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.”

Most Notable Republican?

October 30, 2012

I should memorialize a remarkable letter I received from Mitt Romney, seeking a contribution of “$1,000, $2,500, $5,000, $10,000, $25,000, $50,000”, up to my “maximum personal contribution” limit of $75,800 for the “Romney Victory” team.  This will help spare the country from “crushing debt”.  This is not an economic plan for me for it would require $75,800 of new crushing personal debt.

Why didn’t I just recycle the letter from the go?

Dear Russell,

I am running for President of the United States and because you are one of America’s most notable Republicans, I want to personally let you know why.

Most notable Republican?


And for anybody confused by the $75,800 personal contribution limit?

Romney Victory, Inc., a joint fundraising committee authorized by and composed of Romney for President, Inc., the Republican National Committee, the Idaho Republican Party, the Massachusetts Republican State Congressional Committee, the Oklahoma Leadership Council, the Vermont Republican Federal Election Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the National Republican Congressional Committee.


Wine Country IV

August 13, 2012

My, I have been quiet.   Friend Ron posts ~25 times a month.  My 2012 average is ~1.  Need to do better. (And as I think about posting this, his production values are high…when I haven’t given links just google or bing or whatever).

What better way to renew than add a few notes to Ron’s excellent discussion of our visit to Walla Walla wine country in late July.  I can’t thank Gail and Ron enough for including us.

I had been moving rapidly.  To Whistler for a week with my brother and his family, except midweek I visited New York for a meeting.  I left Whistler very early on Sunday to pick up Tobae at home and make our way to Walla Walla.  On the way we listened to KIRO 97.3 FM, Seattle Kitchen with Chefs Tom Douglas and Thierry Rautureau.  We were able to insert some wisdom regarding X in conversations in Walla Walla.  With good luck Tobae will remind me of what X is!  But in total, I drove 9 hours that day.

We left Snohomish on Sunday in time to visit Portteus on the drive, outside Zillah on Rattlesnake Ridge.  A favorite of ours, but inexplicably we hadn’t been in a long time and were out of their many food-friendly and tremendous value wines.   Our first visit we arrived at the winery a good hour before tasting opened based on some bad information.  But owner Paul Portteus was extraordinarily gracious, stopped what he was doing, and gave us a full tasting.  At that time we found that Rattlesnake Red was a tremendous bargain.  Coupled with a terrific reserve Merlot (and I usually don’t like Merlot) and some good Zins.  This time we mixed two cases…pretty sure those contained Rattlesnake Red, Bistro Red, Reserve Merlot, Reserve Zin, Petite Sirah, their first Pinot Noir (strange hot country for this), and Old Vine Zin.  At the winery Rattlesnake Red (29% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, 14% Petite Sirah and 14% Zinfandel) is $8/bottle in case quantities.  Can’t go wrong!  Nearly all (all?) of the fruit is grown on his expansive vineyard.  (I wish I could remember the name of the not quite family member who took very good care of us.  And it was great to see Paul come in while we were there and take a strong taste…I wish I had caught of which wine.)

And so we continued on and arrived in Walla Walla perhaps five minutes ahead of Ron and Gail.  We made dinner plans.  I regret I didn’t quite explain to Ron that the menu at Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen looked fantastic and the result on arriving without a reservation was a full house.  But we agreed to sit outside as the sun was setting and it was delightful.  Much more quiet than the booming interior and the service was top notch despite the extra distance from the kitchen.  I will yet figure out how to make blackberry gazpacho, odd looking from the blackberry color, but with eyes closed worthy of the name.

Ron details our travels and dining on both days of the visit (Walla Walla, 1; Walla Walla, 2; Walla Walla, 3).  I can only add a few personal notes.

Day One was full of learning for me, perhaps the most I’ve learned in a single day of tasting ever.  As I contemplate my own very small vineyard (Pinot Gris certainly should work, and Pinot Noir continues moving northward), I paid considerable attention during our vineyard tour at Walla Walla Vintners.  I now have a vast store of pictures of how their trellising system works and equipment I’ll need; I’m looking forward to cutting down on mowing of the once “soccer field” as the vineyard goes into production.  The beauty of stop two at Buty was that our host had a legal background.  Many new insights into the lasting effects of prohibition as well as the new distribution system in Washington State.  Wasn’t sure how the stop at Waters would work out, until it became clear there was a bottling truck on site.  I’d seen one before, but nobody else had.  And it was a treat for me to get inside and up close.  Followed by a very special tour at Forgeron hosted by Marie-Eve.  Most of our third case came from Forgeron:  I’m certain it contains their Primitivo.  (Followers of this Wine Country thread know that I love D-cubed Primitivo from Napa Valley.)

Day Two was right up there on the learning scale.  Rasa was easily the geekiest winery ever.  QED, Occam’s Razor, Principia among wine names.  It wouldn’t be obvious without personally hearing Billo talk about their wines, but especially with Car Talk going out of production these brothers should create Wine Talk.  Like Ron I agree Northstar was a disappointment, but essentially from contrast with all our other visits in terms of intimacy.  Interesting idea to be a Merlot house, just as the Duckhorn’s staked out Napa Valley.  But as I mentioned earlier, Merlot is almost never my thing.  (Must say compared to Northstar, I prefer Portteus Reserve Merlot by far and at a better price.)  Garrison Creek had an extraordinarily  beautiful and green physical plant and some fine wines, but way (way!) too much oak for my taste.  Greener, certainly greenest I’ve seen, is Pepper Bridge.  An extraordinary tour from Walla Walla legend Norm McKibben.  Fascinating to hear and learn of his depth of knowledge that brings together production, quality, economics, and care for the environment.

Now to my central point.  Ron acknowledged multiple times our fantastic host/guide Phillippe Michel.  What he missed was this incredible blog post from the owner of Walla Walla’s Shady Lawn Antiques.  Phillippe not only sells barrels, he fixes barrels.  Forever.  And most charming he is dressed in the pictures exactly as we first saw him.  And that he is from Belgium, not France, opened a world of humor.

Thanks too to Imbibe Tours.  Our tour was arranged separately; they donated the transportation.  But very, very clear that they would be great hosts taking you to quality, mainly by reservation, wineries off the beaten track.  Many thanks Jay.

Privatization of Liquor in Washington

June 29, 2012

Immense changes came to Washington State on June 1…a binary transition from state liquor stores to an odd system dominated by past locations of the state liquor stores and new competition from large grocery stores and mega-liquor retailers (10,000 sq ft is the bar).  No mini-marts.

We celebrate mint julep season, but must admit that we don’t use bourbon, but rather Tennessee sour mash, aka Jack Daniels #7.  And so my primary basis of comparison is a handle (1.75 liters) of JD7.

In my last transaction at a state-run liquor store (mid-May), I paid $53.80 for a handle.  I next purchased one at Snohomish Top Foods early in June and with tax it was $58.64.  Visiting California in early June, only $33.86.  (Son Mark makes an excellent point:  he’d rather pay $58 per handle than his 10% income tax.)    But still if I apply all the Washington taxes to the California price JD#7 should be in the low $40s.

Now open “Total Wine and More”.  Base price $27.99, with taxes added $40.93.  Checked QFC when picking up bagels today and they have collapsed down to ~$48 total.  Took a month, but the benefits of the initiative are now appearing.

(Noted later…it was even less expensive when I visited than the web price.  Base price $25.99, with taxes added $38.44.  More than $20 better than at Top Foods, now Haggen).

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.

United, Now “The Largest Airline in the World”

March 3, 2012

“At midnight”, not sure which time zone, the computing apparatus of Continental and United were merged so that “CO” is no more.  Chaos has followed.  A quick look at #United on Twitter will reveal gems like “You know it’s a bad day when the @United Club agent checks you with pen and paper then asks *you* if you have rum for her coke!” and this gate announcement “sorry you chose this day to fly United”.

But I’m not flying today.  I’m in Whistler.  I went on the morning dog walk, a nice snowshoe above Stonebridge on the Flank Trail.  I arrived back home at 10 a.m. to find Mark’s friend Christie on the phone to United trying to track down her skis which did not arrive with her on UA 460 to Vancouver last night.

On the phone is a euphemism for on hold.  You have to like Gershwin very, very much.  After a long wait, she was able to learn that the computer system was down, call back in 20 minutes.  So she dialed, knowing the wait would again be at least that long.  The computer was up.  She provided extensive information on phone numbers and addresses and ticket numbers and the claim check and was able to establish  that the skis were on a flight arriving at 11:49 a.m.  But just as it seemed all might be well, the computer system went down again and so a “file reference number” was not generated.

Could we talk to Vancouver?  No, we were going to continue to talk to India and they would continue to use the unstable computer system to provide “information”.  But we did have the number of the baggage supervisor in Vancouver and a fax number.  Got voice mail for the baggage supervisor.  Sent a fax for good measure.  No response.  Not to mention no response to my tweet to @United, not surprising as they were overloaded.  Time for breakfast.

So another phone call after breakfast to get an update.  Christie learned the “file reference number”.  This allowed us to see that the address was wrong:  Talufwood Dr instead of Taluswood Pl.  Spells out to get it fixed.  Becomes Galufwood Pl.  Tango Alpha Lima Uniform Sierra later the address is right (well the province is BC not YVR, but bet the folk in Vancouver won’t be thrown by that one).  But really no info, because the skis have not been scanned.  Couldn’t we just talk to the baggage people in Vancouver?  No.

Mark begins calling each number in the block 604-482-53xx.  On the seventh dial a message that the party was on the phone!  Called back a bit later and got a human at 1:15 p.m.  They would call back after checking on the status. At 2:10, he is back on the phone.  Nigel the station manager is now on the case, but has no information.

So will the skis make the daily 3 p.m. lost bag transfer from YVR to Whistler?  Just as I was about to post, Nigel called.  Skis are located and they will “put them through customs”.  ETA 5 p.m.


Contrast this with Delta.  Their iPhone app has a feature to photograph your claim check and see all the scans of your bag.  Last Friday I followed my bag through the airport onto the plane, off the plane and onto the carousel.  And there it was.  And if it wasn’t I would know where it was.  Information in the hands of the customer instead of not in the hands of a call center.  Seems like a pretty simple idea.

Vagaries of Canadian Television

January 30, 2012

Something that will always keep me from getting full immigration points to Canada is my lack of interest in hockey.  I just don’t follow the puck as well as is necessary.  Curling, well no.  Soccer though works fine.

In that context, a couple of weeks ago the most compelling televised sports event on Canadian television was the lopsided defeat of the Dominican Republic by the US women’s soccer team to open the regional Olympic qualifying tournament.  I watched portions of this 14-nil game.

In the Canadian way, CBC this morning was reporting that both Canada and the US had qualified for London, while still energizing interest in the championship game of the tournament:  Canada-US.  Low stakes, but considerable national pride.

And so I made note that the game was at 5 p.m.  But is it televised?  No!  The NFL Pro Bowl instead.

Twitter tells me that US leads 4-nil in the 58th minute…

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.

Legacy of Integrity?

January 14, 2012

With the change of leadership at UW, I have been imagining a new leader and style of leadership that reverses the downward spiral of the past several years.  Perhaps the clearest, but not only, sign that the trend is not good is a recent letter to all hands dated January 3, 2012.

Our new President, Michael Young, set a piece of context that was striking:

Persons entrusted with academic, administrative, and athletic responsibilities at institutions of higher education have been found to have actively betrayed that trust — or to have stood by passively allowing the destructive behavior to continue.

Then he continued:

In contrast, it is clear to me that the University of Washington’s century and a half of success has been built on a strong foundation of integrity. When problems have been discovered, they have been dealt with promptly and appropriately, as one would hope. Overall, the UW has nurtured a culture of responsible conduct, which has sustained our perennial success in attracting scholars and administrators who share a visceral inclination to act honorably.

And began his conclusion by exhorting:

Having inherited such values, one of our duties is to periodically renew our commitment to maintain these high expectations of ourselves and of one another.


Excuse me, but what part of UW legacy does he imagine demonstrates anything resembling values that are any better than those elsewhere including the cheap shot he takes obliquely at Penn State and for that matter many other top private or publics? A litany of UW wrongs, not dealt with promptly and appropriately, come to mind.  In athletics, just read Scoreboard Baby and then explain both actions taken then and thereafter in the ensuing women’s softball drug scandal and the  men’s basketball date rapes.  In the medical school, the billing scandal and the action that brought the serious sanctions: coverup.  At the heart of the university, total disrespect for shared governance exemplified by a multi-million dollar class action settlement for faculty and exacerbated by unilateral retreat from a salary policy supposedly designed for good times and bad.  Compounded by a narcissistic, sociopathic Provost, left to her own devices, now gone but leaving a wake of dysfunction and lack of trust.  Integrity requires accountability.

David Brewster writes thoughtfully in Crosscut about the challenges that President Young faces, and I agree with much of what he says.  But the last sentence (which I am partially taking out of context) speaks to the concerns expressed here:

The risk is that time is running out, morale is sinking at the university, and Young loses the momentum of his honeymoon year.

It is true for the political arena of which Brewster writes and it is equally true in restoring integrity.  Take off the blinders.