June 7, 2014

For many reasons I have become engaged in “reproducibility”, the corner stone of science.  My original interest was on the computational side, but I’ve learned about many new and effective practices on the observational side as well.  Many, many technical and cultural issues for the STEM community.

I should document my most recent encounter with reproducibility.  I received an inquiry from a librarian at an industrial consortium seeking a gray literature, technical report, documenting a box of FORTRAN I shepherded when I was an undergraduate.   With the underlying database, I constantly carried two boxes of cards at all times.

Why anybody would want a technical description of code that is 41 years old  seems mystical, yet I did have this on my shelf, now scanned and delivered.

I wish I had so much more recent work as well documented.

Computing Update V

June 7, 2014

We were in Atlanta visiting my in-laws a couple of weeks ago and one of my tasks was to deal with a major intrusion onto my mother-in-law’s Windows computer.  She certainly had no need for pop-up windows offering her soft porn.

I tried to engage my geek son Mark in discussing this issue but he wouldn’t engage…was boring to his sweetheart Chris…and he told me to blog it.  Here we go.

My technical skills under Windows are dated.  So I struggled through, back and forth between Control Panel (which seems to become worse and worse to navigate) and searches on Google and Bing.  (If Bing is to succeed it should be the dominant search engine for Windows, but not yet true.)

The problem I surmise was my mother-in-law downloaded a Firefox distribution not directly from Mozilla.   On April 30.  And tried to recover from that disaster on May 16 further piling on.  It took roughly six hours but I was able to eradicate all the evil that had set in.

All of this reminds me why Windows is simply unacceptable.  Why have an operating system where programs are installed with their own uninstaller, that the distributor writes and makes uninstalling impossible.  Contrast OS X, drag the application to the trash and empty the trash.  That Internet Explorer allows add-ins where the distributor can prevent removal/disablement.  That major anti-spam/virus/malware engines allow anything that is putatively useful (ad-ware as a specific example).  And did I mention fake McAfee anti-virus as part of this mess.  That the registry even exists prevents simple technical solutions and make Windows particularly non-consumer friendly.





iOS 7 I: One Thing Not to Like

September 22, 2013

iOS 7.  Some people love it, some people hate it.  Much to like, most of the complaints are “water off McDuff’s back”.  Except: (!)

I went to add an event to my calendar and needed to set the time.  The new date/time setting control is lame compared to all versions since at least iOS 4.  Used to be when you scrolled and got close, touching the right number ratcheted it in.  No more.  Huge decline is usability and accessibility.

I’m amazed that I can’t find similar feedback in web searches.   Would love pointers to similar commentary.

Computing Update VI

January 6, 2013

This is the time of year, imbedded in Whistler, to do major maintenance of my computing environment.  And with my holiday gift to Tobae…four hours of computing support free of raised voice and any other bad behavior on my part…her computing environment as well.  As so here I sit with my MacBook Pro next to her slightly newer MacBook Pro.

Mine was bought in March, but it didn’t become my “production” computer until September.  Burned once by Migration Assistant, I pretty much build from scratch and it takes awhile.  Then a few weeks of carrying both with me.  Finally convinced that I didn’t have to go back and forth anymore, found a good home for the old computer after extracting its hard drive and putting a new one in for its next user.

And so it has gone for Tobae.  She has a very old MBP.  In November I visited brother Ken who works at the Apple Store in Bellevue Square and acquired a new one for her.  And it has been mostly sitting ever since, waiting for time to get all the things working that need to be working.

The day started poorly.  I’m not quite sure what happened when trying to apply one of those multiple operating system updates from the App Store, but was quite evident the computer was not planning to boot again unless I re-installed.  A ‘Command-R’ boot and two hours later (most of this was time downloading) and  was back to the out-of-the box state.  (This “Internet Recovery” feature is quite sweet!)  Smoothly sailing thereafter:  additional browsers (Firefox and Chrome), 1Password, iStat Menus, Quicksilver, Dropbox, configuring Mail.  A few tasks left…Microsoft Office, Google Earth, MacGPS Pro.  Not to forget to moving all existing data, but that is best left for last…one of the trickiest parts of a slow transition. Pretty linear.

And then there is VMware Fusion.  Easy to install the program itself…the harder work setting up virtual machines, and for Tobae this is Windows.  Windows is critical for Tobae in two ways.  She runs her practice on QuickBooks and (just like for Quicken) the Windows version is so very much better than the OS X one.  And the Providence Hospital electronic medical records system is Windows-based.  However there is nothing more challenging than Windows licensing as one changes hardware, for the ability to run the operating system requires an activation step intimately linking the product key (effectively the license) to the hardware.  Windows 7 seems the right place to be for at least another year or two.  I’ve been running it for about a year now.  With XP support going away in 2014, time to get Tobae off of XP.

One can spend considerable time trying to make sense of Windows licensing, especially in a virtual environment.  Bullet proof is buying the ~$270 retail version.  $270?  An alternative, and Microsoft doesn’t give very clear guidance, is the OEM version meant for new computers spanning computer manufacturers to DIYers.  Or what isn’t clear, building virtual ones.  At ~$140 pretty compelling.  But there is one (near) truth.  The OEM version anchors to one and only one motherboard forever.   So workable, but with risk.   I was concerned that we had only OEM licenses in our personal world at this point but finally established that the license Tobae holds is a retail version, so the upgrade version of Windows 7 (~$130) will work.   It is ordered.

Pretty easy to contrast this Microsoft licensing nonsense with the lack of nonsense from Apple for OS X.  Yes Apple hardware is more expensive.  Going from 10.X to 10.X+1 costs a little, nothing like ~$130.  Most impressive though is the model of trust.  Certainly there is a license from Apple to which one agrees.  But there are no certificates of authenticity, holograms, license keys, activation, branding chaos (e.g., Home, Pro, Ultimate).   Thank you Apple for knowing that “I am not a crook.”

Computing Update VI

April 29, 2012

Tobae fired up Excel today and Microsoft AutoUpdate told her of the recent service pack for Office for Mac 2011.  She asked whether she should download it and given our poor bandwidth and its size (110 MB), I said to do it at her office tomorrow.  So she clicked not now and then Excel crashed and Microsoft Error Reporter launched.  Yes send the report and re-open Excel and her file.  Excel crashed again and Microsoft Error Reported launched again.  And so on.

Had the data file been corrupted?  Attached her “Time Machine” disk and restored the most recent backup.  Excel crashed…  But in doing so it had changed the date modified on the file.  I didn’t want to start possibly corrupting every spreadsheet on her computer.  I’d make my own spreadsheet.  File -> New Workbook.  Excel crashed…

Time for some work with Google.  Search came up with many entries having to do with the Outlook killing version of SP2 known as 14.2.0.  But she was still 14.1.4.  Tightened up the search and was led to this article in the Microsoft Support Knowledge Base:  Microsoft Excel Has Encountered A Problem…  There are many similar articles in the knowledge base.   The titles never entertain the possibility that the problem not only was encountered but also created by Microsoft.  And they always involve doing lots of things that you don’t want to do.  An amusing part of the particular one is that it begins with Step 1, then Step 2, then Step 5, then Step 4, then Step 5.

The alternative was to download the now repaired service pack 14.2.1 and be optimistic.  The download took 90 minutes on our rural connection.   It consumed 2% of our monthly quota and will likely have us throttled for awhile.  It seemed to overwrite some of Tobae’s preferences, but the file opened and she was back in business.

My other bit of work on her computer this weekend was to update VMware Fusion to 4.1.2.  Just like when I had updated my own computer a couple of weeks ago, I got the message “The operation can’t be completed because you don’t have permission to modify VMware Fusion.   On my own machine, I have a true root account enabled.  I switched to it and got the update installed.  But I didn’t want to go that path on Tobae’s computer.  Should have used Google before for the solution presented on the VMware Knowledge Base was simple, though not quite intuitive:

To resolve this issue, even though you are already running Fusion 4, install the upgrade by double-clicking the “Double-click to upgrade from VMware Fusion 3” icon.

Thomas and Me

January 26, 2012

We get many fewer unsolicited calls in Canada, but they are so much more interesting.  My recent favorites are from Thomas who called last week and then again today.

Thomas purports to be from the “International Security Department of Windows”.  He asserts that my “Windows computer” has been compromised by hackers and I am generating spam and that he will help me solve the problem.  Quite insistently.

English is not Thomas’s first language, so I was much too direct.  I said I did not have a Windows computer.  He said I did.  I said I didn’t and hung up.

Imagine my surprise at being called back today.  (Why continue to robo-dial people that listen briefly then just hang up?  I suppose that I didn’t hang up with enough vigor.)  Tonight I engaged more thoroughly, though it was brief.  Same initial pitch.  So I ask “Thomas, who do you work for?”  “Windows”  “Thomas, Windows isn’t a company.”  “I work for Windows.”  “Thomas, who makes Windows?” [silence]  “Thomas, what is my IP number?”  [silence]  Damn, Thomas hung up on me!

Beware of Thomas.  I think he is FoS.


My Exploding AA Duracell Battery

January 15, 2012

Last night I heard a loud pop and was hit in the chest by the outer casing of a AA Duracell battery.  No bruise.  This a a first for me, but a quick Google search reveals it is reasonably common, at least for batteries installed in devices.  Mine was not, it was in a Ziploc bag sitting on the granite ledge that separates our dining area from the kitchen.  This picture sets the scene: the bag was sitting just to the left of the basket with fruit and avocados.

The battery was sitting in a Ziploc bag just to the left of the basket of fruit.

The remains:  The top of the bag is detached and covered with battery innards.  The outer casing hit me, just where the picture was taken from.  The base piece with the short wire and the inner packing were found in the hallway just under the pictures in the distance.  The plastic bag was still on the granite ledge.

The strength of the Ziploc seal compared to the bag itself is impressive

The debris field covers about a 4 ft x 4 ft area on the wall, with splatter on three of the picture frames and the wall itself.

Typical of the debris field. The largest spot is about 3/8 inch across.

I’m not sure what lesson this is suppose to teach me.  Hadn’t seen such in my 60 years, so probably won’t again.  I guess I am simply thankful that the battery was pointed such that I wasn’t the target of the debris.

Redistricting in Washington

January 5, 2012

The Washington State Redistricting Commission completed its work at 9:55 p.m. on December 31, a full 125 minutes before the process would be taken on by the Washington Supreme Court.

I have been worried.  All of the early proposals (save one, a very rare shoutout from me to Slade Gorton!) would have created a very bizarre, conservative district connecting my rural Snohomish home with all the like-minded people of Wenatchee and Yakima and the long imagined Freedom County.  In the end rural King County was awarded this cross-mountain, cross-divide district.  Instead I will move from the 2nd Congressional District (incumbent Rick Larsen, who keeps “urban” Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom county) into the 1st Congressional District (incumbent Jay Inslee running for Governor instead).  Basically upper east side and everything up to the Canadian border this side of the Cascade crest.  Will be interesting to see the mix of candidates that emerge.  Both the Republicans and Democrats on the commission call this arguably the most “balanced” district in the U.S.  Good for them…

All of this saved me with respect to my state legislative district.  I remain in the somewhat rational 44th instead of being popped out to the 39th with loonies like Val Stevens.

Be forewarned if you visit the commission’s web: the pdf maps are horrible.  You will only figure out where you are by downloading the Google Earth layers and zooming in…

Computing Update V

January 5, 2012

This is an addendum to Computing Update IV, part of which detailed Tobae’s adventures with presentation software, aka PowerPoint.  But I forgot to mention an important piece of the puzzle.  She very much wanted to imbed a video from YouTube produced by the Utah Avalanche Center.

To be clear, doing so is a violation of the Terms of Service of You Tube.  You may only use their “embedded player” for showing their content.  In other words, you must show the video in a web browser and to do so be connected to the Internet.

I am quite certain that is not the intent of the Utah Avalanche Center.  They are trying to help people stay out of avalanches and create awareness.  But they have made the poor choice of minimizing their outlay for providing video by using YouTube.  Lesson to all that want their material widely propagated.  Of course YouTube is owned by Google, the “do no evil” company.  Enough said.

Ironically Google will gladly do searches with terms like “capture YouTube video OS X”!  A tremendous number of the tools don’t work; a cat and mouse game?  I leave it to the reader to ponder whether I found one or not.

I know Tobae will do good and do well in the  sans Internet mountain cabin meeting venue.

Computing Updates: IV; Pac 12; Eat Your Peas: II (Really!)

January 2, 2012

Today’s computing update is more about Tobae and less about me.  Other than without son and technogeek Mark at home, I am now her technogeek.

Tobae is an avid backcountry skier and for many years part of the team that teaches the Everett Chapter of the Mountaineers’s avalanche awareness course.  And to keep doing that she needs to take an instructors course from AIARE which she will be doing Wednesday through Friday this week.  And she has assignments, the difficult one being to deliver a five minute lesson using “instructor mediated video clips” with the thought these would be imbedded in PowerPoint and run on “somebody else’s computer”.   I’d never plan on doing such a thing myself!  PC vs Mac and different software versions, what are they thinking?   (Tobae “reassures” me that these are ski guides, not technogeeks, but she is the one doing this, not me…)

So instead of skiing today we spent the day in (okay there were many football games on so that was okay, more on this later).  She studied the huge decks of PowerPoint slides in the instructor resources trying to find some slides to illustrate her topic, the “wind slab” avalanche type, and finding appropriate video.  And around 2 p.m. I help her piece together five slides and an imbedded video in OpenOffice Impress.  For we have never had Microsoft Office on her computer, for her entire use of such functionality is that she keeps a spreadsheet of vertical climb (several 100k feet last year).  Then we saved the presentation on a flash drive in old style PowerPoint (ppt) along with the media file and I tried to look at it on my computer.  Mac PowerPoint 2008 would not read it.  LibreOffice would (I’ve abandoned OpenOffice as have many), but couldn’t save it in a form yet PowerPoint compatible.  Keynote read it and let me save it such that Mac PowerPoint 2008 would read it.  Of course it didn’t behave the same as her slide show, but the video did work.  (That this would be difficult I already knew, see above).  But is was workable and I saved it in many forms (some of which didn’t work at all back on her computer, also see above).  And I took advantage of the Microsoft at Home program afforded by the UW contract to buy Microsoft Office for the Mac 2011 on the cheap and install it on one of our personal computers, hers.  So she has it in the most modern format possible which actually imbeds the video right in the file.  But of course who knows what she will have in the conference room at Stevens Pass!

There is a simple rule here.  Never ever use any advanced feature of any presentation program and expect portability.  Ever!

Now to football.  Today was the “January 1 is Sunday” version of New Year Day.  TSN (Canadian cable channel “The Sports Network”) shows some content from ESPN.  We enjoyed the Georgia-Michigan State game.  Tobae is from Georgia, enough said.  But did the Rose Bowl follow?  No.  Or the Fiesta Bowl?  No.  I was reduced to our desperation system.  Finally finding my notes on how to create a proxy through Mark’s hacked router in Menlo Park, using the Firefox “Advanced > Network” to connect to it, and using the ESPN privilege of his cable provider we were able to watch both games.  Tobae had a year of trail-breaking with her friend Tim riding on Oregon-Wisconsin.  Sorry Badgers and sorry Tim, I was pulling for you.  I had to go with Stanford to honor Mark’s girl friend Christie, but I’m sure Miles Logsdon is quite happy with the outcome and that will have to do.  Why neither of these Pac 12 teams could put up points like the Huskies remains a mystery!

So how does this all connect with Eat Your Peas?  I believe I have come on the solution to the lack of a functional US Congress!  While Canada may not have ESPN, they have mastered the art of votes of no confidence and rapid fire elections.  Thus the simplest solution to my need for ESPN while in Whistler and my desire for a functional Congress is to have Canada invade and annex the US.  No longer would Rick Perry have to worry about his gaffes about Canadian oil being domestic, no more “rights” and “sovereign content” issues around material on Canadian cable, and no need to wait more than 90 days to replace Congress when it doesn’t do it job.