Archive for the ‘rants’ Category

Telesales folks

Just so you know, if you call me, and when I answer the phone, I hear your auto-connection-system ringing you to let you know that your cold calling has yielded a person, I am going to hang up on you. I don’t care who you are, what company you represent or what you’re trying to sell me.

Smoochies,
– me

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Minecraft pixelart explained

I’ve had so many people ask me if these pixelart images I’ve made are “legit” or really made block by block, or what have you. So to save myself from having to type in this explanation yet another time, I’ll put it all down here in one place to set the record straight. Read more

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Sapientia Delecti, s01e07

This week’s reading…

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Sapientia Delecti ep.03

Links from this week:

  • Robotic legs on helicopters! (alphr)
  • Ah, Infocom. You were my first love. (mit.edu)
  • And, hilarity ensues around Burning Man (sfist blog)
  • Thoughts on AI, brought to you by Google (bbc.com)
  • Rubik’s cube solver, *cries* (blog)
  • Oh my goodness. Thanks for the link Tom. (chocolatey)
  • Ok, this is just weird. Cool, but weird. (guardian)
  • The blockchain is mesmerizing to watch (blockchain)
  • List of bitcoin/blockchain white papers (startup management)
  • Jonathan Blow, creator of Braid, has a new game coming out (ars technica)
  • Staggering. scale model of the solar system (universe today)

Enjoy!

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New Hotness

So I need to prime the pump of this post with a bit of foreword. It should be noted that I am decidedly NOT a mac fanboi. I’ve used a fair portion of their kit over the years for a variety of purposes, both liesure and work related. From the technical perspective, I have evaluated their products on those basis, and am willing to state the following things about their products and mentality:

  • They have, on a regular basis, been able to innovate decidedly outside of the box
  • Their ecosystem is proprietary and exclusionary, and has allowed them to make gobs of money at the expense of a healthy market (they are definitely NOT the only company guilty of such practices. That doesn’t make the fact any better)
  • iTunes software and store sucks. Sorry, it just does. And it is getting worse as time goes on
  • Their products are incredibly sexy. They take aesthetic design to a level that most companies don’t even know exist, many more simply emulate, and almost noone can rival. Off the charts
  • They have excellent support, in my experience. I’ve not had to make that much use of it over the years, but when I’ve had to, it has not let me down
  • They have managed to create a brand and consumer loyalty index that is also rarely rivaled. Those who have bought in are damn near rabid. In markets where there are so many other options, and in the few cases where an otherwise healthy competitive market exists for the particular product set… that is pretty invaluable, and might have been one of the most important reasons they’ve stayed in business during some of the tougher times
  • They support educational markets. I dig that. Even if it isn’t for purely altruistic reasons, they at least recognize that it pays off in the long run, and have (and continue to) leverage this fact. Well played, sirs … well played
  • I’m not fond of their pricing model. I speculate that part of their strategy is (or at least, was), to play to people’s vanity and price their products as the “premium” model in the markets they participate in. Yes, sure… I can chalk some of that up to needing to recover the costs associated with their high quality of engineering and design, but not that much. Also, it just isn’t true anymore. Yet they still participate in their markets with prices 20% or higher than the nearest equivalent product, and I’m sorry, but those differences in product that were once arguably differential are, quite simply, no longer true

Ok, so now you know my stance on them. I own several of their products, and where I can rationalize the price, I may very well purchase them in the future as well. But at the moment, my general “one liner” about their current product set is “I’m kind of over them”.

Well, that was yesterday. This is today. And holy shit. If I really take a damn hard look at this, and try to noodle out what the real differences are between this product (that I’m about to link) and its competitors … the list is probably reasonably short, but not insignificant. However, maybe its just I’ve got that glossy sexy shiny thing making my eyes all blurry and all, but HOLY SHIT. Apple, I gotta hand it to you… you make some sexy stuff. Without further ado… please feast your eyes:

http://www.apple.com/mac-pro/

You’re welcome.

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Quicken Tech Support Fail

Here is a redacted cut/paste of a conversation I just had with Quicken Tech Support. I’ve redacted the name of the support person because I have no interest in throwing anyone under the bus. My initial question was to find out if there was any special/upgrade pricing as a long time user, and what the new features were. I will leave you to make your own conclusions…

XXXXX: Hi, my name is XXXXX. Thank you for contacting Quicken, please allow me a moment to read your question.
XXXXX: Hi Mark, how are you doing today?

me: very well, thanks. Happy New Years.

XXXXX: Thank you and happy new year to you to.
XXXXX: I would like to inform you that there is no update price available while upgrading from 2010 to 2013, however as you are a valuable customer, I am providing you with a link to get $20 discount.

me: that would be great, thank you.

XXXXX: http://quicken.intuit.com/blahblahblah

me: that is for the rental property manager
me: is there one for home and business?

XXXXX: You can scroll down, you will see it at the bottom of that page…

me: ah, nevermind, I just switched products, and the discount is still there.
me: Excellent.
me: so. final question… are the new features worth the upgrade? Last year, I was told there wasn’t anything significant changed
me: (by support)

XXXXX: Yes, there are many new feature plus the Mobile app.
XXXXX: Are you satisfied with the support I provided today and my efforts to help? If not, how else can I help you?

me: ok, thank you, I’ll look into it. Actually, I do have one final support type question
me: I’m trying hard to reduce the size of the file I work with.
me: its currently 40Meg + and the performance of quicken is suffering as a result
me: I’m trying to do a year-end copy to get rid of pre-2006 data
me: and after I do that, the file size is STILL over 40M (no reduction in size)
me: what am I doing wrong?

XXXXX: I would like to inform you that Year end feature is not working currently you can try the copy option to archive your file
XXXXX: Are you satisfied with the support I provided today and my efforts to help? If not, how else can I help you?

me: does it work better in 2013?
me: or work at all?

XXXXX: It is not working in 2013 as well.

me: thank you. Yes, I’m satisfied with your support.
me: have a great day

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Recent updates, intro

So I’m sitting in the observation deck of the Halifax airport. It is 4am local time. Madeline and Nicholas are sleeping somewhat fitfully, but asleep nonetheless. Ella is trying, but mostly failing at same. But we knew this was the likely outcome. But really, did getting a hotel here really make sense? Arrive on flight at roughly 1:45am (local time), pay some exhorbitant fee to get to the hotel by 2:30 or so. Take 30-45 minutes to get the kids sleeping. And then reverse the whole process at 6am to be back here in time for the next flight out. No, it really doesn’t. So here we are.

The flights have been decent. Air Canada has always been on my “they don’t suck much” list as far as airlines go. Air travel (and actually, most travel, for that matter) sucks. I mean, the mechanics of getting from Point A to Point B. Once you’re there, rested, and doing stuff, its all good. But the act of picking up and moving one’s self across uncountable miles is just draining. I used to be ok with parts of it, and I could rationalize the rest as a reasonable compromise. Now, add in two kids into that mix, one an infant, and it just gets unreasonably ugly. Madeline was great today, no whining or fussing. Fascination with the flights, taking off, landing and generally being agreeable. More than anything, I think she is also just anxious to reach the destination and see Oma. She has LISTS of things to do. LISTS I tell you. Nicholas was *mostly* good. He is in a weird slightly disagreeable phase right now, and it manifests in ways that have the potential to make for a LongTravelDay. A few small incidents aside, he’s been ok.

Again, once the destination is reached tomorrow morning, there will be naps. OH YES. Perhaps by dinnertime and a shower later, and we might be close to reasonably human again. I expect there will be many posts this week. Vacation has a habit of bringing that out in me, I suppose. Or it could be that whole “free time” thing. Amazing, wot? As I am in the habit of doing when I look at my blog, I re-read the last post, and realized that a whole mess of stuff has transpired since that last post. So there is a lot to talk about, and I expect some brain dumping to occur.

For the moment, though, I will constrain myself to opine on the nature of this airport and this fine observation deck am I currently stationed in. I’m sitting on the windowsill, staring down three floors to the concourse. At this early hour, it is devoid of any activity. No refueling activity, luggage cars sitting in semi-organized groups in seemingly random areas strewn about. Planes all parked and dark. Thankfully, the Tim Horton’s downstairs doesn’t sleep, and that yielded up some caffeine goodness to keep your humble blogster (is that a word?) properly fueled himself.

As I stare into this currently lifeless hub, I can’t help but think of things much bigger. In a few hours (maybe not even), the drones will begin their droning. Luggage will move from place to place, fuel will make its way into the veins of these wing’ed beasts. Passengers will begin their frantic loading and unloading. And this little corner of the global lifeblood will again be participating in the global dance. It strikes me as all maddeningly complex. Just this one small microcosm of activity, repeated in thousands of similar venues all over the world, that drives (or, ok… at least keeps greased the gears of) this immense engine of civilization. It seems to me that all the pundits of every scree and order who proclaim to understand some small inkling of a piece of all of it are just whistling into the wind. The reality of their verbal pissing is just so much refuse. just that… piss. Not worth much more than to fertilize the mind of the next pedant to navigate those same waters.

Took a short break there to hold my sleeping son. There are fewer moments like that as time goes on, and you have to enjoy them when you get them.

Fast forward until shortly after 5am, and now activity has picked up a bit. When we got here, there were probably a half dozen people sleeping in here. They’ve all left at this point, presumably for earlier flights than ours. And now this mom/dad/son combo has intruded on our otherwise isolated space with a MONSTROUS NOISE. Yelling and looking out at planes and what was surely going to be a beating narrowly averted. Yes. 5am. They have definitely seen that we have two kids sleeping here, and we are otherwise quiet and trying hard to keep it that way. Is that a Canadian trait that I was heretofore unaware of? Apparently. Actually, they sounds like Minnesotans, if my ability to place accents is at all up to snuff. Anyway, my Muse is interrupted, and not likely to return.

Cheers for now.

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Sodden Life, part Deux

So its been several weeks since my first part of this series. Suffice it to say that alot has happened. In the interest of brevity, I will summarize here. My intent over the next, say… 8 weeks or so is to document the remainder of this adventure with pictures.

Cleanup of the basement was somewhat involved. Once the initial water was gone, it was clear that what remained was essentially trashed. Most of the furniture (desks, couch, chair, a good portion of shelving, etc was all water damaged and barely, if at all usable. We had a few scary days where we had a mold bloom down there and really thought we were going to have to move out. A bit of creative fan work and that was resolved.

At this point, we had some hard thinking to do. We have, essentially since we first moved in here, wanted to redo the basement. A previous owner, and we’re not even sure which (though we certainly have suspicions) “finished” the basement. You’ll note the quotation marks please, as they are quite intentional. How you should really read that sentence is “A previous owner seriously fucked up the basement”. How, you ask? No new electrical circuits, they simply tied lines to upstairs junction boxes. Several lines were never even properly connected, leaving bare, live wires in the ceiling. Several wires were reversed in the “coloring” of the wires. So that green wire you thought carried ground? Nope, not so much. Good way to kill someone, quite honestly. And speaking of grounding… NO outlets, even those near water sources, were GFI. Oh, yeah… speaking of water sources? Hmm… this warrants a bit further explanation…

Since we’ve moved in, we’ve had several “events” where we’ve had basement flooding at a much less serious level than this one. Normally only during serious rainstorms, and usually only when the gutters were not working properly in their jobs of carrying water away from the house. When this would happen, the source of water would always appear to be coming from somewhere behind the shower. So as we’re going through this process of evaluating the costs of redoing the basement, we’re somewhat fearful. What are we going to find behind that shower? Some serious chasm in the foundation that is letting water seep in? Even to the extent of having someone come out and price out fitting the basement with a perimeter “gutter” system that would all run back to a sump (about $11000, btw). Scary stuff. So… we’re tearing out the basement down to the concrete (I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit), and eventually get to the shower. What did we find behind it?

Wait for it…

A window. Right. Quality work there, I tell you. They had closed the window, put in two layers of styrofoam, duct taped it to the frame, and stuck the shower in front of it. In all honesty, it was a relief. Once we got over the shock of just how inept they were, we were mostly grateful that we were not going to have to go through some serious cash to water proof our investment.

Ok, so back on the timeline again… we had several contracting companies come over to walk through with us. Initially, we were thinking we would ask them to give us some design ideas (most of them will do that step for free to get your business). Then we would evaluate the designs, and attempt to do as much of this ourselves as we could. The only parts that (well, time and money permitting, obviously) I will absolutely NOT do myself are electrical work and plumbing. There are good reasons those tasks require permits and inspections and “certification” that you’re not making the dwelling unsafe to live in (like say, the previous owners had). Second, electricity is scary. I probably have explained this in previous posts, but I’m too lazy to go search for them and link them right now.

For those of you who aren’t savvy to such things, I’ll give you some quick pointers. At least in this area, a “basement finishing” will run you about $35/sq.ft. This is an *average* price, with average allowances for all the things you can decide on, like paint, rugs, hardware (door knobs, faucets, lighting, etc). If you choose really premium options for those things, it gets more expensive. Anything beyond the “normal” work you’d expect someone to do.

Ok, so at this point you’re probably thinking… “so whats the big deal, you get the insurance money, spend it on the new basement, done deal, right?”. No. See…. the insurance company isn’t paying for the refinish. Their paying for exactly the things they assessed to be damaged beyond repair, and that DID NOT include the drywall or structural elements down there. The only significant structural piece they’re covering is the floor covering. So that is why this was such a hard path to go down. This is not cheap, and while we did have some savings… it didn’t really add up to that. Suffice to say we wrangled together what we needed to.

Contractor selection was interesting. We had everything from very professional treatment to a pair of stoned guys with a tape measure. With several more in between that I could get into, but won’t. In the end, after lots of back and forth discussion over design details and examining quotes and checking of references, we ended up going with . I’m going to reserve any statement about quality of work since they haven’t begun yet, but the experience so far has been very positive. They are responsive, attentive to our input and questions, willing to work with us on a variety of “nitpicky” elements, and their references were stellar. They also completely itemized the quote, giving us complete transparency into which elements we have the ability to cut back on or splurge on. They even listed their own profit in the quote. I really can’t ask for more than that.

As I inferred earlier, the first step was to completely gut the basement. A few quick notes about that.

  • Do not underestimate the power of drywall dust to completely trash your lungs. Wear well fitted filtration masks and eye protection. Seriously, I mean it.
  • It is *shocking* how fast you can destroy a structure. Admittedly, this one wasn’t well put together, but even if it had been. Holy crap. 4 people, 3 hours, and it was piles of trash on the floor.
  • Invite friends over for this. It is WAY fun to tear shit apart. I’d even go so far as to say therapeutic. (BIG LOVE to Jeff, Geoff and Eris for their help!!)
  • Be sure to keep a good grip on the sledgehammer. This may seem obvious. It should be. Just sayin’
  • Be *very* sure where your electrical wires are, and either turn power off if you can, or be extra careful when tearing down around the live elements.
  • Rent a rolloff dumpster. We went through TWO 20 cubic yard dumpsters all told. Granted some of that was flood damaged furniture as well, but still. Its a CRAPTON of trash. Be prepared for getting rid of it all.

I think this is a reasonable place to end this. The posts over the next weeks here will likely all be accompanied by pictures of the progress, or at least links to a gallery or something where I will keep all this sorted… in fact, I’m going to go make that now.

Watch this space for updates!!

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And on top of it all

I don’t think there is any more frustrating experience in the world than being a technical type person, and having to call a tech support call center that is attempting to help you, that knows ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE less than you do about your problem.

So yesterday, rewind to approximately 11:30am. I was doing some browsing to find the address of the place where we have to send our insurance check to get it co-signed. Might as well put in a quick aside about that. It turns out that if you have some kind of problem that theoretically might de-value your home, any money the insurance company provides you needs to be endorsed by the mortgage holder as well. SO yeah, off it went in the mail today. But thats neither here nor there. So, 11:40, just as I’m getting the right phone numbers to call and account numbers, my Internet goes away. Damn you, Al Gore, I thought we had an agreement about this sort of thing.

So I poke around, do the usual resetting of modems, etc, no dice. Now I crack my knuckles and break out my network juju, and get to work. It took me roughly 5 minutes to find what I thought might be the source of the problem, along with 1 other extraneous piece of data that turned out to be nothing. My modem (this is DSL) is syncing up with the CO just fine, and PPP authenticates just fine. My router is getting its static IP address without trouble. I can ping both the internal interface on the router I attach to (private, facing me), as well as its public ip that faces the ‘net. After that? Its a big black hole of traffic. So at this point, all data is suggesting that my static ip address’ route is no longer routing back to me.

So, call up their tech support, and sure… I’m in the land of first tier support, trying desperately to get out. I try every tactic I know to get escalated, but the person I am on with just isn’t having it. Time spent in that first go at it? 3.5 hours. They had me try every possible method of resetting the modem possible, including hard resets and restoring factory defaults. Which of course means that all my custom routing stuff is now gone, and I’ll have to redo from scratch. Despite all my pleadings, they are very insistent on eliminating every possible local element from the equation. So no, I can’t have the DSL modem connected to my machine through a switch. I have to establish a direct connection to it, despite those things being in different rooms in the (now very much torn apart) basement. I humor them. I have to. I figure the only way to get through this tier is to allow them to walk me through all the “are you sure its plugged” in steps before getting me on the phone with the actual network engineer who will understand the language I’m using to describe the problem.

But no, 3.5 hours, and now I have to get to my dinner date with friends. I get the ticket number, the assurance that the person is going to put complete notes in the ticket, and pray I don’t have to go down the same road when I get back home and talk to the next tech support office servicing them, which will invariably be in India or China.

Fast forward a bit, midnight, back home and get back on the phone. I still had to do a little dancing for this next tech, but was able to convince her (probably along with whatever notes were in the ticket) that we had tried every available first tier method for solving this. Her answer? You have a defective modem. Now, please note… this is the modem THEY sold me, and it is now roughly 3 months past its warranty. So in effect, any further troubleshooting is on hold until I pony up for the new modem and continue on from there. But as I mentioned earlier… I *know* it isn’t my modem. I can see the entire connection process. I can see their router, it is a routing issue on THEIR side causing this. That does… hit the escalate button. Another 20 minutes of re-explaining things to the shift supervisor, who appears to listen to reason, and indicates he has to escalate it to their routing team. No problem, I’ll hold. No sir, sorry, they only come in at 8am. But I will send an email as soon as we get off the phone and let them know that you’ll call them in the morning. Here is a new ticket number with the escalation… blah blah blah. Phone hangs up, I go to bed, now 5.5 hours into this issue, and no resolution in sight, despite having properly diagnosed the problem FIFTEEN MINUTES into it, on my own, without their assistance. I go to bed thinking I’m going to have another long day of phone wrangling.

Get up, liesurely breakfast, get downstairs …

*gasp*… routing problem fixed, all restored (well, except my modem settings). All hail the gods of whatever person saw fit to take a look at the ticket in their incoming queue and do some investigation on their own before I called in and repoint my goddamn static ip back to the router that faces me. You deserve a quick bow of appreciation and a clink of glasses wishing you a happy new year. Cheers, random network dude. You saved me a frustrating day.

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BBB F

So it turns out that website I found for the fishtank light bulbs has a BBB rating of F and their website doesn’t actually work. *sigh*

Need to find someplace else. Feh.

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State of the Union

I’m sitting here watching TV. Its some political punditry or another. It doesn’t matter which one, and it doesn’t matter which ideology. If you read deeply enough into my various postings that either dodge around the edge of my political views or state them overtly… you can get a good sense for how I feel about things. But that isn’t the point here.

Here is the point. I think we are in the process of reaching a node. A Pivot Point. A junction in the way that politics, commerce, finance, culture and people function in this country, and… I don’t think I’m stretching too far here, the world.

#ArabSpring, #OccupyWallStreet, the Euro-Troubles (Greece, Italy, Spain), and the last two decades of corruption, war, growth of government control, erosion of our civil right and personal freedoms… I feel like I’m caught in some kind of fucked up novel. I’ve never personally seen something like this. I was born during another one of these points (Vietnam War), but wasn’t old enough to know it was going on, let alone form an opinion about it. Since around the moment when I started becoming self-aware enough to look at the world around me (say, age 10 or so)… I was still too focused on playing baseball, riding my bike, and trading baseball cards with my friends. And then? At that point, in that year, was the beginning of the end that we are now facing. Ok, not “end”, per se… but like I just said… this … inflection point (I steal from the show I’m watching, shamelessly).

My problem with all of this? I really and truly fear what is to come next. I weep… yes, weep real tears, EVERY DAY right now, watching the events unfold in this country. I used to think, not even very long ago, that moving to would fix it. But it won’t. This goes beyond this country. It extends to all the sovereign countries participating in the global economy. All the countries participating in the ideologies of self-righteousness, fear and hatred. I love this country. I truly do. I marvel, in wide-eyed awe, at the institutions, documents, policies and foresight this country’s founders put in place so many years ago. Their durability, flexibility and belief in a dream that has persisted through some of the most trying experiences that nations have ever faced. But even these, so steadfast and resolute in their ability to adapt to changing times, could not stand up to the onslaught of greed, corruption and just flat-out ignorance that has led to where we are now.

Shame on us. Not all of us. That would be unfair. But alot of us. I count myself among those to blame. I was … lazy, unwilling to push my stake in the ground and stand up for the things that might have made a difference earlier. It is arguable that nothing I could have done in the past decade (or more) would have changed any outcomes. It could also reasonably be argued that I did, in fact, participate in the more local, philosophical ways that I did. But I don’t want to dwell on the past. What is more important is what is happening now.

We live in a broken system. Nearly every aspect of our lives is dictated by corruption and greed. Please. Now is the time. Stand up for what you believe in, talk to everyone around you. Get people motivated about making things right. Whatever the mechanism of change will be… participate in it.

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Fishtank update 1

The first batch of substrate made it to my LFS. I think I mentioned in the last post that they recommended, and I went with Activ-Flora. I did some looking into it, and it seemed a reasonable choice. Not my first choice, but reasonable. Went there to pick it up. Box opened… Eco-complete. Huh? Um. Pointed this out to the guy, he pulls out the catalog… Activ-Flora. I point to the label… Eco-complete. Hrmph.

I will still use it. But please, LFS guy… understand that I am an educated consumer, and I choose products for good reasons. If I order A, and you deliver B … as a general rule, I am not going to be pleased about it, and will certainly reconsider any future purchases at your store. Seriously, how unreasonable is that?

Love,
– me

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Sleepytime Gorilla Museum

I just got back from my first show from this band, and I feel the need to write something down about it. I guess you might look at this as a music review, or you might not. I generally prefer to leave that in more capable hands.

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ego

This is a concept that I’ve struggled with for a very long time. Maybe, like with most things philosophical, its something I probably won’t ever stop thinking about, at least in some sense. Read more

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One man’s metaphysics…

It has now been bothering me for a few days about my two previous posts (Rhino and Watermelons…). How can I have the gall to post so self… confidently about philosophy or religion? Don’t I know that I’m just some guy? I’m no Kant, no pope, no Maslow. Don’t I realize that? Read more

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