When Apple Screws It Up

One of my quasi-joyous tasks in life is bring front-line tech support for my Mom. Fortunately, she’s been a Mac user ever since there was such a thing as a Macintosh (yes, we spent $4k on one of the original 128k Macs. Copying a SINGLE floppy disk on that machine required 4 disk swaps. And used video RAM for temporary storage. Fun 🙂
Anyway. There’s an expectation with the Mac platform that “they won’t do something dumb”. That’s sort of a given with Windows (“Oh yea, that happens. Reboot”), but Macs are supposed to be more sophisticated. Smarter. Not easy to screw up.
This weekend, in the midst of our move, my Mom calls me and says “The screen is blank on the Mac Mini. I reset it, nothing happens, I’m stuck. The screen says ‘OUT OF RANGE’.”
No amount of fiddling caused it to come back, so I schlepped over there to figure out what was wrong.
All indicatations were that Mom had set the Mac to some video resolution that the spiffy LCD monitor we had could not support. “No problem”, thinks I, “I’ll just reset it… somehow.”
And that Somehow became the problem. No amount of fancy keyboard shortcuts, such as resetting the PRAM via a complex keystroke combo via Cmd-Control-P-R, nor starting into ‘single user mode’ and deleting the library preferences files for the user cleared the condition. Upon reboot, it would show the grey Mac screen, the spinny dial, then go to OUT OF RANGE.
I had 3-4 fairly competent Mac geeks on IRC and the phone working on this, and nothing we could try worked. In the end, I had to haul out an old Sony monitor (in fact, the one we had discarded in favor of a new LCD monitor), and hook that one up. Now that we could see the desktop, a simple click on Monitor preferences reset it to 1024×768 at 72hz (it was NOT set to that once we got the Sony hooked up. It was something… else).
My issue here is that a novice user completely crippled her machine, with no possible recourse, and she didn’t know how she did it. A malicious app may have reset the resolution, or she may have mistakenly clicked somewhere she shouldn’t have. This sort of crippling is almost expected behaviour in the Windows world, let alone Linux land, but on a Mac? ALso note, this problem would not have been able to be fixed by calling tech support. It took external hardware to bring the machine back to useability.
How hard would it be to have OSX have a ‘safe mode’ – something that Windows world has had for ages – that brings the system up under common default configurations. A sane video resolution, etc? I’ve tried the ‘no extensions’ boot key combo on the mac, and that didn’t work at all.
If there is a fix for this problem, is sure wasn’t obvious, easy, or found in a simple doc. I’m disappointed. Apple should know better.

We made it.

The move is basically complete. 99% of the activity happened yesterday, in one of the longest and most exhausting moves I’ve done (granted, I haven’t moved in 8 years, so maybe I forgot what it was like).
Cat was up around 5:30, and I was up by 8… we worked all day long, with the big moving truck leaving the Natick house at 9:15pm at night. We did one full 25′ truck load, and then had to make a second run for some of the large furniture left over.
All in all, it was exhausting, wearing, and a little sad, but I’m glad it’s primarily done. We have 3 weeks of cleaning, tidying, and other mishmash stuff still to do in the Bolton house, not to mention a complete unpack and re-construct in Natick.
Services in the new house aren’t totally up to snuff yet – we have cable modem service, but not all the computers are up on it yet. Folks waiting to hear from any of us, be patient, we’re very tired 🙂
Thanks to everyone who showed up to help – I’ll itemize thanks shortly, for fear that I’ll leave someone out if I try to remember everyone now.

Declaration of Repudiation

I sat down and read the Declaration of Independence document that Adam Shostack posted on Emergent Chaos. It’s a fascinating document, and I don’t believe I’ve ever read it straight through beginning to end.
Along those lines, Will Frank has created the Declaration of Repudiation, which summarizes, ala the Declaration of Independence, the injustices performed by our government over the last 5 years.
A wonderful piece of work.

It’s not fair…

… when on the last day of a week of intensive packing, cleaning and throwing out of stuff, we get the remnants of a tropical storm coming through, dumping a ton of rain on us. This causes one of our gutters / deflectors on the roof to overflow, and dump water into the house. The water wicks through the walls, down 2 stories, and drips on the servers in the office.
Quick thinking by Cat saved things from a big mess, but I really didn’t need to be bailing out buckets of water in the house we’re moving out of, the night before we move.

The long walk.

This is pretty interesting. A 400lb man was tired of the way he felt, looked, and was living, so he decided to walk from California to the East Coast. His site has a daily blog of everything going on in this walk. It’s pretty fascinating reading.

Words from the Right, how blind they are.

I enjoy listening to America Right on XM radio. It’s populated by the more rabid, but well spoken of the right wing pundits (folks like Michael Medved and Laura Abraham), but it brings into focus where the right is, and what they’re thinking. It helps me get perspective on my own positions in politics, and how they relate to the rest of the world.
For balance, I also listen to Air America Radio. There’s some wonderful commentary there, and well stated positions that for the most part I agree with, but I have to admit – though Al Franken is a helluva writer, and I love his views, he’s boring as dirt to listen to in free-form commentary. He just doesn’t have the pace needed to keep folks latched onto the conversation.
At any rate, America Right had Medved prattling on as he does, and banging the drum in his usual tunnel-vision way. He was taking a series of callers on the topic of the Iraq war, and caller after caller kept commenting “The democrats and the left just whine and complain no matter what! Why don’t they come up with a concrete solution to win the war, instead of just bashing the right personally, and saying what a bad idea it was! What have they come up with? Nothing! Not a single concrete plan to win the war on terrorism”. Medved, predictably, kept the rah-rah’s going, with “You said it!” supportive chitchat.
What boggles me about this is… well, it’s missing the point. Of course there’s a lot of complaining about the war. It was unjustified, pigheaded, and disasterously executed. At the moment absolutely NO ONE, not on the right, nor on the left, has a plan to get out of it with anything approaching dignity or sanity, and cut right to the chase, the ‘war’ is completely, directly unwinnable.
“Unwinnable?!” you cry? Yes, unwinnable. The president has stated we are in the middle of a “War on terrorism”. You can’t declare war on a concept or an idea. Terrorist tactics have been around since the dawn of conflict, and will continue long after Bush has planted this country’s reputation in the toilet (oops, too late). No matter how much money is spent, no matter how many troops die, no matter how many countries are invaded, you can never ‘win a war on terrorism’. What exactly are the terms of victory? We kill every last terrorist? Okay. Define for me who a terrorist is, and we’ll line ’em up and shoot them. Gosh, that may make some other people unhappy, and they may consider bombing one of our embassies. Okay, they’re terrorists too, kill them as well. See where this is going?
The right is doing a wonderful job of whitewashing the public about the ‘whining democrats’, while still avoiding the main issue. Bush has no clue what he’s doing, or how to get out of what he’s created. He’s spending a billion dollars a day fighting something he created, with no plan for an end. In fact, when confronted with this seemingly no-win scenario, his number one answer, his prime defense is “Stick it out. Don’t give up now. We’ll win in the end.”
The cold clear facts here are that we are in an unwinnable war. A war of Bush’s creation, and his only. The reasons for going to war were thin at best, and now things are worse.
The only answer here is for Bush to take 30cc’s of humility and admit “okay, there were no WMD’s. There is no tie between Iraq and 9/11. Maybe this was a bad idea, and I’m not sure how to get out of it. Help?”
Fat chance of that, eh? In the meantime, servicemen are dying or being maimed on a daily basis. And can anyone tell me…

Man grabs girls arm, now he’s a sex offender.

Chicago Sun-Times article…

While acknowledging it might be “unfair for [Barnaby] to suffer the stigmatization of being labeled a sex offender when his crime was not sexually motivated,” the court said his actions are the type that are “often a precursor” to a child being abducted or molested.

Apparently now, it’s not a matter of committing a crime, nor a matter of planning to commit a crime, but now if you behave loosely like someone else who MIGHT commit a crime, you are now guilty of that crime.
The court system marches on, and more and more civil liberties are lost. What was lost here? The man did nothing wrong, and now he is labelled as a sex offender, and has to broadcast to everyone that he is a sex offender. Do you think the reactionary mobs who like to pillory ‘sex offenders in the neighborhood’ are going to read about the details of this man’s case before throwing bricks through his window? I doubt it.

‘claimit’ updated.

I threw together a tool last year to help with big giveaways on Freecycle-like mailing lists like Craigslist and, on a far smaller scale, Greaterboston-Reuse. The problem was dealing with large lists of things, and who gets what, and if stuff is still available or not, and the inevitable long exchanges of emails about where things are, if such and such is around, and can you hold on to something for me…
Enter Claimit, where I’ve been postings piles of things we’re giving away as we get ready to move out of this house. I just did a code update of it, adding some new functionality and cleaning up some rough edges, but so far it’s helped us manage dozens of items being given away, out of lists of a few hundred, and more are going up each day.
It’s been a good test of the concept, and while it’s not quite ready for the volume of traffic Craigslist would generate, it’s slowly maturing into a great little tool.
(And, if you’re -in- the Boston area, and want any of the stuff we’re giving away, feel free to check it out 🙂

If there is…

… a more magnificent piece of music than Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, played in it’s entirety, I don’t know what it is.
XM Radio Classics did a wonderful 1/2 hour introduction / lecture on the piece before hand, and then presented the entire symphony, on period instruments, beginning to end. I ended up driving past the house and up the highway again to catch the 4th movement without having to pause to put Zach to bed (we were on our way back from Maine).
During the intro, I had forgotten this bit of history. When the piece was first performed in Vienna in 1824, Beethoven’s hearing had deteriorated completely. He was completely deaf, and therefore never actually heard his masterpiece performed. As related on the wikipedia entry for the Ninth :

At the conclusion of the performance Beethoven had to be forcibly turned around to accept the audience’s cheers and applause According to one witness, “the public received the musical hero with the utmost respect and sympathy, listened to his wonderful, gigantic creations with the most absorbed attention and broke out in jubilant applause, often during sections, and repeatedly at the end of them.”

Can you imagine being in the theater and hearing this piece performed for the first time, not knowing what was to happen next, and being blindsided by the masterful 4th movement? And there, in front, the composer himself, not hearing the public’s jubilant reception of his final work, not knowing of it until one of the members of the orchestra stood up and turned him around to see the audience’s applause and cheering.

dbVisualizer 4.3 released

One of the finest general purpose database access tools, dbVisualizer has been updated to version 4.3. A full release announcement including new features is available on Minq Software’s website.
I’ve been using dbVisualizer for the last year or two for accessing MySQL, Oracle, and Hypersonic database instances. It’s cross-platform functionality, rich user interface, and excellent price-point (free for evaluation version, $99 for 3 licenses that enable some of the more advanced functions) has made it my primary choice for a database client.
I should be doing a review of the new version shortly.