Bill Eccles: July 2008 Archives

Eccles’ First Maxim of Mountain Biking:

You can’t ride mostly around a tree.

Proof:

IMG_2480.JPG

(Minor damage to me and the bike. Silly tree just jumped right out in front of me. The actual incident occurred in May of 2006, and the maxim was documented shortly thereafter. Rigorous research was conducted over next two years. First publication of the maxim was in July, 2008.)

That is, if you sign up for, say, MobileMe and it asks you if you want to delete all the items off your calendar and you figure, “That’s OK. I’ll just recreate them from Entourage,” and you have Entourage/iCal syncing turned on…

…they’ll be gone from Entourage faster than you can say, “Oh, frick.”

A Billboard

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I’m a little overweight right now, thanks to the events of the past year-and-a-half. So right now, I look like a really awesome billboard when I ride my bike! (Pun intended, of course.)

0518081121d.jpg DSC01966.jpg TourDeCure_1.jpg TourDeCure_2.jpg

See?

And when you put a bike under me… a little, 18lb bike… it practically disappears!

(As Terry pointed out to me, being 6’6” tall means that any bike under me is just going to disappear. Good point!)

By the way, PhyLogic is a company that specializes in medical billing and is owned by my best friend (other than Terry, of course). Markus is also a philanthropist at heart, and he sponsors a group of us who ride in various charity events, including the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure. It’s his company’s name emblazoned across all parts of my anatomy, and I wear those uniforms with pride.

Facebook is addictive, some would say, like crack is supposed to be addictive, a one-hit addiction. Kinda’ like that first Britney Spears (yes, I listen to bubblegum pop, too) song you heard. It kept bouncing around in your head in spite of your best efforts to clear it out.

But what’s it really more like? I think it’s really more like collecting trading cards—baseball cards for the rest of us. I mean, it’s really cool that I’ve now “connected with” a bunch of friends that I knew from when I was (and still am?) growing up. I don’t correspond with them all—few of them, in fact. That would be like trying to have about a hundred conversations simultaneously, that that just ain’t gonna’ happen.

So I continue to look for people I knew once upon a time and try to reconnect, even if it’s just minimally, with them. It reaffirms my roots. It reminds me of where I came from. And it is supremely awesome to see what these people are up to in their current lives.

The world is full of cool people. And I am pleased to say that I know some of ‘em.

Basic Meteorology and Math FAIL

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BasicMeteorologyFail.png

The headline writer apparently failed science class—nailed English Lit, though, I’m sure.

Unfortunately, there will now be a zillion people wandering around thinking that aluminum airplanes somehow rust.

ScienceHeadlineFail.png

Because there’s hope.

With the iPhone, there’s the hope that if something stinks about the user experience or that if there’s a bug then there’s a reasonable chance it will be fixed.

With every other phone I’ve ever had, I never got that warm fuzzy that Motorola gave a damn about upgrading the firmware to fix a bug, much less improve the user experience. And don’t even get me started on Verizon, who insist on maintaining their own user experience. With that many phones in your lineup, who’s got that kind of time and money?

iPhone iPhinesse

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Finesse. See definition 1.

Some companies haz gots it. Others… don’t.

iPhone Gear.pngApple has it, and it is in some of the subtleties of the iPhone that it’s obvious that they do. For example, when connecting to the internet using Edge, the activity gear spins at about 10rpm. When connecting to the internet using 3G, it spins at about 60rpm. Since 3G is faster (not by 6x, but still, faster) than Edge, it makes sense.

Why bother? Does it make any difference whatsoever?

No, except that it’s just right that it does that.

When it’s a “><”, of course!

Here’s the text of the original function in a standard html file. It’s properly enclosed in tags, and other parts of the script work, so don’t get your panties in a wad.

      function getArgs() {

      var args = new Object();
      var query = location.search.substring(1);
      var pairs = query.split("&");
      for(var i = 0; i < pairs.length; i++)
      {
      var pos = pairs[i].indexOf('=');
      if(pos == -1) continue;
      var argname = pairs[i].substring(0,pos)
      var value = pairs[i].substring(pos+1)
      args[argname] = unescape(value)
      }

      return args;
      }

This code is part of a custom app that my company uses, so I won’t publish the whole thing. (It’s available upon request—let me know and they’ll send it to you.) But suffice it to say that this code can be pretty easily found on the web, too. Just Google “getargs() javascript” and you can find numerous sources for it.

As best I can tell, Safari refuses to execute this code, instead returning a null value or something to the caller. When I look into the Web Inspector window to see what’s going on (because I’m curious like that), this is what I see:

Odd GTLT Comparator.jpg

Look at line 121 carefully. That’s an odd comparator, isn’t it?

I saved the original source of that page and put it onto my machine, which has only the proper “<” comparator in it, and verified that the Web Inspector window does indeed show me the odd “><” comparator, highlighted appropriately as if it were comparing i to < pairs.length.

I sent off a bug report to Apple using Safari’s feedback. But I’m not holding my breath.

Article here.

Another take:

These guys sell a service (you pay by listening to an ad) that allows you to bypass the possibility of your party’s picking up the phone and sends you straight to their voicemail so—now get this—you don’t have to talk to them. Anybody with half a brain (or a phone that shows missed calls or lack thereof) will realize that’s what happened.

It’s almost like, oh, I don’t know, writing an E-mail or writing a letter.

Talk about seriously passive-aggressive.

A Lot Easier

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Now that I installed the iPhone plugin on the server, it is a lot easier to post to Movable Type.

Article here.

And by “F-bomb,” I mean “frick,” of course.

It was only a matter of time, and that time is now.

I just used my VPN on my iPhone to connect to the house, and I just installed Mocha VNC Lite and actually used a Macintosh at home.

Holy frick.

Now I can do tech support for Terry’s office from anywhere that I have a 3G connection. And that’s anywhere I usually hang out.

Good golly.

Posted from an iphone

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It is possible to post from an iPhone, but it ain’t easy…

Is This a Problem?

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Is it a problem when NAVTEQ, provider of mapping data to most manufacturers of navigation systems, displays a map that looks like this on their own site?

navteq.jpg

Technically correct, I know… but still…

Holy *!&#.

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And here, folks, I actually dropped the F-bomb.

OK, I’ll spare you the boring details on why and how I have an iPhone. I’m sure there are lots of other entertaining blogs out there which are relating their iPhone purchase experiences of today in gory, much more entertaining detail than I could possibly provide. Instead, I’m going to tell you my “Holy *!&#” moment. jottapp.jpg I downloaded several free apps. One of them is the Jott app from Jott which installed seamlessly and quickly. I haven’t mentioned Jott before because I am, quite frankly, afraid of black magic, and that’s how Jott works. Or at least that’s the best guess I have, anyway.

I tapped the icon and it presented me with a very simple recording deck-like interface, pictured over there. There are lists of various types to look at. Once I logged in to my Jott account, they were populated with my notes and to-do’s and that kind of stuff.

But I didn’t really know what to do with the app. So I just did what it said. I tapped the screen anywhere, said “Make a Jott list,” and tapped again. I thought nothing more of it, and nothing more came of it. I didn’t get any notification. I didn’t hear any beeps. I didn’t get any idea that it had a clue what I’d just done. But it dutifully did something with it, but didn’t tell me what it was up to.

I was just playing with my iPhone again a couple of hours later and I looked in my Jott notes.

Holy *!&#.

There it is. “Make a Jott list.” Plain as day.

How did it get there? I have no idea.

PFM, I say. PFM.

(Have an iPhone 2.0? Go get Jott. And get a Jott account. It’s free, and it’s absolutely incredibly useful.)

NPR: Gas is the New Curfew

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Article here.

In response to an NPR piece I heard today in which the author said that he had to curtail his dating activities because driving all over California to make dates is just too expensive because of high gas prices, I wrote this:

As in any marriage, there are the good times, and there are the bad times. My wife and I are enduring “the bad times” right now, and we’re working very, very hard on surviving them and rebuilding our marriage from the ground up. And because of that, we’re essentially dating again.

Of course, we’ve had traditional dates, the kind where you hop in the car and drive to dinner. But more recently, they’ve taken a much less mechanized, fuel-inflamed turn. Enter: bicycles.

As winter ended, she decided that she was going to begin commuting by bike to work to save gas money, so she did the research and purchased herself a very nice bicycle. Her commute is about 15 miles each way through the rolling (and sometimes steep hills) of Connecticut. Pretty soon, she was biking to work as often as possible and felt ready to go out on her bike with me.

Already an avid cyclist, I regularly ride almost 100 miles per week as a diversion from life’s annoyances and in pursuit of “health,” whatever that is. But I’d never ridden my bicycle with my wife. That first ride was very short and, well, the word probably is “tense” for both of us as we discovered our limits. There were the physical limits, of course, but there were the mental, emotional limits. Could we joke with each other? (Yes.) Complement, or even criticize, each other on our riding technique or the like? (Yes.) Could we talk about the serious things of a relationship on a ride? (Yes.) Could we even talk over the huffing and puffing? (Well, sometimes.)

There have been other rides since that first ride. I’ve started riding to work every now and then (23 miles each way, also steep at times). And, yes, we’ve talked, we’ve learned, we’ve enjoyed each other’s company. We’ve found “health.” And we’ve saved on gas, too.

Though it’s going to take me another 240+ rides and her another 400+ rides to pay for the bikes, the high price of gas has been, for us, a welcome addition to our life together.

(But now that we’re riding, could we have cheap gas once again, please?)

I Just Don't Know What to Do!

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Does anybody get E-mails like this… and still think it’s for real?

Goodness, I hope not.

Sent: Thursday, July 10th, 2008
FROM: National Loyalty CashOut Promo (NLCOP).
CASH-OUT PLAZA, SUITE 1102A
PO BOX 42 PETERBOROUGH
PE3 8XH, UNITED KINGDOM.
Attn Winner,
This is a Re-Notification of your unclaimed winning which we ran on our
automated computer ballot today. Your E-mail has won for yourself a cash
prize of £915,810.00. Your e-mail address attached (ALLOCATED) to these
Lucky Numbers: 11 13 26 34 44 48 and a Bonus Number: 2 was among the ten
(10) selected winners and I’m delighted to say that you have been selected
to receive the Cash-Prize listed! Our computer has already allocated the
Award-winning numbers and yours is amongst these. Meanwhile, these Awards
MUST be claim before the two (2) weeks deadline or your Award will be
returned as Unclaimed and eventually be reabsorbed into our next
sweepstakes.
To claim your Award, simply contact our Remittance Agent now with these
details written below and answer our trivia questions under correctly:
————————————————-
MR.GARVIN WALLACE
(Remittance Dept)
NLCOP United Kingdom
Email: wallacemailling@gmail.com
Phone Number: +44 704 572 2133
————————————————-
PLEASE FILL CORRECTELY FOR PAYMENT
1)  MR./MS. :
2)  Family Name (Last Name/Surname):
3)  Given Name (First Name/Additional Names):
4)  Country of Birth:
5)  Country of Citizenship:
6)  Complete mailing address:
7)  City/State:
8)  Telephone Number:
This address does not receive mail, so please do not reply to this email
as any reply will not be read by a real person but a machine. If you have
any questions, please email our Remittance Agent (Mr. Wallace) at
wallacemailling@gmail.com
There’s nothing more to do. Your Award has already been reserved for you,
just contact Mr. Wallace and claim it. Congratulations
Sincerely,
Carstensen A. Attwood (Mrs.)
(Web-Email Support)
National Loyalty CashOut Company.

I love MacOS X.

Except when I don’t.

Like when I’m looking at the disks on my MacOS X Server 10.5.4 machine and see this:

HowBig.png

Though it’s nice to know how big the drive is, the more important question is How much space is left? And most of that info has been obliterated in favor of ellipses.

I’ve seen it done before, though I don’t know where, where two lines are used to show enough information about an item.

But now, when I went to look at the desktop, this is what I saw:

OhISee.png

Did I do something?! What happened here?

Argh.

Oh, wait, I see it now. Previously the second number, the free space, was five digits (and a radix). Now it’s only four, so it fits.

Rounding. Truncating. Something-ing. Anyway, Finder should not display the most useless part of the number (the digits after the radix) in favor of ellipses when rounding a bit would make it fit.

I have found MacOS X Server Update 10.5.4 to leave my PHP installation unbroken.

What does this mean?

As a public service, I decided to start announcing if an update to MacOS X Server breaks my PHP installation. Sometimes, Apple updates PHP as part of a MOSXS update without making it clear that they’re going to do so, and I’ve gotten cautious enough with applying updates that I now backup both my PHP binary as well as my PHP Apache module before applying an update. When I find that things remain unbroken, I’ll let you know. And if I find that it breaks something, I’ll let you know what broke.

Some hints

If you don’t want your PHP installation broken, backup the two important binaries, like this:

$ sudo cp /usr/libexec/apache2/libphp5.so /usr/libexec/apache2/libphp5.so.custom
$ sudo cp /usr/bin/php /usr/bin/php.custom

If an update breaks your PHP installation, you can simply revert to the .custom versions until you figure out how to make PHP work again with the latest PHP version.

For reference, here’s my PHP configuration:

PHP Version => 5.2.5

System => Darwin *redacted* 9.4.0 Darwin Kernel Version 9.4.0: Mon Jun  9 19:36:17 PDT 2008; root:xnu-1228.5.20~1/RELEASE_PPC Power Macintosh
Build Date => May 28 2008 22:11:02
Configure Command =>  './configure'  '--prefix=/usr' '--mandir=/usr/share/man' '--infodir=/usr/share/info' '--disable-dependency-tracking' '--with-apxs2=/usr/sbin/apxs' '--with-ldap=/usr' '--with-kerberos=/usr' '--enable-cli' '--with-zlib-dir=/usr' '--enable-trans-sid' '--with-xml' '--enable-exif' '--enable-ftp' '--enable-mbstring' '--enable-mbregex' '--enable-dbx' '--enable-sockets' '--with-iodbc=/usr' '--with-curl=/usr' '--with-config-file-path=/etc' '--sysconfdir=/private/etc' '--with-mysql-sock=/var/mysql' '--with-mysqli=/usr/bin/mysql_config' '--with-mysql=/usr' '--with-openssl' '--with-xmlrpc' '--with-xsl=/usr' '--without-pear' '--with-freetype-dir=/usr/local/lib' '--with-jpeg-dir=/usr/local/lib' '--with-png-dir=/usr/X11R6' '--with-xpm-dir=/usr/X11R6' '--with-gd' '--with-ttf' '--with-iconv=/usr/local/lib' '--enable-gd-imgstrttf' '--enable-gd-native-ttf'
Server API => Command Line Interface
Virtual Directory Support => disabled
Configuration File (php.ini) Path => /etc
Loaded Configuration File => /private/etc/php.ini
PHP API => 20041225
PHP Extension => 20060613
Zend Extension => 220060519
Debug Build => no
Thread Safety => disabled
Zend Memory Manager => enabled
IPv6 Support => enabled
Registered PHP Streams => php, file, data, http, ftp, compress.zlib, https, ftps  
Registered Stream Socket Transports => tcp, udp, unix, udg, ssl, sslv3, sslv2, tls
Registered Stream Filters => string.rot13, string.toupper, string.tolower, string.strip_tags, convert.*, consumed, convert.iconv.*, zlib.*

07-08-08_1059.jpg

I just can’t believe they let this one get through at the DMV. Maybe they’re not quite as hip as the folks in North Carolina. Or perhaps the owner’s name is Paul or something.

I like Markdown; it works very well. But it doesn’t have the ability to emphasize text with strikethroughs, which are a mainstay of modern conversation in blogs these days.

So I modified it. Watch this:

Here is a strikethrough.

See how easy that was? All I did was type a dash before and after the word “strikethrough,” and Markdown now makes that into a strikethrough.

To do this, all I did was modify the Markdown.pl code a bit. Here’s how you can do it, too.

Find Markdown.pl. For MoveableType users, it’s in mt/plugins/Markdown. Edit it with your favorite editor and go to line 1040. Make that block of code look like this by adding the last two or three lines (you can credit me if you want):

sub _DoItalicsAndBold {
    my $text = shift;

    # <strong> must go first:                                                                                                                                     
    $text =~ s{ (\*\*|__) (?=\S) (.+?[*_]*) (?<=\S) \1 }
        {<strong>$2</strong>}gsx;

    $text =~ s{ (\*|_) (?=\S) (.+?) (?<=\S) \1 }
        {<em>$2</em>}gsx;

    # These lines added by Bill Eccles, 2008-07-04
    $text =~ s{ (\s) (-) (?=\S) (.+?) (?<=\S) (-) }
    {$1<strike>$3</strike>}gsx;

    return $text;
}

Be forewarned that I’ve only tested it in very simple use (you’ve seen all the testing I’ve done, above) and that it might do unexpected things. But so far, so excellent good!

UPDATE: I wonder if this will make problem for people who-make-use of words-with hyphens-randomly scattered throughout their text… YES! AGH!

I’ll have to go work on that for a bit… back in a while.

UPDATE: OK, that problem is fixed (as you can see above). It does fail, however, with striking through hyphenated words, (Here’s an example-.) but that’s OK in my book. Just leave out the hyphen—it’d be lost in the strikethrough anyway.

On WALL•E

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(Some trailers to whet your appetite if you haven’t seen the movie yet. Go watch ‘em and then come back. I’ll wait.)

Wall•E is Pixar’s…

Best…

Movie…

Ever…

And, in fact, I dare say it’s the best movie I’ve ever seen. (According to my NetFlix homepage, I’ve rated 771… make that 772… movies. Scary, huh?) Aside from the fact that it is a technological tour de force, it is a beautiful romance between two machines with elements that will entertain every generation.

And I cried at the end.

But not because of the film. No, I left the job of crying like that up to the student who is working with Terry this summer. (She thought Wall•E was toast.) Instead, I had never heard my 10-year-old be so ecstatic about anything before in his life, and it was a tear of joy at witnessing his being so happy about something, and being able to be a part of it was a joy of parenting I had never experienced before.

And I loved every second of it.

Oh, and I liked the movie, too (in case you couldn’t tell).

Go ahead. Pull my chain.

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This evening, I heard what has to be one of the stupidest things I’ve heard on NPR (other than their hero worship of Obama, that is).

Article here.

Another take:

She’s 54.

Fifty.

Four.

And in related news, court battle is to decide who keeps the couple’s fountain of youth.

Article here.

Another take:

And in other news, I want a pony.

Let's Go Nuclear

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The electric car sucks. Oh, sure, it’s a great idea to move pollution out of the city center to wherever the electricity is being produced, but right now, we in the US suck so badly at getting power from one place to another and in extracting it from its source to make electricity that the whole idea of a plug-in hybrid is pretty damned wasteful.

So let’s go nuclear, and let’s do it right. Let’s put a pebble-bed nuclear reactor in every substation. Doing so would deliver clean, safe power efficiently.

On April 29, 1991, a professor of mine, Cliff Grigg, said, “The best energy solution for this country would be a self-contained nuclear reactor on every street corner.” Little did I know that his words were prophetic, although it’s now many years later and the place where this energy revolution is taking place is China, not the United States. As an article by Spencer Reiss for Wired Magazine states, the Chinese face a power crisis of immense proportion and are developing pebble bed reactor technology to solve it.

It’s in China that this development is occurring because the Chinese have recognized that pebble bed reactors represent an extraordinary advance in nuclear energy. They’re clean and safe, and they represent a huge potential source of electricity and hydrogen at a reasonable price. Because they’re small and self-contained, placement closer to the end user reduces transmission losses and power grid strain. In summary, they’re a nearly-perfect source of power.

Surprisingly, though, in spite of all of these benefits, only Westinghouse appears to be positioned to partner with the Chinese to bring this superb technology to the US.

We keep talking about fuel cells, too, but guess what? Unless you can make hydrogen cheaply, that’s not going to go anywhere. Enter pebble bed reactors with their potentially-significant hydrogen output. And transporting hydrogen? That’s alleviated because the production facility moves closer to the consumer as the reactors become more widely deployed.

John Ritch, director general of the World Nuclear Association and former U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency and other U.N. agencies, writes in The Washington Post:

In the current [2005] debate over the energy bill, one important factor is being all but ignored: A global renaissance in nuclear energy is gaining momentum, and it could have greater implications than any or all of the other proposed methods being discussed for dealing with our energy problems.

Every authoritative energy analysis points to an inescapable imperative: Humankind cannot conceivably achieve a global clean-energy revolution without a rapid expansion of nuclear power to generate electricity, produce hydrogen for tomorrow’s vehicles and drive seawater-desalination plants to meet a fast-emerging world water crisis.

In short, the world is going to have to “go nuclear,” as Reiss says.

And the US should be following right in China’s footsteps and should be doing it big. And until solar gets above its miniscule efficiency, and until wind farms gain greater acceptance, and until we recognize that there are very, very few things that we humans do that don’t impact the earth and that we’ll have to choose the least evil option, nuclear is the least evil option. So let’s do it!

Comments? Go ahead. Make my day.