For those who get easily distracted by the newest toys….

From El Reg:

According to November 2008 stats (PDF) from Datamonitor – the international research firm headquartered in London – the world is still running 200 billion lines of COBOL code and about 5 billion lines are added to live systems every year. Believe it or not, between 1.5 and 2 million developers are still working with the 50-year-old programming language.

(Yeah, I’m looking at you, Ruby.)

Stuff fails

Last week I awoke to a nasty surprise: my Apple Time Capsule had died. I’ve been using it for about three years, as both WiFi access point and back-up disk, and I was dimly aware of reports that early TC’s had a nasty habit of failing when they were out of warranty, but of course nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition it to happen to them. But it did. And as I tweeted, the replacement was quickly installed: an Airport Extreme WiFi access point, an external Iomega 1TB hard disk for backups, and an extra Airport Express to make sure that I had good coverage throughout the apartment.
And that was that. Or rather, it wasn’t. Because both of us had (ahem) used the Time Capsule for more than simple backup. We’d used it as a convenient way of sharing data, especially photographs and genealogical data. And so there was a lingering “action item” to try to recover what was on the TC hard drive.
This morning I received a request for a photograph: one which I knew was on the TC. I got the Time Capsule off the Shelf Of Dead Electronics and… well, on a whim, I decided to plug it in. To my surprise, the light came on! WTF? I quickly unplugged it before it could complete POST and try to take over my WiFi network. Naturally, when I came home this evening, I tried plugging it in again. Nothing. Not a flicker. And then I read the various descriptions of TC failures, and realized that the most likely cause was a capacitor in the power supply, and that such a failure might well taunt me with a random flicker.
So I’ve just completed disassembling the TC, and removing the Hitachi Deskstar HD. Tomorrow I will stop at Fry’s and pick up a 3.5″ AT enclosure, so that I can try mounting the disk on my Mac Mini. I’m not worried about the Time Machine backups – those have been recreated – but I hope I can get the other data off it.
UPDATE #1: After reading this MacRumors thread, I’m going to be extra careful in choosing a HD enclosure. Apparently many of them have feeble power supplies that can’t meet the start-up demands of the Hitachi disk. (The label says that it needs “5V 680mA 12V 850mA”, which is comfortably less than the 2A that most supplies are spec’d for. However I bet that’s steady-state current, not the start-up suckage.)
UPDATE #2: I wound up getting a generic SATA enclosure made by Sabrent. It was a returned item, so I paid only $23.74. It turned out that the TC HD was carved up into two small admin partitions and a partition called “Time Capsule”. One of the subdirectories had been written from Windows, and even though the permissions looked OK, I couldn’t read or copy it, so I had to chown/chmod the whole thing before I could recover it. Otherwise, no problems.


Back in Seattle, my cable TV/internet provider Millennium Digital Broadstripe had a pricing model that made it irrational to get anything other than a package with every premium service that they offered.
Here in Palo Alto, we have Comcast, and it didn’t quite work that way. After making sure we had the four essential channels – Fox Soccer, Speed, Turner Classic Movies and BBC – there were plenty of economical, premium-free packages. And they offer a fair number of video-on-demand options, both paid and free. But even so…. Yes, we belong to Netflix, but we’ve found ourselves ordering “worthy” movies on DVD and then being in the mood for something light.
Last week we visited some friends for dinner, and after we’d eaten a couple of us wound up in the den, watching bits of weird Troma movies, streamed from Netflix via their Xbox360. The penny dropped, and that evening I ordered a Roku box. A $99 set-top box that lets me stream video from Netflix and Amazon straight onto my HDTV. Finally I’m getting to enjoy the IT Crowd
(Oh, and a tip for Amazon: you need to investigate a subscription pricing model for video-on-demand. Yes, it’s more convenient that I can search the Amazon catalog through the Roku, rather than having to add movies to my “Instant queue” on my laptop before I can watch them. But every time I find something on Amazon, I go to check for it on Netflix, because I’ve already paid for all I can watch from them.)

"You didn't lose your country, you just lost an election"

The protestors keep saying that they want their country back. Sorry, my fellow small-governmenters, but this country is a democracy, and you didn’t lose your country, you just lost an election. You had your chance for eight years. You blew it, and you lost. What Obama is doing is what he was elected to do. The principled response is not a massive, extremist-riddled hissy fit a few months in, but a constructive set of proposals to build on universal care for a more market-friendly and cost-conscious system in the future. You have to win some political credibility for that; and then you have to beat the man you lost so badly to last year. That’s the civil and civilized way forward for the right. It also seems, alas, to be the one they are currently refusing to take.

Andrew Sullivan.

San Juan Bautista

Here are some photos from San Juan Bautista, taken on our visit on Labor Day weekend, 2009. San Juan Bautista interiorThey are mostly shots of (and in) the buildings making up the National Park. The final pictures show the San Andreas Fault just below the Mission: you can see how the path has been displaced laterally by as much as 50 feet when it crosses the fault.
This was also the first reasonably long run we’ve tried in the Prius. We told the navigation system where to take us, and it did, competently. However the way that the voice instructions were mixed in with the music from the CD changer was definitely odd. Overall it was very comfortable: the Touring package definitely improves ride and handling.
One thing that remains a challenge is the voice command mode. At first I thought that it was simply my odd, British accent. (I told the system to “Call Kate” and it responded by saying that it was “Setting temperature to 80 degrees”!) But it couldn’t understand Kate either. Time to dig out the manual, I guess.

ANA Premium Economy

Last Saturday I blogged about my upcoming trip home:

I’ve never flown ANA before. NH912 is on a 767, and I have a window seat; NH008 is on a 777, with no seat assigned. I hope that isn’t a bad sign. At least I can credit the miles to UA.

It turned out to be an exceptionally good sign. Here’s what happened.
I got up bright and early, checked out of the Huawei hotel, and got a taxi to Shenzen Shekou ferry terminal. It’s amazing how a complex piece of logistics can become routine after only one repetition. I boarded the ferry, got a seat as close to the exit as possible, and watched the time crawl by as we moved slowly through the morning fog. Scheduled: 30 minutes; actual: 45, Hmmm. I was the first one off the boat, and raced over to the ANA checkin area. (Most airlines allow you to check in at the “Skyport”, rather than having to do it at the main terminal.) The ANA representative was friendly and helpful, so I asked if there was any chance of getting a window, or at least an aisle, on the NRT-SFO leg. “Sorry, no, it’s very full”, she said, “but I’ll put you in the first row of Economy.” I wondered about the pros and cons of this – usually more leg room, but narrower seats because of the tray tables – but I didn’t argue; there was no time to lose. I thanked her, went through security (tediously slow), collected the refund of my departure tax, and got on the bus to the terminal. Almost immediately, the bus started off, raced up a short access road, and stopped. A security guy was blocking the road, and just to make his point clear, he proceeded to place four orange cones at the four corners of the bus.
We all waited. There was no announcement; people seemed resigned to the wait. It glanced at my watch: it was just past 9:00, and my HKG-NRT flight was due to start boarding at 9:45. I sweated a bit – not difficult, because the air conditioning wasn’t coping very well with the 98% humidity. Finally at 9:15 we were released, and by 9:25 we reached the terminal. Somehow I made it to the gate by 9:42, and boarding commenced immediately.
The HKG-NRT flight was on a 767-300 that looked as if it was due for retirement. I’m sure that ANA had hoped that it would be putting 787s into service by now. Coincidentally, the lunch service included a bottle of water wrapped in advertisements for the Japanese supplier of some of the composite materials used in the Dreamliner. At this point, ANA and most of the other customers have probably torn up their 787 launch plans until Boeing comes up with some real data. In any case, the flight was full, the service was good, the food was excellent, I managed to sleep,and so I don’t remember too much about the whole thing. “Uneventful”: the best kind of flight.
At NRT I went through the inevitable security check, and then hung out for a while at the Red Carpet Club. (I was trying to resist the siren song of the “Akihabara at Narita” store just across the corridor!) Eventually we boarded, and I received a pleasant surprise: I was in Premium Economy! Half-way down the interminable fuselage of the 777-300ER, squeezed in between Business Class and Economy, is a little three row section that ANA has designated “Premium” class. Instead of the 3-3-3 seating in regular Economy, Premium is 2-4-2. Pitch is 38 inches, the seats are a couple of inches wider than usual, and they recline a few degrees further. (Yes, they really recline – no “shell” nonsense.) And there are real leg rests. Life is good.
The result? One of the most comfortable long-haul flights in a long time. The food was good, and the flight attendants were doling out bottles of wine as though it were the eve of Prohibition. The in-flight entertainment included great video-on-demand, and the headphones supplied were battery-powered active noise canceling.
Verdict: heck yes! I’ll fly ANA Premium Economy any time.

Some music for commuting

For the last three years, I’ve lived without a car, and this period coincided with a big push to move most of my music from CD to computer. Whenever I listened to music, I used iTunes on my computer or iPhone; I’m used to having at least 8GB of stuff to choose from.
But now I’m reverting to commuting by car. And while my 2007 Prius gets fabulous mileage, the audio is a bit awkward. There is an Aux coax input, so I could hook up the headphone jack of my iPhone, but the socket is buried in the glovebox in the center console, and it’s awkward to reach.
The obvious thing to do is to revert to loading up the CD changer, but the vast majority of my discs are tucked away in archive folders back in Massachusetts. So this evening I decided to burn a couple of discs of favourites. Since I ripped everything into AAC format (hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time), I can only burn conventional audio CDs, not MP3 CDs. Anyway, here’s my first selection:

  • Alabama Song by The Doors
  • Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around by the Steve Miller Band
  • Shady Grove by Quicksilver Messenger Service
  • Paradise By The Dashboard Light by Meatloaf
  • Singing Cowboy by Love
  • I’m Going Home by Ten Years After (from “Live At The Filmore”)
  • Davey’s On The Road Again by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
  • La Grange by ZZ Top
  • Cowgirl by Underworld
  • Radioactive Toy by Porcupine Tree
  • Jesus Built My Hotrod by Ministry

Nothing too radical there; it’s mostly from the 70s, with a couple of things from the 80s and 90s. However Cowgirl and Jesus Built My Hotrod definitely fall into the category of “music to damage your speakers”.