Foothills Park

Today was an almost perfect autumn day (California variety), and we decided that it was the ideal occasion to explore one of the perks of living in Palo Alto: Foothills Park. It’s a 1,400 acre tract of rolling chaparral, woodland, and lakes, open only to Palo Alto residents and their guests(!). We parked by Boronda Lake and walked around it, and then drove via the Interpretive Center to a hilltop “vista” which gave us a splendid view of San Francisco Bay. As you can see from the photos, we had a clear view of Mount Diablo and Oakland, as well as local landmarks like the Hoover Tower at Stanford and the airship hangars at Moffett Field.

(Thumbnails link to full-size 4000×3000 originals.)

The week's twitterings – 2010-10-31

  • Weird #f1 race: lousy track, poor race control, lots of bad driving, 9 DNFs. It makes for a dramatic finale, but IMHO it's bad for the sport #
  • RT @myinnervoice: I just signed the Contribute the Apple JDK source to OpenJ petition at <ditto #
  • I'm going to a Meetup with SF Bay Area Large-Scale Production Engineering! #
  • RT @macworld: iPhoto '11 review: < But what we really need to know: Is there a reliable *loss-free* upgrade process yet? #
  • Listening to a presentation on the "Asterix" scalable parallel data framework by Michael Carey of UC Irvine. #
  • Frustrating. I just got approval to attend #qconsf headed over to the website, and some time in the last few hours it sold out. Sigh. #

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The week's twitterings – 2010-10-24

  • In retrospect, I've decided Dim Sum is not for me: unpredictable, and real-time decision-making interrupts conversational flow. I like menus #
  • Grey, wet afternoon here on Palo Alto, so we're all carving pumpkins. I wonder if there's an app for that? #
  • RT @alecmuffett, @jimfinnis: RIP Benoit Mandelbrot. Thank God he wasn't murdered. It would have taken… forever to draw the chalk outline. #
  • RT @adrianco: TripTrace: A Place Book For Where You’ve Been And Where You’re Going <Looks very cool. I'm in the queue… #
  • National Review Gives Up, Tries Magic #ordinarygentlemen #
  • RT @CloudSlam: RT The Future of #Cloud Storage is NAS… < Didn't we all know that already? #
  • WTF? iTunes suddenly started saying that my credit card was declined. I checked with my card supplier, and everything looks OK at their end #
  • Looks like Apple wants software developers to stop using Macs. Why else would they deprecate Java on OS X? #
  • 2NE1 As @zoetica says, "How can I simultaneously hate and love one thing this much?" With dancing Stormtroopers!!!!! #
  • Thinking back to really wet races at Spa or Nurburgring (long format). If today's drivers say that Korea is "impossible" we need to fix #f1 #

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iTunes FAIL

One of the nice things about the iPod/iPhone/iPad/iTunes ecosystem is that all my apps and other content is sharable across my devices. I can browse the iTunes Store on my Mac or my iPad, find an app that I like, buy it, and after sync’ing it will be available on my iPhone. Nifty. And to do this, I simply need to use my iTMS account password on all of the devices I use.
But sometimes this is not the behavior that I want. Take my current project: to prepare an iPad as an ACS device for Tommy. I want to install a couple of apps on this device, and I want any members of the family to be able to update those apps as needed. But I don’t want everyone having access to all of my apps, and I certainly don’t want to give everyone my password.
The solution seemed obvious. I’d create a second iTunes account, with a new name (email address) and password. Initially I’d link this to my regular credit card, and I’d buy the necessary apps. Then I’d link the account to a restricted credit card number – something like Bank of America’s ShopSafe – and I could hand over the password secure in the knowledge that the iPad could not be used to compromise my primary account or to buy lots of apps.
Seemed obvious. The only problem was that it didn’t work. Worse, both my new iTMS account and the old one were locked out, with iTunes reporting that my credit card had been declined. I called my card provider. “No, no problem here. No holds, no unexpected transactions.”
There was another unexpected side-effect. I’d purchased the nw iPad at the Apple Store in Palo Alto, and told them to email the receipt to me as usual. Normally the email arrives very promptly (sometimes before I get home), but on this occasion it was delayed for a few hours. And when it was sent out, it went to the email address corresponding to the new iTunes account. It looks as if the Apple Store billing system simply picks up the last email address that was used in any kind of interaction involving your credit card number….
I decided to contact Apple. It turns out that the only mechanism is to use email via a web form. I submitted two complaints, one for each account. I got auto-generated email acknowledgments for both, followed by a bland “we’re looking into it” for just one of them. (They’re probably going to miss their advertised SLA on the second.) And then I searched the Apple support forums.
There were hundreds and hundreds of complaints about this issue. One of the many discussion threads was over 14 pages long. The impressions that I took away were of a system with hair-trigger fraud detection and a completely inadequate customer service model to cope with the inevitable false positives. I was hoping for something of the quality and responsiveness of, but this feels more like AT&T. (Sorry, that’s unfair to AT&T.)
Just before I wrote this blog piece, I tried to buy a $0.99 app on my iPhone. The credit card was declined: they still haven’t sorted it out. I’m tempted to create a brand new account for Tommy’s iPad, with a new Yahoo Mail address and a different credit card. However there’s no way to delete an account, so it’s unclear if this would help.
UPDATE: My primary iTunes account has started working again. Haven’t had a chance to check out the secondary. No email from Apple, despite their assurances. (Not even a automated “ticket closed” message.)

The new MacBook Air

It looks gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. The 11.6 inch model is a worthy successor to the great Apple subnotebooks which culminated in the classic 12 inch Powerbook.
And yet, it comes with a CPU that’s slower than my first-generation MacBook Air. OK, the flash drive will make it feel faster (ANYTHING would beat out the original MBA’s disk), but even so…..

The iPad project, #1

Today I took delivery of an Otterbox iPad Defender case, and I bought a new iPad (64GB, Wifi + 3G). (But not from Amazon.) I’m busy restoring the backed-up data from my old 32GB iPad onto the new one, and at the same time I’m resetting the old one to virgin status.
All of this is in aid of a cunning plan, with a fiendish side benefit. The main plan is to transform my original iPad into an Augmentative Communications Solution for my lovely grandson Tommy, who has autism and other developmental disabilities. Custom ACS devices cost up to $7K, but a number of parents and teachers are having great success using an iPad application called Proloquo2Go. Of course Tommy can get a little wild, hence the ruggedized case from Otterbox. I’m going to spend the next couple of days setting things up, and then ship the system off to Massachusetts.
The fiendish side benefit involves my trip to England in December on the occasion of my mother’s 95th birthday. I’ll be staying at her house, which has no high-speed Internet access. The idea of spending a whole week “off the net” was too horrible to contemplate. (Don’t bother to try to convince me otherwise!) However it turns out that all 3G-enabled iPads are identical, and all are unlocked. So when I get to the UK, I’m going to buy a pay-as-you-go iPad SIM from Three (or similar), and I’ll be back in business. In fact I may use Skype on my iPad instead of a conventional mobile phone. (Anyone care to comment on how usable this is, and how much of my data plan it will consume?)
More anon….

The week's twitterings – 2010-10-17

  • Just arrived – early – at SFO for @Unitedairlines Family Day event. Airplane pull, Blue Angels… then dinner with #flyertalk airline geeks #
  • So why did both Rosberg and Kubica have wheels fall off? Same wheel nut supplier? Weird #f1 stuff #
  • “@Scobleizer: In 10 minutes it will be 10:10 am on 10/10/10. I need coffee.” Me too. Nothing here at SFO Long Term Parking… #
  • At the UA MCO at SFO – cool! #
  • The answer to the question is 87,000 pounds or 43.5 tons. #
  • First non-Blue Angels F-18 just took off… #
  • Airplane pulls are starting. That A320 moves quite easily…. My team's turn is in about an hour. #
  • The F-16s just took off at maximum afterburner. "No speed restrictions" from ATC, I assume! #
  • Waiting for the pilots…. #
  • “@lskrocki: Also…tweeting as a procrastination ploy.” I'll get back to you on that…. #
  • Attending my first Yahoo tech conference at Santa Clara Conference Center. Great opportunity to get a breadth-wise view of the company. #
  • Anyone know anything about using the iPad as an augmentative assistive communications device for kids with autism? ACOLUG looks interesting. #
  • Had to miss @adrianco's talk on #netflix on #aws because we're going to SJC to meet Hannah. But I doubt I would have got in to the DoJo…. #

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It pays to check up on things

My mother‘s 95th birthday is coming up in December, and I’m going to be visiting her in Oxford for a week. This morning I went ahead and booked the flights and rental car. I priced it out at several websites, and the cheapest was United Vacations. (I was committed to flying on United, because I need a couple of thousand miles to lock in MP Premier Exec status next year.) I wanted to arrive in London relatively early, and so I chose a SFO-ORD-LHR routing. Everything went through just fine, and soon afterwards I received the detailed itinerary.
They’d booked me on UA906 connecting with UA931, which gave me just 40 minutes to make the connection in Chicago. We’re talking about Chicago in December, after departing from SFO, the airport with the worst on-time record in the US. On top of this, I was planning to check my bag through from SFO to LHR, and I was hoping that it would arrive with me.
On the other hand, the system wouldn’t have coughed up this flight pairing if it was out of policy, would it?
This evening, I decided to call United, and after wandering through a voice-recognition call tree, I got to an agent and explained my concern. “Let me look that up,” she said. “Nope, that’s wrong: you’re supposed to have an hour and 15 minutes for an international connection.” And in a few minutes she’d switched me onto an earlier flight, given me the same seat I’d had before (after confirming my preference), double-checked that the transaction wouldn’t trigger a change fee, and emailed the revised itinerary to me. I’m now on UA972-UA928 eastbound, and UA931 westbound.
Decisive, courteous, knowledgable [UPDATE: Or maybe not – see Cranky’s comment below.]: everything one hopes for in a customer service representative. Thanks.
P.S. I’m a bit particular when it comes to seats. In the northern hemisphere, I always go for a port window eastbound and a starboard window when I’m flying west. I like to look out of the window without getting blinded or fried.

Quote of the day: Kirk on populism

Bloggers of all stripes have been toasting or roasting Andrew Sullivan on the occasion of the (approximate) tenth anniversary of the Daily Dish. There have been some sparkling contributions as well as several powerful indictments (sometimes in the same posting), but I particularly liked this bit from Stephen Bainbridge:

Today, Andrew is leading the fight to oppose those who are trying to morph conservatism into populism. Russell Kirk wrote that “Populism is a revolt against the Smart Guys. I am very ready to confess that the present Smart Guys, as represented by the dominant mentality of the Academy and of the Knowledge Class today, are insufficiently endowed with right reason and moral imagination. But it would not be an improvement to supplant them by persons of thoroughgoing ignorance and incompetence.” [My emphasis-GA.]