August, 2008

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It’s not rocket science… oh and don’t buy a Mac, please

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Saw a news story over at the BBC about how laptops sent up to the International Space Station were infected with a computer virus, partly because the computers “reportedly do not have any anti-virus software on them to prevent infection”. The mind boggles; how could so many smart people be so stupid?

That got me to thinking about how I don’t have any antivirus software on my Macbook laptop. (Not quite true: I have ClamXav, a free virus scanner for the Mac, but it’s not a “real-time” scanner and I rarely perform scans manually.) I did a bit of Googling on the topic and found a Slashdot piece (followed by the usual pro- and anti-Apple bashing; get a life, people!) that linked to a pertinent and interesting, if not entirely convincing article by computer security expert Rich Mogull, “Should Mac Users Run Antivirus Software?” Mogull claims that most Mac users do not benefit from running antivirus software, given how very few viruses target the Apple OS X platform. The latter statistic owes partly to Apple’s relatively small market share, and Mogull notes that there may come a point when that market share grows high enough for viruses to start becoming a real threat.

On the Windows side I’ve found that most antivirus software offerings suffer from creeping featuritis: antivirus programs turn into “security suites” and eventually install all kinds of extremely obtrusive programs that make them as much of a hassle as many of the viruses they’re supposed to block. Over time I’ve bought and given up on Symantec and McAfee when both programs started popping ads selling upgrades or worse, unrelated products from the same company. Evidently it is too much to ask for a program that does just one thing and does it well.

Fortunately, using a Mac largely spares me the aggravation of dealing with bloated antivirus software. As long as Macs remain largely unpopular, of course. So please, don’t buy a Mac… unless if you’re a national or international space agency.

An inexplicable gap

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Orchard Supply Hardware stocks just about every cleaning product known to man: sprays, foams, aerosols, wipes, sponges… But no paper towels. What gives?

Blast from the distant past

Monday, August 18th, 2008

Had the pleasure of meeting up with my friend Anthony from high school yesterday. It’d been almost 16 years since we’d last met… in other words we’re almost (and in fact he is) twice as old now as when we last saw each other. Understandably we had had a fair bit of catching up to do.

Neither of us reminisced much about the past; though I think it’s fair to say that although those years of our lives were mostly positive, we’d separately spent enough time reflecting upon them that we were content to not spend much more time rehashing our high school experience.

It’s tremendously comforting to see how our friends have grown, changed, and for the most part done reasonably well for themselves. It’s a somewhat stark reminder of the passage of time, the march of the years, but at least for me it’s a also a reminder of how far I’ve come over those years.

After high school Anthony and I were the ones in our class who set out furthest from the Saguenay Region where we’d grown up, and consequently the ones who had littlest contact with our former classmates. Since many of the latter have since moved to the Montreal area, and since I’ve returned there numerous times over the years, I suppose my own isolation is less excusable… Nevertheless, until Facebook came along I had only rare tidbits of news of my old friends’ lives, so now that I’m once again in touch with details of their daily lives it’s almost as if they’d long ago disappeared into obscurity and reemerged years later, wholly changed.

It was good to have a chance to fill in a bit of those intervening years, good to finally see how we got from there and then to here and now.

Timekeeping in the 21st century (plus five minutes)

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

I got Janice a new solar-powered quartz watch for her birthday.

I am a bit meticulous, if not downright obsessive-compulsive, when it comes to timekeeping. I keep my computers’ clocks synchronized precisely using NTP, two of the watches I use and my bedside alarm clock automatically synchronize themselves to the atomic clock in Fort Collins, Colorado via radio signals… I frequently adjust my Zenith mechanical watch to match these other “trusted” clocks although the fact that I usually wear such an inaccurate timepiece at all proves that my timekeeping obsession is short of pathological.

Janice’s new watch, being quartz-driven, is supposed to be accurate a few seconds a month or something like that. In keeping with my aforementioned obsession I would periodically check her watch, and much to my consternation find it running a few minutes fast. I couldn’t understand how a quartz watch could be running so inaccurately…

Until today. Janice saw me adjusting her watch and promptly told me not to. “I match it to the clock in my lab. It’s supposed to be synchronized to some satellites or something.”

She said she couldn’t figure why she would find her watch off by a few minutes every day, and have to readjust it. And of course, I noted wondering the exact same thing.

Still, it seems that Rigel‘s timekeepers have a lot to answer for, because Janice’s lab clock, if her watch is any indication, is ahead by about five minutes.

Fool me once…

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

The replacement Milwaukee chop saw from Amazon arrived today. I had a strong doubt that this one would survive the shipping process intact as well, so I told Noe (Extreme Performance‘s store manager) to check it as soon as it arrived.

Sure enough, this one was broken in exactly the same way, and Noe refused delivery on the item—much to the consternation of the FedEx guy, who didn’t relish having to carry the 50-pound box back to his truck. That confirms my suspicion that the packaging was insufficient to protect the tool during shipping. Not what anybody would expect from Milwaukee Tools.

Apple needs to learn how to work the phone

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

I finally got around to dropping off my MacBook for repairs (a couple of hardware glitches, annoying but not fatal, had cropped up over a year ago) at the Stanford Apple store. (I chose the store because they were the only store without any 8GB iPhones in stock, hence I reasoned would be less crowded.)

I went to the “Genius Bar” and showed them the problem with laptop, and they said they’d take it in for diagnostic testing to be followed by any necessary repairs. They told me the initial diagnostics would take about 48 hours and they would follow-up by phone.

Five days passed without any word from Apple, nor any update on the repair status on the tech support website. I finally called Apple’s tech support line; they contacted the Stanford store who claimed that they had tried to contact me a few days earlier for authorization to send out the computer for repair. Funny, that; I’d given them my mobile phone number (verifiably correct on the receipt I received from them) and at no point did I miss a call or get a voicemail from the store.

Anyway with my authorization they sent the MacBook out to Memphis (if the FedEx tracking information is to be believed) for repairs, which were completed last weekend. The computer was shipped back to Stanford which received it on Monday. I phoned them and was told the computer was being “processed” and they would call me when it was ready.

Two days later and no phone call. I called up the Stanford store, inquired, and sure enough, the computer is ready to be picked up.

For a company that now makes phones, you’d think they would understand how to make phone calls.

It doesn’t take a $300M opening ceremony to bring the world together

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

I’ll wager that Matt Harding‘s “Dancing” videos (also available in low-bandwidth and on Vimeo) have done as much to foster international goodwill as this year’s overhyped, overcommercialized Olympic Games.

I’ve known about Where The Hell Is Matt? for a while now, watched the video(s) many times, and yet it never fails to bring a tear or two to my eyes. I think the video speaks for itself far better than any hyperbole that I might try to add, so I’ll only say that if one geek doing his funny little dance is enough to bring a bit of the world a bit closer together, then maybe there’s still hope for us all.

Parcel smashing: no longer a UPS exclusive

Monday, August 11th, 2008

I ordered a Milwaukee chop saw from Amazon.com last week for some fabrication I need to do at the shop. (Following my delight with the new drill press, I’ve resolved to buy some proper shop tools rather than improvising with cheaper electric hand tools.) I needed the tool for this weekend and was happy to see them offering $3.95 1-day shipping by FedEx—an amazing price for shipping a large 50-pound box.

The chop saw arrived on time as promised, but I didn’t get around to taking it out of the box until yesterday, whereupon I found “a little” damage had occurred in shipping: the main arm of the shop saw had completely sheared though. Most impressive since the box it came in showed relatively little sign of damage.

Luckily Amazon’s return/exchange process is about as easy and painless as they get, but this setback does further delay my reassembling my Spec Miata’s engine for the next race…

No more hay bales!

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

Replaced the “header” images at the top of the pages with some photos I took in and around the Monterey Bay Aquarium today. The images change randomly so don’t be alarmed if you get a different image each time. Once I get my MacBook back from the Apple repair people, I’ll have access to all the other photos in my library and hopefully find a few that will work as header images.

WordPress now live

Friday, August 8th, 2008

The short bit of testing I did was enough to convince me that switching vtluu.net to WordPress would be a good thing. So now I have. Bear with me while I get everything fleshed out a built up…