real problem is the price - I think $249 is a hair steep for a player that's supposed to take on the better flash-based players. $199 or even $225 would have been a better price point for them to hit, even if it meant halving the capacity to 2GB instead of 4GB. Though upgrading the low-end iPod to 15GB helps better establish the value distinction, I still think the cost of the mini is too much. At $199, you're in the "impulse buy" range, albeit at the top of the range.

I'm not really thinking too much about the Final Cut Express upgrade, even though it was the only item available right there today. It's nice, but it fits in a ill-defined niche - most pros would rather have Final Cut Pro, most amateurs will stick to iMovie (especially the upgraded version in iLife '04). As a $99 add-on to a Mac, it's a good buy, as a $299 stand-alone program it's not such a big deal.

And there were no CPU upgrades announced today. I was kinda hoping to see speedbumps to the desktop G5, and maybe the first G5 iMac - you could theoretically swap a 1.6 GHz G5 CPU into the existing enclosure without screwing up your thermal budget. I wasn't expecting a redesign today, just maybe the existing model with a G5. And I didn't see that.

The other disappointment (such as it is) was that no Safari update was announced. I was really hoping that the improvements that Hyatt is talking about in his blog would have seen the light of day. MacWorld was a good place to release that. Though I still use Safari v.100.1 as my default browser, the latest Firebird daily builds are rapidly catching up - and just a couple of glitches away from taking over the default slot. It already crashes less, and most of the issues remaining are minor UI and scrolling problems. I'll also almost certainly fork over the $9 for OmniWeb's version 5.0 upgrade.

Where does Apple go from here? Well, iLife '04 ships in a week and a half. I'll buy the upgrade, if only for the huge speed improvements in iPhoto and the ability to make a 2-hour DVD (the current version is stuck at 90 minutes). But I don't really see anything on the immediate horizon that Apple will do to extract money from my wallet, especially given the fact that until I'm working again the money supply is very finite. Sometimes they can pull off things that make me pull out the plastic anyways, but not today.

Monday, January 05, 2004

OK, he might not be a Super Genius (progress report)

Maybe not, but it sure seems like that. Who do I refer to? Why, our son David, of course!

To be a little bit serious, it's not that he's an incredible prodigy or anything like that. What I can say is that it's been absolutely fascinating to watch him develop over the last year or so, as he left behind being a helpless little baby and turned into a fairly bright, inquisitive toddler who seems to be picking up a new skill every day. I don't really think he's way ahead of all his peers. I've seen them all over the last several months - more often since I've been home than I did before. Some of them are more advanced than David in some ways, some of them are behind him in some ways. They all have their own little quirks and skills that make them individuals, and make them all wonderful as well. And the biggest privilege of all in parenthood is learning to understand and appreciate this.

Where does David stand right now, a couple of weeks past month number 19? Well, he's highly verbal. Unlike his dad, who didn't talk until late (and some might say has been making up for it ever since!), he's mastered around 50 words at this point, and has started to put together occasional 2-word statements - the beginning of sentences. He also babbles in clear form, saying words that make perfect sense to him but have no relationship to reality at all. Which is fun. He can read a couple of words off the page, and recognizes around 10 letters (he names them when he plays with the refrigerator magnets). He doesn't know any numbers yet, but he finds them to be interesting.

He reads (as best as he can) a whole mess of books every day - from little mini-picture books to bigger board books. He's not automatically shredding any non-board books anymore. That's a relief. Many times during the day, he'll walk up to one of us with a book in hand, and demand "up!", which is his way of making us read to him. We're expected to comply immediately. He has also become a lot more gentle playing with Gracie in recent weeks, and is starting to improve with other people's pets as well. He and Danny still hate each other, though.

When we were in Connecticut, we visited our friends Flip and Judy on Christmas Eve day. David played with their three-year-old, and started trying to use their older daughter's Mac. He seemed to finally grasp the mouse idea, after trying to play with the mice on our Macs at home. We have an old iMac that's being refurbed for David now (it was Jane's about four or five years ago), and a couple of early educational programs for him once I get that done. It's just another neat educational toy.

He still loves music, though I don't think there's a musician inside him. I could be wrong, though. He has an electronic piano I bought him back about a month ago (he'd seen it at our friend Rob's house), which he likes to play. It also has a microphone attached, and he goes up to it and howls. When he hears the amplification, it gets a giggle out of him.

Other than that, he's definitely turning out to be a lefty, he still loves the "unload" segments of Trading Spaces best, has turned into a "Blue's Clues" fan (to the exclusion of his older favorites, except for "Sesame Street"), and he loves to play "peeka". David thinks a riotously good time can be had chasing me around the house in circles, which entertains him and has helped me lose some weight. He's shaken off most of the physical developmental delays that come from being both a preemie and an only child (with no other kids around at all), and is now pretty rough-and-tumble. As I posted a couple of weeks ago, he can now escape from the crib that contained me as a child. We've probably got another month or two before he's out of the one here. Pillows are being laid in the room in preparation for the day.

Basically, what we have here is a typical little boy. He's a happy little guy who loves learning new things, is spoiled rotten by having his parents around all the time, and still gobbles pretty much anything we put near him (unfortunately, sometimes that gobble list also includes our limbs, which we're trying frantically to stymie). It's been a terrific time so far having him around, and I'm looking forward to the new things he'll do later today, once he wakes up from his nap.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Addendum

I forgot to also mention in yesterday's list:

- Idiots who make a right turn from the left lane.

- And the ones who make a left turn from the right lane, too

- Bonus points for not using their signals.

- The doofuses who make U-turns in stupid places. Or illegal ones.

- And earning a special place in Hell all their own: The absolute nimrods who make left turns at intersections where the signs clearly say "no left turn". People northbound on Route 114 at the corner of Essex Street - this applies doubly to you.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Things I Hate (on the roads)

This is my Mass. roadway edition:

- People who think "Right Turn on Red" means even in the face of oncoming traffic.

- In a related vein, people who can't understand that "Right Turn on Red" means you don't necessarily have to wait for the next light.

- The person who goes through a two-way (or more) stop sign. Right after the person in front of them. Without stopping or letting anyone else go, either. A multi-way Stop means you stop, let the next person go, then wait your turn. If you screw it up, you deserve to be broad-sided.

- People who speed up to keep you from merging into traffic.

- Anyone who deliberately takes up more than one parking space. You all deserve to get keyed with extreme prejudice.

- Drivers with big vehicles (SUV's, pickups, vans, or minivans) that drive like it's a sports car.

- Drivers with little vehicles that are holier-than-thou about it.

- Motorcyclists who tune their bikes to the point where you hear them a mile away. Loud pipes may save lives, but really loud ones just tick people off, Snake.

- Anyone with 200db stereos that runs them that way. I hope your brains liquefy in the drivers' seat.

- Cell phones. The ones that you weld to your ear.

- Any idiot smoker who tosses butts out of the car. They're called ashtrays for a reason, nimrods! If Darwin is right, they'll all die eventually in smoking-induced house fires before they have the chance to torch another forest.

- People who tailgate, except for when they're following:

- The morons that deliberately drive 5 or more miles per hour below the speed limit. In such a way that you can't pass them.

- Anyone who doesn't signal. Or has broken signals and doesn't fix them.

- That fiendish invention known as the rotary.

Where does the money go?

After all the kvetching we hear about cuts in state assistance to towns, and how they'll have to cut to the bone to make up for it, suddenly a letter arrives in our mailbox (and in other mailboxes all over the state). It's our quarterly property tax bill from the city. So, with much anticipation, we open it and see:

More than $300 more that we now are supposed to pay this quarter. Our assessment suddenly jumped about $650 for the year. All in all, in the ten years we've lived here, our property taxes have nearly doubled.

How do they pull it off?

It's simple. Although we have a law in this state that says property taxes should go up no more than 2.5% per year (Proposition 2 1/2), there's a big loophole. If your property is reassessed at a higher value, you still pay more - even if the rate only goes up by 2.5%. So the bill goes through the roof anyway. What they've done in this town is reassess far more frequently than before - taking full advantage of the climbing real estate prices and making up for the cuts in state funding.

I sure as heck haven't seen $1100 more in services over the last year - which is how much the bill went up in the last 12 months. As a matter of fact, it took three days for our street to get plowed after the big blizzard last month.

So, given that I'm fairly active in town issues, it's time for me to go schlepping back down to City Hall again, and discuss this with somebody. First thing next week.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

In the news today

It seems the earth is now spinning on schedule. This is confusing scientists the world over, who normally insert one "leap second" per year to account for the typically slowing rotation of the planet.

Obviously, the planet is now taking advantage of GPS to more precisely coordinate it's spin. I mean, duh?

We went out for lunch with some friends today - beforehand, we all went walking by the waterfront. David had a lot of fun doing so, though he wished he was less bundled-up than we'd arranged. He also met a very nice kittycat downtown who made friends with him and followed him for awhile. He petted her, and at one point tried to smooch her. We discouraged the smooching.

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