Bill Eccles: October 2009 Archives

Number 3: M&M’s actually stands for “Mars & Murrie’s,” the last names of the candy’s founders, Forrest Mars Sr. & William F. R. Murrie. (Now you know.)

See mental_floss for more tasty facts.

There’s no doubt that I like my AppleTV. But note that I said “like” and not “love.” It’s not the same kind of game-changing product that the iPhone or iMac are. Fortunately, it just got a minor rev which makes it more likable.

For example, the new main menu is incredibly improved. This one change alone is worth the price of admission. I still can’t believe that the previous version was something that Apple actually let go out the door. The main menu was on the left, so selecting something was a matter of pressing up/down until you get to the main item, using right to access the right submenu, then using up/down again to highlight the right item. Then you used the play/select button to select it. All rather unwieldy.

Now, it’s just like it should be. Left/right to select the main menu, up/down to select the submenu item, and play/pause to choose it. Hmm… just like the Sony PSP, which got it right first. (Somebody call the doctor! He’s going off the deep end!)

Internet Radio… Yay! Favorites for Internet Radio! Even better!

Otherwise… it’s pretty similar to what it used to be like, and really should only be called “AppleTV 2.5”. But you know what? For a hobby, it’s pretty good.

Now, what could be improved? More screenscaver show styles. And it still doesn’t show a partially-watched indicator (the half-filled circle) for shows that are partially-watched. (That one seems like a no-brainer to me.)

I’ve heard of these things, but am left wondering how come nobody’s outfitted any of them with GPS and remote weather stations.

(More at the Wikipedia entry.)

I love what Daniel Lyons (writing as Fake Steve Jobs) writes about Obama and his marketing strategy in his latest entry.

Here’s the money quote:

…in fact if we could we would even keep products secret after we started selling them, because as everyone knows the less you say about your product the more people want it, and when they don’t know anything about the product they are free to project all their wildest hopes and dreams onto that product, and if you don’t believe me just ask my good friend Barack Obama because this is exactly the strategy he used when he was running for president and guess what, it totally works.

And we still don’t know what we’re getting…

Um, yeah. Because Apple always does what marketing studies say do.

Some questions spring to mind.

Why does Apple need to do anything? What war is going on that Apple needs to win? Isn’t 14% of a bajillion dollar market enough?

Does Apple really want netbook customers, the kind of customer that appreciates cheap crap that doesn’t do any job particularly well? Probably not. Apple’s not in the business of selling Smarts or Chevys. They’re in the business of selling Mercedes or BMWs to people who appreciate those brands for what they are, and are willing to pay for it.

This kind of marketing research that gives direction to Apple is all about pageviews, I’m convinced.

And if You Liked That One...

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…try this one, too:

Then go visit his YouTube channel for other cool remixes.

The family just got a mastiff.

For the record, he’s an English Mastiff, and his name’s Sir Humphrey of Laurel Mastiffs. We’ll just call him Humphrey, of course.

At the moment, he’s all of 17lbs., but since his dad is about 220lbs 270lbs now and his mom’s about 175lbs, we’re not expecting the 17lb figure to hold for very long.

We got him from Laurel Mastiffs just to the south of Buffalo, NY, and the trip unto itself was an adventure with the rain that we had (both ways). Fortunately, we had a very nice visit at Laura’s and the choice was pretty obvious. He’s “Olive Boy” in the online gallery.

Cute, huh?

Yeah, heartwarming, actually. Friendly as heck, playful, and apparently smart, too, though I haven’t had a chance to test that out yet as he can’t quite reach a keyboard yet.

Anyway, we’re off on this adventure that is being a mastiff family, and we’re looking forward to it.

Whether you agree with Carl Sagan’s science or not, this is some incredible work.

I just couldn’t resist reblogging this. It’s just so right in so many ways.

(Thanks, blonde sagacity!)

Autogenerated News Fail

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Unfortunately, in spite of Google’s Allknowingness®, occasionally even teh Goog gets it wrong.

Really wrong.

From my sister’s iGoogle page today:

cnn.jpg

Ain't This the Truth...

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ObamaFox.jpg

Hey, Apple! Servers Need Mice, Too!

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The astonishing deal that is the Mac mini Server ($999 gets you $499 worth of software and $699 worth of hardware) is somewhat incomplete. On the build to order page for the mini Server, you’re not offered any option for a mouse… or keyboard… or display.

Seems like an obvious miss, to me.

A while back, one of my friends wrote in his Facebook status that he was having a hard time overcoming his cultural programming which poo-poos the use of “I” and “Jesus” in the same sentence. A few of his friends replied with smart-aleck comments that had something to do with a Mexican.

Yeah, I was one of those smart-alecks. But I also knew exactly what he meant.

His mother, a friend of mine as well, took a bit of umbrage at the update. Her reply, which made a lot of sense, essentially said, “Screw talking. Actions are more powerful than words. (And I thought I taught you better.)” She’s right, of course.

But I still identified with his initial comment.

Because in spite of the fact that over 75% of the population of this country calls itself “Christian,” many Christians, for some reason, get particularly uncomfortable when we try to talk about Jesus (not the Mexican), even to each other. Certainly, as she correctly pointed out, there are plenty of people who say “I am Christian” but aren’t really. So that’s a part of the 75% which just won’t quite get it. But what about talking about Jesus is particularly difficult, even among believers?

Quite frankly, I really don’t know. I am still trying to understand that myself.

I’ll let you know if I figure it out, but I wouldn’t hold your breath if I were you.

It took me quite a while to figure this one out, but my opinion was solidified when I read that Chief Poet to the Obama Administration Garrison Keillor thinks that Conservatives are crying in envy and through sour grapes over the Anointed One’s election. Maybe, but the real reason we’re unhappy with him is not because of who he isn’t—i.e., he’s not John McCain—but because of who he is, a liberal through and through whose supposed values run contrary to their own beliefs.

Liberals, on the other hand, seem to think they like Obama because of who he is, but really elected him because of who he isn’t—namely, George W. Bush. Consider his campaign slogans, “Hope” and “Change,” and you’ll see that fully half of his slogan is devoted to who he isn’t. The other half is very difficult to implement with policy, as our country is discovering the hard way.

Strangely, I find myself in agreement with the majority of Keillor’s piece. In it, he essentially tells Conservatives to get off Rush’s crazy-wagon and get our house in order. That’s so that when 2012 arrives, we’ve got someone who supports our values and will win because of who he or she is… and not because of who he or she isn’t.

And that will be better for the country as a whole, no matter your political leanings.

These Kids Argue... Differently

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Tonight, the two boys were arguing about who really needed that particular piece of Lego. It started to get ugly when one of the boys said quietly to the other, “This is not the Lego piece you need.” He accompanied his statement with a clockwise hand wave.

The other responded, equally as quietly, with a “This is the piece of Lego that I need.” Also with the hand wave.

And thus ended the argument, with laughter.

T. and I just looked at each other and shook our heads knowingly, wondering if “Wax on, wax off” might apply here, too.

These are the offspring you are rearing…

droids.jpg

As the husband of a pediatrician whose records are all electronic, catastrophic data loss—an “epic fail”—like the kind that Microsoft/Danger and T-Mobile are dealing with is the kind of thing that wakes me up in the middle of the night.

“To any American who isn’t happy about our president having won the Nobel Peace Prize: There is something wrong with you.”

To any American who is happy that our president won the Nobel Peace Prize, or, more to the point, thinks he earned or deserved it:

You should be embarrassed that the committee devalued the Prize so drastically.

Apparently, winning merely takes reading clever campaign slogans, holding a job for 143 days as a caster of votes or 12 days as a winner of votes, or promising change but delivering nothing yet.

If there was one Nobel Laureate who built a world which gave life to the promise of our founding documents, he is Martin Luther King, Jr., and no other American, before or since, earned and deserved it as he did.

And Barak Obama is no Dr. King.

launchd Vagaries

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A few evenings ago, I was the most frustrated person on the face of the planet. I can tell you this with some assurance because I have a meter on my Dashboard that tells me so. It measures my typing pace and the frequency of command line errors and... I digress.

The root cause of my frustrations was a file named #org.clamav.freshclam.plist# (whose origins I'm still unclear on, though I assume it's a leftover emacs temporary file or something). Every time the system booted, launchd tried to load that plist file, located in the directory /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/, and the net result was that postfix wouldn't start because amavisd wouldn't start. Why amavisd wouldn't start, I still don't know, because it seems to me it shouldn't depend on freshclam to run. But I couldn't tell what was going on by looking at any of the logs because there is not enough information shown.

And therein lies the heart of the matter: launchd, though it doesn't operate quite silently, doesn't have a debug mode. Furthermore, even in normal operation, it doesn't quite give enough information to make for productive bug hunting. I thought of these problems after the frustration level quieted down the following morning when I figured out what was going on.

First, What was going on?

What I knew was that postfix wasn't launching and neither was amavisd. I also knew from these entries in the system log

Oct 8 19:26:03 shr-g5 org.clamav.freshclam[3087]: ERROR: Incorrect argument format for option <strike>-checks (</strike>c) Oct 8 19:26:03 shr-g5 org.clamav.freshclam[3087]: ERROR: Can't parse command line options Oct 8 19:26:03 shr-g5 com.apple.launchd[1] (org.clamav.freshclam[3087]): Exited with exit code: 1 Otc 8 19:26:03 shr-g5 com.apple.launchd[1] (org.clamav.freshclam): Throttling respawn: Will start in 10 seconds that there was a problem with the file /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/org.clamav.freshclam.plist (or so I thought). I have mentioned this problem before, as well as the fix.

Great! I know how to fix that! So, armed with the confidence similar to that elicited by carrying a howitzer into a rock/paper/scissors match, I edited the file at fault because I had indeed messed around in Server Admin and knew that SA rewrites that file and screws it up again.

So I was perplexed when I kept seeing these errors over and over and over again. Stranger still, I could do a

sudo launchctl unload org.clamav.freshclam.plist followed by a sudo launchctl load org.clamav.freshclam.plist and freshclam was happy! I could then manually launch amavisd and postfix and life was good, until I rebooted and the same frickin' problem reappeared.

And that left me extremely frustrated, even more so than usual because I had a rented Bobcat-style digger sitting out in the driveway consuming my money without being productive for me at all. Eventually, I threw in the towel and started digging, which turns out to be very therapeutic.

[The paragraph that belongs here was removed because you really don't want to hear me gripe about restoring a MacOS X Server box from a Time Machine backup and all of the problems that that process entails. I've mentioned that before. Suffice it to say, I did so, it worked, but the problem remained.]

The following morning, again, with the digger outside consuming money at an alarming rate, I gave myself until 9am to figure out the problem. After that, my users, a.k.a. family, would have to live without E-mail until the digger was returned around 5pm. Fortunately, I did a ls without my usual -la and saw the aforementioned #'d file. I guessed that it was the cause of all my troubles, moved it out of the way, and the machine booted happily with no launchd errors.

So that leads me to the second part of my treatise, namely, What would have made this experience much less frustrating?

I have three suggestions. The first is that launchd should report the path to and name of the file it's parsing so that I would have seen immediately where the suspect file is. This information is especially important as there are several locations that launchd looks for plist files.

The second is that lauchd should tell me what command it tried that caused the problem. That's just good debugging practice.

Resulting logs would look like this in Bill's World:

Oct 8 19:26:03 shr-g5 org.clamav.freshclam[3087]: ERROR: While processing '/System/Library/LaunchDaemons/#org.clamav.freshclam.plist#' Oct 8 19:26:03 shr-g5 org.clamav.freshclam[3087]: ERROR: Issued command '/usr/bin/freshclam (rest of options from plist file here)' Oct 8 19:26:03 shr-g5 org.clamav.freshclam[3087]: ERROR: Incorrect argument format for option <strike>-checks (</strike>c) Oct 8 19:26:03 shr-g5 org.clamav.freshclam[3087]: ERROR: Can't parse command line options Oct 8 19:26:03 shr-g5 com.apple.launchd[1] (org.clamav.freshclam[3087]): Exited with exit code: 1

The third thing I'd like to see is more info output by launchctl list. As it is, it doesn't show any info about what's loaded except what the base name of the plist file is. No information about the issued command, no information about the path to the plist file, names of plist files which were tried and found wanting, nothing else is available that would have made this debugging process any easier. And that would be helpful, too.

launchd is a really cool new thing, but it lacks some of the polish and usability features that the more mature things have in place already. These are my suggestions which, I think, will help improve launchd and make it a cool, mature thing.

In my original posting, I gripe that Time Capsule makes a royal mess of things for a MacOS X Server box. And it does, still, unless you do some system file editing.

But I’ve had a few thoughts since then, especially since I just went through this whole scenario again last night. This time, I was better prepared, though, as the system file editing I describe in that article saved my bacon.

Or my users’ IMAP data. Bacon, IMAP data… if only IMAP data tasted as good… mmm… bacon…

Sorry. Back to reality.

Apple has chosen to keep several /var directories out of the Time Machine backups because they change rapidly, there’s a lot of data, and it would fill up the backup disk PDQ. Wisely, they also include some preferences in the exclusions file to take care of this little problem, namely the keys “PathsExcluded”, “ContentsExcluded”, and “FileContentsExcluded”.

Entire directories can be excluded with the first, the contents of directories can be excluded with the second (i.e., it preserves the top directory structure, but doesn’t backup any files or subdirectories), and the third backs up all of the subdirectory structures, but still no files. Googing these three terms yields nothing, so I assume I have a correct understanding of what they do.

If I do understand these correctly, then there’s a fourth kind that needs to be created, namely something which means “backup only the file permissions, names, ACLs, etc., but don’t backup the data in the files.” This key would allow the /var/log directory backup to maintain zero-length backup files (hence, they never change) but allow not-so-smart software which doesn’t/can’t create its own logfiles when missing (Apache, I’m lookin’ at you) to use them when restored from backup.

Maybe one of these keys means exactly that, but I’ll be darned if I know which one, and, like I said, there doesn’t seem to be any documentation on it.

Article here.

Hey! That’s a new slogan I can use!

Bill’s Words: Three years running and still endorsement free!

Dammit.

(Three years as of this month, actually. The first real entry was Speechless on October 4, 2006.)

xkcd - A Webcomic - RPS

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There’s now Coke on my monitor, I laughed so hard. For all you HP users out there…

Sure, I know Microsoft or Verizon software developers have a sense of humor, but this kind of thing is what sets Apple developers apart.