August 2004

Blogger: still a piece of shit sometimes

It figures that, on the day before the end of the Olympics, Blogger would decide to throw errors at me when I try to publish new entries to DFL. Blogger has gotten a lot better in the last year, but sometimes it falls back into old habits: it breaks, it doesn’t tell you what’s wrong, and it takes forever to resolve it. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this downtime takes until after the Olympics are over to be resolved.

I’d forgotten just how upset I used to get when Blogger went down. I moved this blog and The Map Room to Movable Type for a reason. I really, really, really don’t like it when a service goes down and I don’t know what happened or how long it will take to be fixed. I have enough points of failure as it is, with my ISP’s DNS server constantly going down and my web server constantly rebooting — even a more reliable Blogger is, as it turns out, still not reliable enough, especially for time-sensitive material such as DFL.

Update 11:57 PM: Still can’t publish.

Update 7/29 8:44 AM: It’s back. As usual, it’s better to sleep on it and let the problem get solved than hyperventilate in front of the computer — and my six or seven readers. mcwetboy

I’ve started one of those thingies. I will use it to power a link sideblog and will integrate it into the sidebar sooner or later; I’ll need to run a cron job to wget the file to do that, so I’ll need to learn how. In the meantime you can click on it right now, and there are RSS feeds for the whole thing and for individual topics (and combinations of topics, if you can believe it). This is extremely easy to use, and ideal for links-only blogging.

B.Mac closes Ottawa store


B.Mac seems to have closed its Ottawa store. As I noted in the thread, they’ve been reducing their hours throughout the summer. I don’t think they’d been getting new stock in, either. But at no point did anyone suggest anything was up until the doors were closed; me, I’d thought they were being suicidally dumb to reduce their hours to the point where no one who was gainfully employed could visit the store. In hindsight, the decision had already been made.

This is a real pity, because it was hands-down the best Mac reseller in the Ottawa area. (I suppose I could wish really hard for an Apple Store.)

More entries below »

Eggs starting to hatch

Three corn snakes — a normal and two anerythristics — have hatched so far; we found them yesterday morning. There are still two or three apparently viable corn snake eggs that have yet to pip, as well as the black pine snake eggs. Anyone’s guess as to whether any more baby snakes are to come.

Meanwhile, Florence’s leucistic Texas rat snake has begun to lay eggs. There was breeding activity earlier this year, but it’s by no means certain that these eggs are fertile. And one of her corn snakes may yet double-clutch.

Fertility’s been lousy this year, but it doesn’t mean that egg-laying is over yet.


Announcing a new project of mine, that will last for the duration of the Olympics: DFL, a blog that celebrates last-place finishes at the 2004 Olympics. (I don’t need to tell you what DFL stands for, do I? I should talk; I only found out this afternoon.) Anyway, hope you enjoy it.

Florence switches


Say hello to Florence and her new 15-inch PowerBook (which is, I must jealously admit, an amazing computer).

Florence with her new 15-inch PowerBook G4

(Apologies for the Dell mousepad polluting the photo; optical meeces don’t work well on glass tabletops.)

The nonexistent Apple II-to-Macintosh upgrade path


The Art of the Parlay: John Gruber shows once again why he’s worth every penny of the “Daring Fireball” membership fee. (Having said that, where’s my blasted T-shirt, hey?)

In this long article, he argues that the Macintosh’s marginal market share was not because Apple refused to licence the OS to other computer manufacturers, but rather because Apple didn’t provide an upgrade path for its enormous Apple II user base — in other words, Apple didn’t leverage its existing marketshare but instead essentially started from scratch. To move to the Mac, Apple II users had to leave all their hardware, peripherals and software behind — whereas MS-DOS users were able to migrate to Windows “slowly and incrementally.” Had Apple done otherwise, Gruber argues, the Mac might have been more successful in a marketshare sense, but less revolutionary. (Imagine if there had been a successor to the Apple IIgs.)

Now, Gruber’s article struck a chord with me because it echoes my family’s experience. In the mid-1980s we each had an Apple II+ or a IIe. By the late 1980s we each had an Apple IIgs. By the early 1990s we each had a 386- or 486-class PC. What happened? Without a post-IIgs upgrade path, switching to a PC was no more onerous than switching to a Mac, and it was less expensive. I imagine that a lot of Apple’s customers were lost this way. In the end, my father and his brothers were pissed at Apple for killing the Apple II line, and when you talk to them about it today, they’re still mad at them for it. There is a reason why I’m the only Mac user in my family!

Some Arrogant Worms stuff

Some quick notes on our favourite musical comedy act, the Arrogant Worms:

  1. Have I mentioned that I think that their latest album, Toast, is their strongest in years? I didn’t think much of Idiot Road, and Gift Wrapped and Semi-Conducted didn’t have much in the way of new material, so I’m glad to see them back in form. Also, their live stuff is always much more fun to listen to.
  2. The DVD of their televised concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, with, natch, orchestrated versions of their ditties — it was televised on Bravo a couple of years ago and it’s the basis of Semi-Conductedis now available. Our copy arrived earlier this week. The DVD seems a little rough around the edges, a little unfinished, but, like their concerts, is plenty fun watching.
  3. If you’re a fan, too (say, you’ve arrived at this blog entry via Google), join us on the Arrogant Worms tribe, won’t you?

John Armstrong

Model railroad author and layout designer John Armstrong, whose classic Track Planning for Realistic Operation left me in awe when I read it earlier this year, died last week, the Model Railroader web site reports. Armstrong, who was in his eighties, has been an icon for decades; the waiting list for his layout designs — which were always great fun to read about — was, from what I’ve heard, quite substantial.

iPod decontenting

The online documentation was contradictory at the outset, so it took us a few days to figure it out, but the new iPods have been “decontented” (see below): the low-end model, now 20 GB, has always lacked a dock, remote and case; but the 40-GB iPod now only comes with a dock, and not a remote or case.

Presumably, removing the remote and case from the US$399 model was one of the ways for Apple to cut prices without cutting profits overmuch. I imagine that their market research suggested that if they had to remove accessories, the remote and case would have been missed more than the dock. (That would be my sentiment, but I don’t presume that my preferences are somehow indicative of the whole, unlike many commentators.)

“Decontenting” is an apparently common practice of the auto industry: increase profits by removing standard features and making them extras, rather than raising the sticker price. (See the bottom of this page.) It’s best, of course, if it’s a feature that the customer won’t miss overmuch — i.e., the cost of including it outweights the benefit derived from including it — otherwise there’s a general hue and cry.

A snake update

  1. We sold the last of the 2002 corn snakes yesterday: a male who didn’t want to eat frozen/thawed mice for the first six months of his life, but has since come on like gangbusters; he’s small as a result of that, and the fact that Pretzel is his mother (she’s kind of small herself).
  2. It looks like the corn snake born earlier this year has a kink in his spine. Drat. I thought he looked a little misshapen at that. Anyone want a slightly deformed baby corn snake that is nevertheless eating just fine?
  3. Three clutches in the incubator that are due to hatch in the next couple of weeks, but none of them are looking good. At this stage I’ll be surprised if anything hatches at all (it’s always good to keep your expectations low, but still). Not a good year.

A cat update

“Goober” seems to be the name that is settling upon our new arrival; we’ve bounced it and a few other ideas off other people and “Goober” gets the best reaction. He still has a head full of phlegm and a runny nose — he’s getting antibiotics as a result — so the name is not exactly inappropriate at the moment.

A bit of excitement earlier this week as he started shitting in inconvenient places, but, since we moved one of the litter boxes to the bathroom and the food dishes to the kitchen, based on suggestions from the Googling around we did on the subject, wayward shitting has not reoccurred.

He’s also got a voracious appetite and is just as pathetic a moocher as Maya is.

The daddy longlegs railway

It didn’t operate for long (1896-1900), but the Brighton Electric Railway is hands down the weirdest interurban railway that ever existed: the tracks — two of them, 36½-inch gauge — were designed to be under water — 15 feet of it! — at high tide, and the trains ran on 23-foot-high stilts. Via Jerry Kindall.

An odd link correction request from PalmOne

Got an unusual e-mail the other day from a Cooper Marcus at PalmOne — the hardware successor to Palm — notifying me (redundantly) of recent corporate changes (Palm to PalmOne, which has also acquired Handspring) and would I mind updating my links to the Palm, Palm Store and Handspring sites to the new URLs? He cited a link from this site, dated May 2002.

You know, this is something that could be done a lot more efficiently at their end by simply forwarding to the new URLs: a lot less labour intensive than e-mailing everyone who ever linked to them. There’s also this feeling I have that links in old blog entries should be allowed to expire, or at least be accurate for the time: after three years and something like 1,600 entries, I don’t think I like the precedent of having to maintain and update links for all time. So phooey.

Clearly an exercise in supporting the new corporate branding — he also asked that the new name (“PalmOne”) be used, to which I say “fine”. But by asking everyone to update their links instead of forwarding them themselves, they might also be trying a bit of search engine optimization, by boosting the new pages’ ranking past the old pages. Years of the old Palm and Handspring names, with thousands of instances of relevant keywords linking to the old URLs, may well represent a very significant obstacle to overcome.

If they’re trying to kill “Palm” as an identifier, they’ll have their work cut out for them. Most of the people I talk to don’t understand “PDA” or “handheld”; they understand “Palm” or even — quelle horreur — “Palm Pilot.” And didn’t I see a trailer for Little Black Book, which features a Tungsten C, in which the characters refer to the gadget as a “Palm”?