It's not from me… honest!

It happens every few years, and it’s happening again right now. A bunch of spambots are spewing forth thousands of emails about fake Gucci handbags, and each message has my email address in the “From:” field. The result: I’ve been receiving hundreds of mailer “bounce” messages for the last few days, filling my inbox and confusing my spam filters. There’s nothing to be done about this; I must just wait for it to subside. Last time I seem to remember that it took a couple of weeks. The ever-present worry, of course, is that some spam filtering system will decide that my email address is toxic, and starts blocking my legitimate emails. E-fingers crossed….


Clue: The Vicar, in the Living Room, with a Time Capsule!

With help from The Vicar, here and here, I was able to get the Time Capsule up and running. I elected to create a brand new WPA2 network, using the TC as the router; my old (non-“n”) Airport Express is now sitting next to the HP printer/scanner, acting as a print server. I used the Vicar’s trick of doing the initial TC configuration via an Ethernet link between my PowerBook and the TC, but I still had plenty of other hoops to jump through. In several places, it wasn’t sufficient to click “Renew DHCP”; I had to actually power cycle the cable modem to get things straightened out.
Never mind; it’s all working now. But no thanks to Apple; their supposedly “plug and play” configuration software was a disaster. I know that the number of permutations that they have to deal with is mind-boggling, including a gazillion non-Apple devices, but even so they botched this one. I was trying one of the simplest use-cases – adding a Time Capsule to an existing all-Apple network – and they couldn’t even get this right. Apple has demonstrated in the past that it was willing to hold up a product until the quality (hardware, software and documentation) was good enough; in this case, they failed to exhibit the necessary courage. (Time to re-read the “Evil/Genius” article in Wired.)
And now I have to update the configuration of all of my WiFi client devices. I just did my iPhone; next up is the Nintendo Wii….. Thanks, Vicar!


New Mac update (in brief)

  1. The MBA continues to delight. The keyboard is the best I’ve used in years.
  2. My PowerBook suddenly came back to life. Sigh….
  3. The Time Capsule is a great disappointment. I set it up, and before I could actually use it, the Airport Utility suggested that I should upgrade the firmware from 7.3 to 7.3.1. ((Why such high numbers for a new product? Apparently it shares firmware builds with other Airport base stations.))I did, and the box hasn’t worked since then; the status light just blinks. From the support discussions on the Apple website, it seems that this is a common problem, and quite a few people have simply returned them. I’m going to try one more configuration (making it the only access point on the network, rather than adding it to an existing network); if that doesn’t work, I’ll be demanding a refund.

Got the MacBook Air

I received lots of advice from blog readers, friends, and colleagues at Amazon about the choice of a new laptop, and the general consensus was:

  1. The MacBook Air is the way to go, unless you’re doing serious video work or game-playing.
  2. Getting iTunes set up on a network drive is a royal pain, but it’s doable.

So last night I went over to the Apple store in Bellevue, and bought a MacBook Air, plus a 1TB Time Capsule and a few accessories (like a spare power adapter). I didn’t get an external DVD/CD, figuring that I could use my PowerBook as a remote drive. After all, the PowerBook seemed to have given up its bad habits, and hadn’t failed in weeks…
When I got home, I unpacked the MBA and went online. When I was sure that it was working well, I went to set up the PowerBook as a remote drive. During this process, I had to reboot the PowerBook… and it never came back. I went through all the variations, resetting the PMU and powering up with battery but no power, power but no battery, and both power and battery. Nothing worked. I left it overnight, tried again this morning, and it still won’t start. So it looks as if I can finally take it in to be fixed under AppleCare.
Recovering my files from the PowerBook shouldn’t be an issue: I have a full Time Machine backup on a USB drive. One minor annoyance is that the MBA installation CD is still in the PowerBook, so I can’t use it to set up another computer as a remote drive! (Remember when CD drives used to have eject buttons?) It’s not urgent, but I want to install the copy of iWork that I bought.
I haven’t set up the Time Capsule yet; that’s a weekend project. Do I set up a new 802.11n network, or simply extend my existing 802.11g one? Would I actually get “n” speeds, anyway: what do my other devices (Nintendo Wii, iPhone, OLPC XO, PSP) use? Does the Time Capsule go in the living room, next to the cable modem? If so, I can’t use it to provide network access to my printer. Details, details.
Meanwhile, the MBA is gorgeous. This is the first LED-lit screen I’ve used, and the clarity and uniformity are outstanding. One thing that I didn’t expect is that the keyboard feels much crisper than my work-supplied “Black Beauty” MacBook.


Tough choices

While I was in California last week, I found myself deep in the reality distortion field induced by the presence of MacBook Airs. Alec bought himself one, and several of the speakers at Stanford were using them. The weight, screen, and keyboard are pretty damn near perfect…
I’m looking at two basic options for my next laptop. The first – the conservative approach – is to get a loaded MacBook Pro with a 250GB disk (or perhaps the 200GB 7200 rpm unit, for speed). Physically it’s a drop-in replacement for my PowerBook, but much, much faster. If I use it the same way, it will spend 90% of its time as a desktop system.
The alternative is to admit that I would rarely use all of the features of a MacBook Pro, and with a lighter machine I’d actually treat it as a portable. Of course I need plenty of disk space for my iTunes library and photos, but a 1TB Time Capsule (combination 802.11n base station and network disk) could solve that. I assume that iTunes will be able to work with its library stored on a network disk; I just need to be able to rip the occasional CD using the external SuperDrive, and then sync between my iPhone and the iTunes library.
In terms of price, the two options are roughly comparable. But can I really use a MacBook Air without a second computer? I guess I could pick up a second hand Mac Mini for a couple of hundred dollars…
One of the things that’s causing me to lean towards the MBA is this MacWorld review by Dan Frakes, who actually lived with one for a while. The comments on his piece are fascinating, including this wonderful bit of truth-telling by “OlsonBW”:

Most of my friends scoff at the MacBook Air. But you know what? The only time they pull out CDs, DVDs, or their video camera is rare.
“But I use it to edit our vacation video.” They claim.
BS, I tell them. Show me the videos from your last three vacations.
Uh … they blush and then admit they only imported it into their computer and never touched it after that.
When it comes down to it, “most” of the time they never need anything that the MacBook Air doesn’t have. Once I prove that to them they are surprised at what they actually do.
People lie too much about what they actually need. They lie a lot because they’ve got to have the biggest and fastest even when they don’t use it.

And it’s true. Most of the time I don’t use all of the features on my machine. But 3 lbs. (versus 5.5 lbs.) is a “feature” that I can really use.


Tor's strategy seems to work… with me, anyway

As I noted recently, the sci-fi publishing house Tor has started making some of its “classic” books available for free download. Obviously they hope that people will read the freebies and pay for more, and if I’m at all typical the strategy is working. First I downloaded “Spin” by Robert Charles Wilson, transferred it to my Kindle, and read it over the next week. By the time I finished, John Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War” was available. I installed it on my Kindle, read it during my trip to California, and was ready for more. No problem: a quick search and a couple of clicks located and purchased the Kindle edition of Scalzi’s “The Ghost Brigades”. Excellent!
I finished this over my breakfast coffee this morning, and went to download the third book in the trilogy, “The Last Colony”. Except I couldn’t… there was no Kindle edition. C’mon Tor: you don’t have to wait until the book hits paperback before releasing the e-book version. I poked around to see if “The Sagan Diary” was available… alas, no. Reluctantly, I abandoned Scalzi for now, and checked out other works by Robert Charles Wilson. “The Chronoliths” took my fancy, and by the time I finished my coffee it was ready to read on the Kindle. Unusually, it’s set in a very tight ((I guess “condensed” would be the right term.)) typeface that I haven’t seen before on any of my Kindle purchases. I normally read Kindle books at the smallest font setting; with “The Chronoliths” I may need to bump it up a notch. It’s very crisp, though, with better definition than most Kindle typefaces.
Before leaving the subject of the Kindle, it’s worth noting ((Noting? Celebrating!!)) that they’ve added their first UK newspaper, “The Independent”, for $14.99 a month. I’ve just started the 14 day free trial: so far, I’m impressed.


Schneier on "The Security Mindset"

Must-read piece by Bruce Schneier on what he calls The Security Mindset.

Security requires a particular mindset. Security professionals — at least the good ones — see the world differently. They can’t walk into a store without noticing how they might shoplift. They can’t use a computer without wondering about the security vulnerabilities. They can’t vote without trying to figure out how to vote twice. They just can’t help it.

And it seems that someone across the lake at UW is trying to teach it, and the students are blogging about it. Very cool.


Bad weekend for US Airways

I’m not sure which would be worse: hearing a gun going off on the flightdeck, or having a chunk of the wing coming off and smashing against your window.


Seeing red in the Green Zone

Like a number of other bloggers, I’ve pretty much stopped postings about the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Re-reading my blog entries from three or four years ago, the most common tag was “Politics” ((I didn’t add the “Stupidity” and “Violent world” categories until recently.)), and there was a constant stream of new outrages to get worked up about. And we did.
Five years on, everybody seems numb. There’s nothing new to write about: no political breakthroughs, no strategic shifts, no new insights. But the most telling thing is that people – politicians, press, candidates, the military – just keep steadily lowering expectations. Even the “Magic pony”, the marvellous “Surge” that would stabilize things to give politics a chance, is crumbling. There’s been no political progress, the US body count is up to 4,000, and yesterday the death toll was nearly 60. Remember John McCain’s jaunty walk through the Baghdad market last April? Not this time. And as Juan Cole reports, even the Green Zone isn’t safe:

The Green Zone was subjected to repeated mortar and rocket attacks on Sunday, which killed 1 American and 4 others inside, and at least a dozen on its edges (because those firing them were bad shots). The Green Zone is where the US Embassy and major Iraqi government buildings are. It had been a little safer recently, or at least the Pentagon was peddling that line to CNN during last week’s commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the war (see the CNN piece below). It is a measure of how the war objectives keep being defined down, that for the Green Zone to be relatively safe was trumpeted as an accomplishment. The “green zone” was always supposed to be safe, since it was heavily guarded and surrounded by blast walls.

The most ironic aspect of all this is that Bush has been trying to talk up the situation in Iraq, and how the surge has “turned things around” ((By about 360°, as far as I can see.)), in order to distract people from the state of the economy. I imagine he’s trying to help McCain, who probably needs it: as Josh points out at TPM:

John McCain’s primary economics advisor, former Sen. Phil Gramm (R), is probably as responsible for setting the stage for this crisis as anyone in the country through his legislative role in the deregulation of the financial services industry.

UPDATE: For those who are not completely numbed, this piece on the reality of the “surge” is well worth reading.


How KKUP brought out the 60s in me

Last Saturday I was staying in Palo Alto ((I spent Thursday and Friday in business meetings in San Francisco, and Monday to Thursday at Stanford University. But that’s for another post.)) and I decided to drive down to Carmel Valley to visit Merry’s parents. As I headed over to 101 for the drive down, I hit the scan button on the rental car radio, and came across a Jefferson Airplane cut. I kept listening, and heard a steady stream of great psychedelic music from the late 60s and early 70s – bands like the 13th Floor Elevators, the Byrds, Iron Butterfly, and the Buffalo Springfield. (Even Blue Cheer!)
So what was this radio station, and where had it been all my life? It turned out to be “KKUP Cupertino – 91.5 FM – Non-Commercial People’s Radio”, and they were having a “Psychedelic Marathon” fundraiser. And fortune smiled: it turned out that KKUP covers both Silicon Valley and the Monterey Bay area, so I was able to hear them almost all the way there (and back, later in the day).
I meant to phone in to make a donation (and get the great Timothy Leary t-shirt that they were describing), but I got distracted by the time I reached my hotel in the evening. So just now, a week later, I visited their website, and the special shirt is no longer available… shucks. Anyway, I ordered a regular station logo shirt, to remind myself to tune in when I’m next in the Bay Area.
Now listening: “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man” by the Byrds.