Stumps and saws and prybars

Lisa spent the weekend in our front yard doing “structural landscape improvements” (meaning pulling nasty hedges out by the roots), while I helped uproot some of the stumps while reversing the last bit of damage done to the house when we moved the fridge in.

First, the hedges: with such a small front yard, we decided it didn’t make sense to devote a lot of it to hedges—particularly to hedges that grow like weeds and lose all their leaves in a spectacularly ugly fashion in winter. So last weekend Lisa took a variety of pruning tools to them and cut them down to a few inches above the ground. This was a weekend’s worth of work in itself, particularly the part where we had to bag all the cuttings. Then on Friday Lisa took a day off and started digging the roots out. Almost all the hedges had taproots that were a foot long or more and several inches in diameter, which were impossible to dig out with shovels and very difficult to sever. Fortunately our neighbors stopped by and said, “We have a crowbar that might help you out.” Thanks, said Lisa, but we already have one. “Not like this you don’t,” said our neighbor, and came back with a five-foot-long solid iron bar that had to be about seventy years old. It was cylindrical at one end, but tapered to a rectangular form at the other end with a pyramidal tip. I had never heard of using a prybar for gardening, but it’s apparently a standard item in Roger Cook’s toolkit. I’ll upload a picture later.

With the prybar in hand, Lisa was able to lever out all the taproots unaided, leaving nothing but a few smaller, easily-extractable roots behind. I helped with some of the bigger root balls and did disposal work, but all in all the job went extraordinarily smoothly, which was good because I had other tasks to do.

I spent Saturday sanding the first coat of joint compound I had previously applied over the bare frame and drywall of our kitchen doorway, then applying a second skim coat. I was worried about making a mess with the sanding, but I found a useful ShopVac attachment that kept the dust from getting out of hand. I primed most of the new wall surface on Sunday, but I need to go back and make one more pass on one side where the compound didn’t smooth out the tape. Fixing the doorway left just one problem—the ceiling over the fridge.

Over the last few months we’ve kept looking at the gaping holes in the ceiling over the fridge (regular readers will remember we discovered them when I pulled down a cabinet to make room for the fridge). We had thought about putting up a patch, but after the pain of working with the backing board on the doorway we started contemplating other approaches. Late last week Lisa asked, “Why don’t we just re-mount the cabinet?” and I had to admit it seemed like the best approach. Unfortunately I needed to make the cabinet about an inch shorter, and I only had about 5/8ths of an inch extra trim above the top and below the bottom of the cabinet. So out came the Sawzall, which I used to trim a half inch from the top and the bottom of the cabinet. It was tight—in one or two places I accidentally planed a little off the top of the cabinet—but in the end it got it done. Then Lisa and I put the cabinet on a dolly and rolled it up and into the kitchen via our porch. The last step was the hardest, essentially a clean-and-jerk from the dolly straight up to the top of the fridge, but the cabinet made it and is now resting up there until I can re-secure it to the studs.

I dream of having a kitchen in which the Sawzall has no place. I think it will be a while before we’re there.

iChat issues in Tiger

The iChat issues I wrote about persist, despite the now-total absence of Virex from my machine. These threads on the Apple discussion board suggests that it is a fairly widespread problem. I’ve read every suggestion, from the mundane (do routine system maintenance and try again) to the exotic (delete some entries in the iChat plist file, make sure your correspondents apply all system updates), to the just plain superstitious (make sure you start iChat before you start any other application).

Me? I think this smells like insufficient testing on Apple’s part, and I’m looking forward to seeing the first post-Tiger iChat update.

Can you IM me now? Good!

Boing Boing: Space Needle to be converted to WiFi antenna. According to this KOMO TV story, Speakeasy (and two other firms) are teaming up to create a city-wide WiMax network that will eventually be available to individuals as well as businesses. Though I disagree with Boing Boing’s assertion that the Space Needle is a “white elephant” (the only other places with an equally cool Seattle views are Pike Place Market and Anthony’s Pier 66, and both of those have bay views rather than the incredibly cool Lake Union views), I can’t argue with the following:

Quinn Norton first observed that looking at some big weird chunk of metal (say, a Stanford radio-telescope) and saying “That would make a great WiFi antenna” is the twenty-first century equivalent of pointing at every hollow object and opining “that would make a great bong.”

Whither Mac anti-virus protection?

I’m starting to wonder a little about what I will do on my Mac for virus protection since Virex 7.5.x isn’t Tiger compatible. I’m apparently not alone in wondering. neatly summarizes the current Mac antivirus marketplace, and points out a few contenders I hadn’t considered, including Sophos (which is apparently only available to business customers) and ClamAV, which may be the only option to fill the gap between now and the vaporous release of Virex 7.7.

Solving ASP.NET application problems

I have been working with a partner of ours to get an ASP.NET web application running on my Windows 2000 computer at the office. We had no joy for several hours last night trying to figure out why none of the .aspx pages in the application could be contacted. We were getting an interesting error message:

Server Error in '/BogusAppname' Application.

The resource cannot be found.
Description: HTTP 404. The resource you are looking for (or one of its dependencies) could have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable. Please review the following URL and make sure that it is spelled correctly.

Requested Url: /BogusAppname/login.aspx

Version Information: Microsoft .NET Framework Version:1.1.4322.2032; ASP.NET Version:1.1.4322.2032

I had to give up with the guy from our partner company at 8 PM my time last night. This morning, I did some Googling and found an all-too-simple-sounding solution: the application wasn’t correctly registered as a virtual directory. I went to the IIS manager, created a new virtual directory with the same name as the directory I was trying to hit, and lo and behold the application started working.

The difference was only apparent in the properties dialog on the application directory. The virtual directories on the server had “Virtual Directory” as the first tab on the properties dialog, but our application directory had “Directory”.

Perhaps this will save someone’s thinning hair.

Calling BS

Two compelling cries of bullshit in the blogosphere this morning. First, Dave Winer pegs the onslaught of advertisements in RSS accurately: it represents lazy thinking by marketers:

Here’s some food for thought for “marketers” who say they need to put ads in RSS feeds to make them pay. By some calculations, in three years, 27 percent of the NY Times hits will originate from their RSS feeds. The BBC is aiming for 10 percent by the end of the year. Neither company puts ads in their feeds because: The feeds themselves are ads for the stories they link to, which are revenue-generators. Anything that keeps people from clicking, that confuses them, takes them off course, is going to drop the click-through rate. And it’s a good deal for the users, because they get the headlines and summaries for articles they only have a superficial interest in, and can easily access the full stories for articles that they want more information on. The rare win-win.

And Doc Searls posts an insightful criticism of the effects of bell-curve thinking on IT, the educational system, and individual achievers, in a post that follows up his equally insightful two-part review of Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat and “It’s a Flat World, After All”:

…all this might also help explain why I chafe at the caste system implied in labels like “Alpha blogger.”

What I love about blogging is that it isn’t school. Instead it’s a great way to discover how the long, flat tail features plenty of original and brilliant individuals. These good folks succeed by earning links, not grades. It’s a much better, and a much flatter, system.

Expansion begins at home, in Redmond

microsoft campus buildings 1 - 6

CNet: After looking around, Microsoft decides to expand at home. That the travel across the 520 bridge to get to hypothetical Seattle offices should be viewed as an insurmountable obstacle to development should surprise no one. Microsoft doesn’t know how to build software (broad generalization) unless all the people are within two minutes’ walk of each other. For all its high-techness, the most surprising thing about the Microsoft culture is how meeting-centric it is.

The thing that caught my eye was this sentence in the third paragraph: “The company also plans to demolish and rebuild 600,000 square feet of older buildings that lack the power and cooling capacity needed for modern computer equipment.” I wonder if that means a final sayonara for buildings 1 through 6? These were the original Microsoft buildings on the Redmond campus, and while they’re earthquake damaged, mold infested, and confusing as hell (check out the satellite photo here and then imagine navigating around the corridors inside those Xs), they’s historic. They also fit sympathetically into the wooded ravine landscape in a way that none of the later buildings manage. Maybe one of my Microsoftie friends can comment on this?

Tiger part II: iChat and Virex

Tonight we tried to talk to Lisa’s parents over iChat, and it didn’t work. I kept throttling the bandwidth of the client down, and it kept reporting “Insufficient bandwidth to maintain the connection.” I thought, huh? Then I checked online.

Thanks to the magic of Google, I found it: Virex 7.5.1, not compatible with Tiger. The good readers of Macintouch had already flagged it as an issue with iChat. I had forgotten about the reported incompatibility until an iChat reader pointed out that processor utilization was pegged by one of the vshield processes. Sure enough: killing the process freed up the CPU.

The Virex issue is troubling: it’s software that was provided by Apple, via the .Mac subscription service. Surely they would have thought to test it? Or for Apple to let Network Associates know that they ought to test it?

Time traveler’s convention, anyone?

Okay, pop quiz: what’s funnier than a bunch of MIT students deciding that this weekend will be the only ever Time Travelers’ Convention (because, technically, you would only need one time traveler convention)? First, the decision that it would be held in East Campus Courtyard, which certainly won’t hold all the necessary time travelers. Second, the story on CNet. And third, the comments on CNet, which as of this writing included:

  • I went last year. I was a bit disappointed as the only people there were a bunch of geek wanna-bes.”
  • Which parallel universe? They forgot to mention which parallel universe it was held in. My timeline led to 28,762 instances — of which 32 looked very likely — but I was low on Planck energy… ”

Finally, of course, the CNet story misses one very important thing: the proximity of the Time Travelers’ Convention to the Disco Dance Floor. I submit that this is nothing more than a cheap excuse for a party. Which of course I want to crash.

Tiger notes: install, Spotlight, one-time hits

My copy of Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) arrived yesterday, finally. So far? Well, the upgrade went smoothly enough. That’s about all I can report, really; I got home at 9 pm last night and had just enough time to run a backup, verify and repair some minor permissions issues on my hard drive, and kick off the installer before going to bed.

One thing that almost bit me in the butt: hard disk space. I have habitually been down to less than 2 GB free disk space for about the past month—blame digital music—and the installer told me it didn’t have enough room to install Tiger. I was able to proceed by deselecting a bunch of printer drivers. I would have deselected some language files instead, but it appears that, at least with Tiger, there is no way to opt not to upgrade a previously installed language pack. (Incidentally, it makes me nervous that by deselecting drivers from eight or so printer manufacturers, I was able to reclaim nearly 800 MB of hard disk from the install. What do they put in those things—encyclopedias?)

At any rate, in the morning I checked the install after walking the dogs and found that it had happily rebooted and was waiting for me to log in. I did so, watched it slowly proceed, decided not to wait for it, and got in the shower. When I got out the login had finished and I could play with Dashboard and Spotlight.

Spotlight is cool: it fished up a bunch of stuff I didn’t know I had, including iChat logs, when I typed in my wife’s name. However, the short results list (which appears in a dropdown menu as you type, along with the option to show all results) is going to suffer from the same search challenges as Internet search engines: given a potential universe of content, how do you decide which content to surface as most relevant?

In this case, the problem was, I think, Spotlight’s result categories. By default, Spotlight returns categorized search results. Amazon and both used to do this. The problem with categorized search results is that they interfere with the relevance ranking of the actual results list. For instance, if the four most relevant results for the query “doc searls” included a chat log, an Address Book card, a mail message from him, two more chat logs, a bookmark, and another mail message, how should the search results be categorized? If your first category is “Chat,” including the first, fourth, and fifth search hits, the Address Book card and mail message appear lower in the search list than they should, making the search results appear incorrect. In my case, I searched for “lisa” and the system returned a bunch of information, including an address card. But it wasn’t Lisa’s address—it was the address card of one of her friends, on whose card I had entered “Lisa Jarrett” in the Friend field.

I have a suspicion that some of my issues with Spotlight were related to the fact that it was still indexing my hard drive. This also caused Dashboard to be less responsive than it could have been. I can definitely see the joy to come with Dashboard, though; just having one-key access to a good dictionary and to Wikipedia is a killer benefit.

I had to go to work, so I left Mail importing my 44,000+ email messages (Mail in Tiger uses a new file format to store mail messages, so there’s a one-time hit for translation and indexing). More reports tonight.

n years ago today…

On May 2, 2002: “Hating your customers, part n” and “…part (n+1).” Who says nothing stays the same on the Internet?

On May 2, 2003: “Man, I’m boring. How boring? Just put in a composter last night, that’s how boring. But I’ll be a boring guy with the best vegetables on the block.”

On May 2, 2004: the weekend of mulch, or just how much work is entailed with 15 cubic yards of organic product. “I knew we were in trouble when by Friday night at 6 (after two hours of work) I had shifted hardly any of the pile and only succeeded in covering a few beds.”

(And this weekend? Digging up stumps in our front yard and laying down new grass seed. Ah, May.)

Happy birthday, Dave

A big happy 5-0 to Dave Winer, the Blogfather, without whose example (and eventual direct encouragement) I wouldn’t be writing this blog.

Though I have told this story before, it’s worth repeating:

  1. 1994: Dave starts writing Davenet, email punditry about the software industry.
  2. 1995: Dave’s stuff starts getting published in Wired (or HotWired, anyway). I, a junior software developer and an amateur student of the English language, wake up: here’s a software developer I’ve heard of (he scooped Apple by releasing Frontier in its first incarnation as an application automation solution before Apple released AppleScript), who’s writing intelligently and passionately about the Internet, Apple, and a bunch of other things I care about. Coooool, as Dave would have said then.
  3. 1997: I get married and we move into our first apartment in McLean, Virginia. This is our first place together, and we are at the time the furthest-north outpost of the Jarrett family (which is centered in North Carolina), so we start calling the place “Jarrett House North.”
  4. 1997: Dave starts Scripting News.
  5. 1999: Dave releases Frontier for free. I download it and start hacking it to build web pages which I serve from my old Power Mac over our first broadband line (you can see my first attempts on the Internet Archive). The site is called Jarrett House North.
  6. 1999: Dave releases Manila and the EditThisPage service, Frontier based services that take dynamic web content management and put all the tools in the browser.
  7. 2000: I sign up for an EditThisPage site and make my first post. In a moment of insanity, I name the site after my little home grown site, little thinking about the implications for the URL. It turns out that is one of the longest possible URLs imaginable.
  8. 2001: I am interning at Microsoft and find myself turning often to Dave’s site for perspective, since he’s writing about things that my company is doing and I’m doing research on online community. I decide that it’s time to start updating my site more often. Maybe once every three months.
  9. July 19, 2001: I opine on the future of SOAP and XML-RPC on the Mac platform following MacWorld. Several people, including Dave and Macintouch, point to me. “You mean people actually read this stuff? You mean I got more pageviews yesterday than (insert Microsoft product)?” I get hooked on blogging.
  10. 2002: I buy my domain name. Of course, at this point the lengthy URL is so established, I figure that shortening it by twelve letters will be sufficient.
  11. 2005: Here I am, still blogging.

Thanks for the start, Dave. It’s always good to read you and it’s been a privilege to meet you live a few times as well. Many happy returns and here’s to the next 50!

No Tiger no cry

I’m going to have to have a word of prayer with Amazon, or UPS, or both. Despite a status from the package tracking that my Tiger was “out for delivery” on Saturday morning, it never showed up. So much for next day shipping, for which I paid a nice premium.

I guess that gives me more time to get my backup house in order and to get all the application updates, but I’m still angry. I guess I’ll have to see if Amazon will step up and take responsibility and give me a discount on the shipping cost. Somehow I doubt it.