Dating myself

First, a little background.


I’ll keep it quick.

Beth is a smart, 15 year old kid who has been using computers at home for most of those 15 years. When she was a little over one we bought an original iMac. ‘Twas the day after Thanksgiving (in 1998) and all through the store, folks were swinging mice like weapons, crying the holiday motto: MORE! Then, like now, folks were questioning the wisdom of selling a consumer computer without a critical piece of hardware.

The current scene: Kauffman Household (v2.2) family room, earlier today. A father and his daughter are admiring a Mac Plus on the wall of fame.

Beth: What is that slot looking thing under the screen?

Me: That’s a floppy drive.

Beth: (not kidding) What is a floppy drive?

I know floppies are (mostly) gone, but somehow I wasn’t quite ready for them to be forgotten. I’m not sure why. Most of my experiences with them were bad. I’d just as soon forget them myself.

I’m afraid I was too tired to explain why those (mostly) rigid, little plastic squares were “floppies.”

When good drives go bad

My first computer with a hard drive of any kind was an original 128 Macintosh in 1984. It was my dad’s, but I was only twelve and a regular user (programing, school projects, etc), so I use the word mine with a clear conscience.

If you only consider that and the computers I’ve owned since, not the parade of PC clones assigned to me at the office, I’ve suffered the effects of ONE hard drive failure in my life.

Until today.

I started having trouble fixing up our old iMac from the living room for Adam. I was freeing up space and rehabbing the HD from years of creating, moving, and processing large video files on WAY too little free space (the Mac OS is pretty good about managing space on the HD unless you abuse it like I did). Anyhoo, long story not so long… I traced the problem to my external (LAN) backup drive.

Three different disk utilities are telling me it’s suffering a mechanical failure and I should back up my data, by any means available… DAMMIT JOHN, RIGHT NOW!!!

Disk utility software is getting awfully touchy these days, eh?

So that brings us to hard drive failure number two. Times are tough at the Kauffman household, but this too shall pass :-)

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Minority shareholder

I’ll bet you didn’t know I owned Apple. No, not AN apple. This isn’t a post about an epic journey to the grocery store. This is the story of something I wanted to do for a long time: buy stock in my favorite computer company. This isn’t a story of buying low and selling high, of market savvy, or mad money.

This is a love story.

If you’ve been on Apple train for the whole Jobs reunion tour – you get it. If you’ve been on the wagon since ’84, when the first Macs rolled off the lines, you definitely get it. If you know who John Sculley and Gil Amellio are, you’ve got it bad.

If you’ve got more little white apple stickers than hobbies, you know. If you’ve got a few striped, rainbow apples sprinkled in your collection you’re pretty damn sure.

If you don’t, I’m not sure I can explain it to you.

John, it sounds like what you really need is a good deprogramming.

I admit it sounds fishy. The “cult of Mac” label rings with a hint of truth. But there’s another, simpler explanation: great products create strong customer loyalty and a great brand name. Great products can be addicting in a way. If you’ve ever bough something and six months later thought, “I don’t know how I got along before…,” you’ve got some idea what I’m talking about.

Some folks get the cool-great relationship mixed up when it comes to Apple. Some would have you believe Apple only exists because it’s cool or fashionable. I think the cool or fashionable part comes second, dependent on the first. In order to be around as long as Apple, you’ve got to have great products first, before they can be cool. In Apple’s case, great products combine good form as well as function, which undoubtably leads to the “fashionable” charge. There’s just one thing. The first computer running the Mac OS was sold in early 1984. Being cool, or it’s cousin – a fad – has a limited shelf life, and it isn’t 27 years. You’ve got to be good (dare I say great?) before you can be cool that long, while at the same appealing to more than one generation of customers.

There’s a darker side to this story though. There’s truth to what they say: “you’ve got to have money to make money.”

I bought into Apple right before the first iPad was sold. Like I said before, I wanted buy Apple stock for sentimental reasons, not necessarily to make money. However it did cross my mind that it would be more affordable before the iPad rather than after.

Well I didn’t (make money). Not much anyway.

Oh, the stock price has done great. It’s up around 50% since I invested, but I could only afford one share at the time. I’m only up a $100 or so.

On the up side, I still received notification of the stockholders’ meeting this year. That was pretty exciting stuff, until I figured someone just wanted my little piece of the vote by proxy. I don’t think they really wanted me to show up, let alone have a speaking role.

None of that really matters though. The important thing is I’ve got my MacBook and my stock.

One share of Apple I’ll cherish forever.

It’s 5:19 and I still have my MacBook

My MacBook wasn’t well. Its trackpad wasn’t quite right. I made an appointment with the folks at the local Apple Store to give it a look. That was at four this afternoon. I was expecting I’d have to leave it there – possibly for days.

I did have to leave it there, after talking to the Apple tech and diagnosing the problem (and the solution: replacing the trackpad) – but it was less than an hour.

Oh my, I think I’m gonna swoon…

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Trial, tribulation, and error

A few weeks ago, heresy showed it’s ugly face in the Kauffman household. Evil found a foothold in one of my vulnerable children. By now you know that when I speak of heresy I’m speaking of one thing: computers. Beth asked for a cheap Windows laptop.

In the name of Jobs, The Woz, and The Lost Partner, I beseech you: where have I gone wrong?

Because my parents were over at the time, my dad in particular, the collective shudder was almost enough to bring down the roof, bringing this insanity to a tragic end.

This has nothing to do with Windows, evil, or my family… but I find it amusing so I had to find a way to work it into the post. There’s a buzz word at my office – one of several steadying the rungs of the mythical ladder to Tally (if you have to ask, you ain’t getting there). The one that comes to mind is: root cause. Say it again: root cause. Don’t you feel smarter just saying it? All right, it’s really two words, so maybe you just feel silly, not to mention you’re talking to your computer again. You should probably see someone about that. But back to root cause: it is one concept. Applying the problem solving skills taught in offices around the world (and yet come naturally to our species as early as the pre-pubescent years), I sought to get to the bottom of this Windows virus before it got started. It turned out it was worse than I thought.

Beth infected my son too.

Both of them were obsessed with the idea of playing an online game created by Sony Entertainment called: Free Realms. This game only runs on PCs running Windows.

And before you ask, the answer is yes – the name itself is a sick, twisted joke. Entrance is free, but there are opportunities to spend once you’re inside.

Back to Windows, and computers in general.

Kids don’t always understand elegance, and when they do, sometimes they don’t particularly care. They don’t understand how little time daddy spends maintaining our relatively large family network of computers (none, not counting the voluntary tinkering – with more PCs than people), compared to other daddies. They don’t truly understand what the word “crash” can mean. They don’t know what a virus, worm, or malware is. They don’t know what Internet security software is.

Well, if you recall, a few posts back I contemplated a world where me and Beth shared an iPad an my MacBook. This presented an interesting test run. My MB runs Windows Vista in the latest version of Parallels (v5).

Vista may have been the dumbest software descision of my life (I shoulda had an XP!), but I needed something do the occasional bit of work at home and Vista gets it done (if painfully).

With a devious grin, I unleashed my kids on Vista – or was that the other way around? Right off the bat: “dad, what is Kaspersky, and what are virus definitions?” Then of course: “dad, Windows says it wants to restart to finish installing important updates. I hardly had time to get started yet.”

I’ll bet there are a few Windows appologists out there convinced I haven’t booted their ‘ole pal Vista since the install – thus the delays. They’d be wrong. I’d had it up the day before – with the software and definitions up to date.

Next, of course, we had to install Flash. Always Flash. Then there was a Sony browser plugin. Then there was an executable file from Sony.

It took us half an hour to get Windows set up to play a web based game. I think THAT should be in the Windows 7 ads.

I was setting up my laptop for my kids to play a simple web based game and it took me a freaking half an hour. So I sent the old Bald Ballmer an email telling him they oughta fix that. So yeah, Windows 7 was my idea.

Of course, for all I know Windows 7 could be an abomination worse than Windows 3.x – I’ve never seen it. So maybe it’s not my idea after all.

Here’s the best part. Although I’ve muddled through Vista relatively unscathed, it’s crashed – hard – beyond the three finger salute hard (control-alt-delete), every time the kids played their game. It’s never crashed right away, so they get a chance to play for a while – enough so they want to play again – and live through another crash.

Cheryl keeps saying they’re not going to be allowed to play on dad’s MacBook anymore, but I disagree.

Oh, how I disagree!

I think this is a great opportunity to learn a lesson in life, to learn how the harsh, real world works. It’s a time when very little is at stake, and there’s little to loose. Is it probably the game? Of course it’s probably the game. But what happened to Microsoft being so far ahead of Apple when it came to single apps crashing and not bringing down the whole system?

So my simple response to Cheryl is no. I’m going to give them Vista every time they ask for it, and let them see it for the ugly piece of software it is. Then they’ll know.

Windows bad. Mac good.

Get a Mac.

– – –

UPDATE: since I started writing this post a few days ago, the kids have stopped asking about Free Realms and Windows. They haven’t moved on to new games either. They went back to the old web games that worked – on the Mac. As for myself, I’m actually considering throwing good money after bad – buying 7. Lord help me, for I am about to sin.


Ahead of schedule

Oh you few, you lucky few. Some of you are seeing this post ahead of schedule. My projects aren’t supposed to work like this. My rule of thumb is to take my first guess of how long it will take, and take that number to the third power.

Or, that’s what Cheryl would have you believe, once I explained the math to her. Ouch! Score one for the husband who will be sleeping in his car for the next month!

Here’s the scoop. I’ve been doing business with dirty, slow-daddy, relying on them to host this site for the last three years. (I was in the hospital, spiking fevers, popping pain meds, and pumping chemo when I signed up, so my judgement was impaired. I hope this earns me a pass.) They’ve been reliable, and I can’t really blame them for the speed – not on a shared server, low cost plan. I can blame them for their marketing practices, and the strange vibe I get watching the CEO’s video podcasts that leave me feeling like I need a shower. But momentum kept me there – that and the dread of switching to another host: moving thousands of files, a database, configuring WordPress to find the new location of its database, making sure all of my redirects work on the new server. I imagined slogging through all that data felt like trying to stop Genghis Khan and his merry band with a wicked sharp tooth pick.

Six months ago I decided I’d give Host Gator a try, once my contract with GoDaddy was about to expire. Host Gator offers to move the data on your old host to their servers for you, free – though no guarantees. But I figured if they could get me most of the way there I could handle a little bit of tweaking. Well guess what? My account with GoDaddy expires in a month, so I placed my order. I didn’t even have to tweak. They even went in and reconfigured my WordPress config file to point to the new database location, and they did all of it in a matter of hours… on a Saturday.

I popped over to GoDaddy to point my domain name to the new name servers and waited. It can take a few days for the DNS (domain name servers) around the world to catch up to the changes – meaning some of you will still be directed to the old server, while the rest are here at the new one.

Hoo-Ray for you!

I didn’t find out the DNS I use (I’m sure your sitting on the edge of your seat, pencil and paper at the ready – Open DNS), had switched over until somewhat late last night.

So for those of you who have found me at my new host – welcome to my new home!


The cash stampede

I didn’t even know it had a name. I’d never seen it before my Beth’s PowerBook started having problems last month.

Apparently there is a screen of death on a Mac, the dread blue-screen equivalent: the GSOD, or grayed-out screen of death. I can’t blame you if you’ve never heard of it. It’s rarely seen in the wild, confined mostly to secret labs, under highly controlled circumstances, with experts trained in the clandestine arts of infiltration and subversion.

But sometimes it does find it’s way out. Even the experts don’t know how.

Anyway, I’ve run hardware tests and software tests. I’ve run multiple diagnostic programs. I’ve even gone where few Mac users have gone before: I did a clean reinstall of the OS.

“No you DIDN’T go there!”

Yes. Yes I did.

You know what happened the minute the install completed and it rebooted? Yep, the damn GSOD.

I think I finally know the pain, regret, anguish, and envy that come as a standard options with every copy of Windows.

I think this is a sign my beloved old 12″ PowerBook is starting to die. This presents a few problems, besides the obvious, emotional ones. One of my favorite computers of all time is slowly dying. (sniff) It means there will be one less computer in a house that’s come to depend on many. It means Beth will start asking to squeeze in on my time with the MacBook. It means I may have to learn how to share again.

Cheryl, bless her heart, saw this for what it was: disaster on the horizon. You’ll take my Mac from my cold, dead hands.

She immediately sought out options. She looked at iMacs, MacBooks, MacBook Pros… and looking over her shoulder my heart started to heal… to hop and skip with a little excitement even (with a pinch of survivor’s guilt though). Then reality set in: the financial ruin we’ve come to call our checking account. We thought about an iPad, but we decided it probably wouldn’t fill Beth’s needs for a computer to do school work. Plus, until many of the sites she visits stop using Flash (I’m not holding my breath), an iPad would likely find little use… by Beth.


by… Beth…?

That’s when inspiration struck. Neither of us could rely on an iPad alone for our computing needs. However, I find there are evenings when I don’t pick up my MacBook – sometimes not even to write (my thumbs got skillz).

When I got my first laptop, desktop computers felt bulky and constraining. Who wants to sit at a desk when you can work on the couch, or better: under your cozy blanket in bed? Not surprisingly, the same thing happened when I got my iPhone. I found I never had to go further than my pocket for a computer… and it is a computer… a computer that also happens to be a phone. The miracle I discovered with the iPhone is this: I can do 80% of what most people use a computer for (the internets, in various ways), plus a few things most people don’t (read a good book).

And here’s the kicker.

Wait for it…

I can do it all comfortably with one thumb. (Caveat: I use the remaining four fingers on the hand to cradle the phone, and my left hand lends an assist if I decide to write something). In fact, there are some things I prefer to do on my iPhone, like checking my news and blog feeds on google (with a slick app that syncs with google reader), or wandering through twitter and Facebook.

Since the iPad will talk to a bluetooth keyboard – and I just happen to have one of Apple’s shiny aluminum beauties – some of my longer writing moods could conceivably be satisfied by an iPad. The software I use to keep a journal is about to release a companion app for the iPhone, there are already apps for my WordPress blog, and iPhone apps will supposedly work on the iPad (until dedicated apps are written). So, between my iPhone and an iPad, I could go days without feeling the need to pick up my laptop.

This sharing thing could actually work.

Bless you Cheryl.

Keyboards, revisited

A while back I questioned the wisdom of the redesigned Apple keyboard, shipping with the (then and now) new iMacs.

The Aluminum Apple Pro Keyboard

If you’ve been with me for a few years and you’ve got a keen mind (allowing you to remember the most pedestrian of posts from a mediocre blogger) you may recall this post – post chemotherapy. Well since then Apple has gone all bluetooth, all the time… but the look, and more importantly – the feel – has remained the same. I picked up one of the bluetooth beauties to use my MacBook as an occasional “Media PC” in our family room.

Well, a funny thing happened on the path of querty snobbery. Now I can’t stand typing on anything but the laptop like keyboards. Everything else feels mushy – like my fingers are pushing on keys made soft, sugary beach sand. Take my Dell keyboard at work… please! By contrast, my fingers feel like they take flight on my keyboards at home. My MacBook is a delight. The iMac keyboard (even with the 7 key pried off/broken by a fidgety kid who will remain anonymous – though the name rhymes with death) is crisp. The keys activate with little more than intention. Thoughts become words effortlessly. I love it.

So I did something I’m not really supposed to do. I connected a personally owned peripheral to a state owned machine. Then the heavens opened and the wrath of God befell my suddenly penitent soul.

Well, not exactly.

By the way, I just love the warnings you get working with Windows… like: “Hey but-head! Are you sure you want to use that USB 1.x hub? Your devices would work a lot faster on a USB 2.x port. I know you wouldn’t know a USB port from your a–, so would you like me to hold your hand and show you where your superior ports are?”

All right. You got me. That’s not a direct quote. This isn’t journalism class. However, I think I’ve captured the attitude written/read between the lines.

In these cases I like to talk back to my computer. Yes, I know it’s not listening. Fortunately my coworkers and family are. I have quite the reputation to uphold, you know. In this case I replied, “You arrogant piece of plastic garbage, I know damn well what I’m doing. I’m just plugging in my keyboard (Apple’s keyboards often don’t live far from the small footprint of their CPU companions). Just how fracking fast would I have to type to take advantage of that extra bandwidth from USB 2.x? It may feel like my fingers are flying, but no one is that fast, so leave me alone. I know what I’m doing, damn it!”

Whenever I swear at one of my Macs I feel bad. There are no regrets when it comes to the dark knight of personal computing. Its got it coming.

Why you always backup your stuff

I’ve got a post I’ve been working on for a couple days now, off and on (doing a lot of thumb typing on the phone in my spare moments). There’s a picture I wanted to include in the post, but I thought it was lost. It’s a favorite of mine, taken back in the dark ages when people used something called “film” which you then had “developed,” giving you your pictures – a racket not unlike the printer market these days.

We’ve got way too many prints for albums, so we have photo boxes instead. I’ve had this picture out of the box many times, and one time I misplaced it.

Anyway, this afternoon I had this hazy notion I might have scanned it and put it up on one of my early web sites – sites I have backed up, along with nearly every other bit and byte I’ve come across, on spindles of meticulously indexed CDs. Alright, maybe meticulous isn’t quite the right word. It took me a while to find it – but I did find it.

It’s a picture from my last visit to the Kauffman family farm in Pennsylvania. It was the summer of 1991, and I was about to start my third year at UF. I’m the guy in the Hard Rock Chicago T-Shirt on the left, goofing with my great-uncle Raymond (who was great in every way). If only I’d known it would go missing… I’d have a much better scan. But this is infinitely better than nothing.

Part of me wants to wait and post it with my work in progress, where the context will be richer, but I’m too impatient. I teared up when I found it (about twenty minutes ago). Even if no one cares but me, here it is:


I’ll do the introductions a little later.

Windows again

I set out to talk computers, causing dozens of people to reach frantically for “the next feed.”

I didn’t learn anything from defiling my iMac with Windows Vista. I did it again with my MacBook. I wanted to try out Google’s new web browser: Chrome, so I got out my install disks and went at it.

I forgot there were so many warning messages in Vista. I must have repressed the memory.

Honestly, it was more than just Chrome. I did it for work too.

It was a disappointing. The single text field for searching and entering URLs was the only feature I found interesting. Otherwise it was another basic browser – with some apparent integration with their apps (though I didn’t find it terribly compelling).

Pray tell dear readers… will I ever learn?

I will say this. Vista with service pack 2 is an improvement, in my experience. Not a big one mind you, but an improvement. It’s a bit snappier on my MacBook (running under Parallels version 4), particularly at start up and shutdown.