Eat Your Peas I

December 15, 2011

I actually liked peas, not an especially picky eater as a kid.  But you get the point.  So did President Obama when he chided Congress in mid-July that there were budgetary issues to deal with (that one was the debt ceiling) and that he wouldn’t let them off the hook (which in the end he did).  And sure enough the resulting super committee failed in its work.  At that time he said no point putting it off six months, “pull off the Band-Aid…eat your peas”.  Eat your peas.  Supper isn’t over yet.  Will it ever be?

Case in point is not the large issue this week.  Rather, my anger yesterday over a press release from my U.S. Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA 2) taking credit for delaying the closure of the Everett, WA mail sorting center for six months.  Many others in Congress were doing the same and this is uniformly how the Postmaster General chose to deal with the pile of letters.  At the same time, USPO is taking in about 93 cents for every dollar it spends.  No sensible business would do this, at least for very long.  Certainly not put it off six months (see above, getting the thread?).  The USPO fix ought to be simple:  their revenue is a user fee.  A one cent increase for a first class stamp in early January?  Make it five cents.

(This is just what I wrote to Rick on the super-duper e-mail system Congress has put in place that checks my address again my nine digit zip code as authentication to communicate with my elected representative.  At least give me a cookie so I just do that once?)

Arguably, this Congress is the worse ever.   Both sides (even though one is right, whoops, correct!).  So is there room in the center for the “Eat Your Peas” party?   With enough strength to let both edges continue to hold breath, turn blue in the face, and pass out?

Computing Updates: III

November 9, 2011

Computing Updates: III?  I’ve not been careful in creating this thread, but Computing Updates: I, was named A Clean Install of Windows XP and Computing Updates: II was named Computing Updates.  Got it?  I’ll do better in the future.  This is not work solely for “Tags”.

Firefox 5,6,7.  The too frequent, very visible, updates are out of control.  But worst, I have much more frequent crashes.  Enough that I have adopted Chrome.  It of course updates at a similar pace.  But they are invisible!  This is not a sound approach, but at least Chrome doesn’t crash once a hour.  Nice run with me Mozilla (dating back to the earliest days of Netscape), but the crash reporting had become intolerable.  May reverse this course, but time will tell.  (I see in my RSS feed I need to deal with Firefox 8; Chrome has not crashed as of yet.)

VMware Fusion 4.  I’ve long used VMware Fusion as my way of using a Windows app, Quicken, that is so much better than the OS X equivalent.  (Probably should have done the same thing for Quickbooks, but didn’t.)  But as I’ve returned to the classroom, I need ArcGIS Desktop.  Only a Windows app.  First I decided to bring Fusion up to date, by upgrading from 3.x to 4.x.  That worked with little pain, though I decided not to “migrate” my Windows XP virtual machine to “take advantage of features in this version”. And then in the updated Fusion, I used the UW license to install Windows 7.  Much faster than the “Clean Install of Windows XP” I thought until the 75 patches appeared.  Eventaully it seems quite stalled on #43.  And I mean stalled. Typical Windows, I disovered a hidden window asking for permission for a particular step.  And finally while I should have figured this out more quickly,  my office network is heavily firewalled and I needed to attach directly to the UW network for just a few seconds to activate Windows.  All is well now.

Then ArcGIS Desktop.  Proceeded smoothly, thankful though for some  notes to guide through some of the obscure dialogs.

OS X never takes this kind of time…

OmniFocus Multi-focussed

October 22, 2011

I’m in Whistler today for a meeting of the council of our strata (US readers, condo association).  Was a must-do with a coming special assessment after 11 years of benign budgetary issues.  I drove up last night and could go home this evening, but there is a Husky game to watch.  So early tomorrow.  And after all I have bandwidth here.  And with bandwidth, I can be much more effective in getting things done.

Which leads to OmniFocus, perhaps the best known software of the Seattle-based OmniGroup and my way of Getting Things Done (GTD).  In a too rare act of using “Context”, I found a significant task at Whistler:  “Master French Onion Soup”.  This has been lingering for ~18 months.  And master in this instance means actually make it for the first time, which might then lead to improving and mastering.

This recipe seemed like a fine starting point, lots of 5-stars.  I read perhaps 20 of the 395 reviews.  The idea this would take 65 minutes seemed wrong from the outset, but a reviewer had suggested considerably longer times.  I found 45 minutes with the onions, 20 minutes reducing, and 10 minutes with the flour step about right and it is now simmering.  Somebody suggested I let it rest after simmering for several hours, then finish it off.  As excellent as this advice might be, it is my dinner and I plan to eat it at half-time.  I tasted about 30 minutes ago and added some pepper, but I think I’ll like the result.

The last piece of multi-focus is watching the Stanford-Washington game (and doing dueling commentary with Casey Rose on FB.) As I type this sentence Stanford 31-Washington 14.  I bet (well better said regret) that our commentary slows down.

My Life With Garmin, Part 2

July 25, 2011

It has been ~6 months since I last posted on this topic, mostly because I have been flummoxed with trying to work honestly with Garmin’s locking techniques for maps I own and simply want to combine on one card.  Perhaps their entire approach will deserve attention on the Inspector General of the World blog.  Time will tell…

While seemingly on topic, but not:  I was very excited and pleased by the team finish of Garmin-Cervelo in Tour de France and the success of several individual riders, among them Tyler Farrar for his stage 3 win.  Alas, the HTC setup for Cavendish is beyond compare.  Watching the last two minutes of stage 21 and listening to Phil and Paul as Thor peels off really makes the point.

But this isn’t about biking.  It is about my struggle to download “Alaska Enhanced Topography” that I purchased from Garmin, for Tobae and my upcoming Alaska trip.  I tried several times on Friday, always seemingly stopped midstream.  Eventually I sent a note to Garmin Technical Support which gave me an answer.  The only way to achieve success is to have a card in a card reader, not the device itself, which is an eTrex Vista HCx, and let the transfer to the device itself fail!  Then I would have an option to write to the card reader.  Even though there is never a diagnostic that tells one this when having the card in the device and seeing plenty of open space.  Nor is there an FAQ on the Garmin web.  Nor does one get any knowledge from Googling all sensible combinations of words.  So as I finish n+1 transfers of 1.7 Gb of data on my office connection at ~1.1 MB/sec, I will post this if the transfer is successful.  Then to home, to bed, and to Vancouver for a couple of days.

May this post help somebody.  I rarely use tags, but this one is tagged Garmin.  Love/Hate!

Computing Updates

July 3, 2011

I have completed a number of updates in my computing environment this weekend.  Not without some frustration and annoyance.  Tempered by a great finding.

The last thing I do on Friday afternoon is to check for OS X updates and App Store updates and Windows updates while I am connected to high speed internet at UW.   (For OmniFocus users: I have a ‘High Speed Internet’ context…).  Then I sync my iPhone and sync my iPad.  Then I close iTunes, as a hedge against unknowingly downloading large sized podcasts over the weekend, exhausting our sadly lacking bandwidth at home.

Since replacement of my SuperDrive that had died,  Software Update prompts me to apply SuperDrive Firmware Update 3.0.  But because I was up to date with OS X, the firmware update fails…this issue and the workaround is documented by Apple and involves using an empty hard disk to do a clean install of OS X pre-10.6.5 so that the firmware update will run.   That this article is dated January 7, 2011 and they don’t just fix the updater, who knows?  But with one of my weekend tasks being replacement of the 320 Gb hard drive in my MacBook Pro with a new 500 Gb disk, the time seemed right.

I attached the new drive via my nifty Granite Digital Emergency Drive Copy Standard Kit.  I mounted my “OS X Installation DVD” (which travels in my briefcase in the form of a bootable 16 Gb micro-SD card).  And so began the ~1 hour process of installing OSX 10.6.0.  Most of the time is waiting for the USB 2.0 bottleneck, so it was a great opportunity to read the NY Times on my iPad.

However, one of the iPad App updates on Friday was to NY Times for iPad 2.1.0.  And alas the updated app didn’t work.  Judging from the several hundred one star ratings it has received this weekend at the iTunes store, I was not alone.  Lots of angry people!  (I’m pretty sure that updates shouldn’t be released on the Friday before a long weekend.)  But buried in the many complaints, the fix became evident: uninstall the app, then reinstall the app, then deal with the dreadfully slow authentication engine for my NY Times account and it works.  However I needed to use iTunes for that and my computer was busy with the nuisance operating system install.  I read the new issue of the Economist instead.

Sure enough the Firmware Update ran just fine.  But what is Apple thinking?   How much time has been wasted, either of users or with visits to the Genius Bar?

Now it was time to clone my 320 Gb disk to the new 500 Gb disk.  First I got the NY Times working again.  Then shutdown all programs and let it fly.  Just 6 hours later the drive was ready.  I am lucky to have the “late 2008 MacBook Pro unibody” which makes changing the hard drive a piece of cake, especially since I have a Torx T6 screwdriver to shift the mounting studs.  Thanks to for cataloging the necessary tools.

But more so, thanks to for asserting that my computer could take 6 GB of memory.  Apple says 4 GB.   I began to explore and eventually discovered this blog item on the OWC web:  Secret Firmware Lets Late ’08 MacBooks Use 8 GB.   I am keeping my Phillips #00 handy…I should have memory in hand by Thursday.

My Life with Garmin, Part 1

January 2, 2011

I like to know where I am and where I’ve been.  And so early on I adopted GPS as necessary personal technology.  And I settled on Garmin. My first was a GPS II Plus used in the outdoors to mark waypoints and spread breadcrumbs.  I still like that it doesn’t use Kalman filtering.  It disappeared for a long while, hiding in a seldom used bag, and was supplanted with a Rino 130 which combined a GMRS/FRS radio, a GPS, and a nifty way of communicating locations between Rinos (a feature we never really used, though there have been times when I would like to track Tobae down).  Next came a Street Pilot C530 for the car.  Then to cut down on size and weight and to add topo maps to the screen, an etrex Vista HCx which has a vastly improved chip set, much better battery life and does everything I need for the backcountry.  Tobae has one too!  And finally about six months ago a nüvi 265T to replace the Street Pilot (well actually Tobae has the Street Pilot now, but doesn’t use it).

I love the devices.  But alas Garmin has mastered the razor blade model of retailing.  The “razors”are fine, but the “blades”, also known as maps, bring frustration and pain.

Let’s start with the retirement of the Street Pilot.  There was nothing actually wrong with the Street Pilot, other than its maps were getting out of date.  Near my parents home, California 37 connects Interstate 80 at Vallejo to US 101 at Novato.  The Vallejo end, critical to getting to the wine country, was rebuilt and so directions were wrong.  Closer to home, the realignment of the Interstate 5 ramps in Everett.  And substantial construction on the Sea-to-Sky highway, most noticeable in the now year-old bypass of Horseshoe Bay.  And never ending construction of new residential streets in Snohomish County.  Time for a new map.  I usually start shopping at Amazon, but making sense of the Garmin map products there is not for the faint of heart.  It is near impossible to tell whether one is buying a current map or an old map.  In the end, the practical solution is to go directly to the Garmin web site.  And so I did and at that time the update was $89, regardless of format (I’m sparing you the fine print that guides the decision decide between formats).  Expensive blade.  But a new razor, the nüvi 265T, was $122.  And it came with life of device NAVTEQ traffic.  And a routing engine that uses that traffic information.  And is much more compact for travel.  And wasn’t out of warranty.  (And perhaps Garmin is listening, because for nüvi devices one can now buy a life-of-device subscription to quarterly map updates for $89…which seems much somewhat better that the periodic, expensive one-offs of the past.)

Enough of city streets.  Topography must be much simpler?   It can be.  The data are in the public domain and there are open source tools to create topo maps in Garmin format,  yet the easy and fast choice was to buy the 24k topography of Washington from Garmin on a microSD card.  Anywhere we go in Washington we have a topo map.  So far so good.  But then I bought ski area maps from Mountain Dynamics.  So I have a second microSD card.  The content of the two cards is less than 2 Gb.  It must be a simple task to combine them?  Look forward to Part 2…



Keeping Up With Tasmania

August 9, 2010

Yesterday I wrote about the dearth of bandwidth in rural areas in the U.S.  This morning’s NYT has a short piece on progress in Tasmania, where a push is underway to provide, at government expense, bandwidth at 100 Mbps to all 500,000 citizens.  My friend Larry Smarr is quoted:

The Australian government, according to Mr. Smarr, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, sees the “importance of broadband as part of a nation-building exercise, unlike this country.”

Go Tasmania!

Rural Broadbandification

August 8, 2010

An op-ed piece in the NY Times on Thursday spoke to The Broadband Gap:  the urban and suburban bandwidth haves and the rural have nots:

Lack of access deprives too many families, mostly in poorer rural areas, of any chance to use an essential tool for modern life.

While not in a poor area, I am one of those rural have nots and so the piece hits close to home.

In arguing for congressional action, a recent FCC report is cited:  “[The F.C.C.] defined broadband as a connection with an upload speed of at least 1 megabit per second and a download speed of at least 4 megabits per second”.  The report estimates that 5-8% of Americans do not have that connectivity available to them.  The commission believes that “that private companies are unlikely to serve these relatively unprofitable households” and would like authority to “re-deploy the Universal Service Fund, created to bring telephone to hard-to-reach places” and  “to reallocate telecommunications spectrum from broadcast TV to mobile broadband service.”  (Don’t get me started on TV in the digital age.)

How does my neighborhood–many square miles of 5-acre single family residential zoning–measure up?  Not very well.  There are pockets nearby within range of a secondary telephone switching station and capable of DSL.  Not my house.  There is cable TV at the county road about a half mile away, but no interest by Comcast to wire our road and its 12 houses.

And so we have tried the rural connections.  Satellite Internet–when the rain doesn’t get you, the latency will.  Wave Rider–a line of sight technology which worked for awhile, until the growing trees of others removed the line of sight to a tower six miles south of us.  And these days “Sprint Mobile Broadband”, a 3G connection capped at 5 GB of data transfer per month, often throttled, and with frequent resets.  Via Speakeasy’s Broadband Speed test just now:  .11 Mbps up (11% of the FCC target) and .27 Mbps down (6% of the FCC target).   A bargain at $62/month…

No wonder I like to go to work.  No wonder I like to go to Whistler.  There I have this essential tool of modern life.

Google Ski View

February 10, 2010

I happened onto a YouTube video of the Google Street View snowmobile in action at Whistler Blackcomb.  And so I fired up Google Earth to check out the products…

Google "Ski View"

This screen capture shows the down slope view along the Dave Murray Men’s Downhill course.  I chose this particular view for the shadow of the snowmobile and the trail of other “ski views” in the lower left.

I had imagined that I would find a full trail down the race course, but no such luck. I’m guessing much of the course was  too steep for travel of this top heavy snowmobile.

You can “spin” this embedded Google Map rendition of a nearby (up slope) ski view of the first pitch of the downhill:  Double Trouble.  (The snowmobile track heads up slope to the flat below the run “Orange Peel”

And here’s our neighborhood.  Our drive is just left of center.  The blue lamp post is now also the bus stop marker for the #101 Nordic Drive bus.  Turn the scene about 180 and the downhill grandstands are now straight ahead (but not yet built when this photo taken!) and dominate the view at the break in the slope of the road.

Kindle, iPad and Me

January 30, 2010

So far I’ve not yielded to the thought that I ought to have a Kindle.  Despite usually being an early adopter, and liking to read,  in practice I barely keep up with newspapers and periodicals, much less make it through a book.  Though I did experiment.  I downloaded Kindle for iPhone about a year ago and have since assembled an odd collection of four books:  Dreams from My Father, Googled, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy, and The Chicago Guide to Your Career in Science.  I enjoyed the first, have barely started the second, and the latter two were recommended to me as ones that could help me guide contemporary grad students and so are more reference works.  The experience on the iPhone has been fine, but clearly not matching those reading on the real thing.

Then in the course of the past three weeks some unrelated triggers.  Ron blogged about the Kindle experience with Fly by Wire; I thought I would enjoy the book.  Our friend Dan Lowell received a Kindle as a Christmas gift and he isn’t quite ready to admit it, but I think he is enjoying it too.  But the iPad announcement was coming this week.  And so now the decision is more complicated.  Nonetheless thinking about the decision resulted in an impulse to get my fifth Kindle book today, Fly by Wire.  Reading it on the iPhone would be fine and if I later decided on either a Kindle or iPad, the book would be readable (for the Kindle for iPhone app will run on the iPad).

Not so fast, need to examine my assumptions.   The publisher of Fly by Wire is Farrar, Straus and Giroux, a subsidiary of Macmillan, and Amazon and Macmillan are at odds.  As of today I can’t buy the book–hard copy or digital–directly from Amazon.   Time will tell, but can you say VHS-Betamax?