When an online store collapses under the load….

Like many people, I decided to buy an HP TouchPad last weekend. In my case it was mostly nostalgia: my first mobile wireless data device was an HP-200LX with a RAM Data Modem. But I digress. So last Sunday I went to Best Buy, and struck out. Fry’s ditto. So I came home and decided to try the HP online store. To my amazement, I was able to buy a 32GB TouchPad for $149.
Or so I thought.
That was August 21. On August 22, I returned to the HP site, and the entire online store had vanished. There was no record of my order, my login at a different storefront wasn’t accepted….
On August 24, after receiving a cryptic transactional email from HP I went back to the HP site. Now there was a link to a special page for customers who had bought over the weekend. I logged in, and saw a line item for my order, which was shown as having been placed on August 22. Clicking on the line item brought up detailed order page, which showed that the item had been ordered on August 24, was due to ship on August 24, with an estimated delivery date of… August 24:

Of course the shipping information was blank. But it gets better. At the bottom of the page there was a link to Line item detail. This brought up the following gem, showing the estimated delivery date as August 26!

It is now August 28. None of the information concerning my order has changed since August 24. And (obviously) I haven’t received my TouchPad.
Anyone care to guess when it might arrive? I’m not holding my breath….
UPDATE: This just gets better and better. I tried to ask HP about the status of the order using their email tool, and got the following error:

UPDATE #2: Sunday on Labor Day weekend seems like the perfect time to update the order status – and someone at HP did exactly that! Apparently it’s being delivered today! (I’m not holding my breath.) Here’s the status:


Getting the instant-on performance I expected out of Lion on my MBA

When Apple started working on 10.7 (Lion), I signed up for a developer account and installed every new developer build on my MacBook Air. (And then used it for production work, in flagrant disregard of Apple’s warnings.) When 10.7 was launched on the world, I was already running the release bits. And since then bunch of stuff I’m not supposed to talk about.
But there was a problem. Over the last few months, wake-from-sleep time was getting slower and slower. Reviewers were waxing lyrical about how an SSD MBA with Lion was “instant-on” when you opened the lid; for me it was 30-90 seconds. I wondered whether it was related to the fact that I run in 32-bit mode (I still have to use some brain-dead Cisco VPN drivers – and yes, I know about the workarounds, and no, they don’t apply to my situation.) But colleagues weren’t seeing those problems.
So yesterday I did a clean install. I backed up my stuff onto a USB drive; erased the SSD and reinstalled 10.6 (Snow Leopard) from the cute USB key that came with my MBA; brought 10.6 up to date with Software Update; installed the release version of 10.7 from the App Store; reinstalled Office 2011, iWork, OmniGraffle and all my other apps, and restored my home directory. Then I synced bookmarks, etc. via MobileMe, and applied the latest stuff I’m not allowed to talk about. Finally I flipped the system to boot in 32-bit mode and added in the accursed VPN crap.
And it all just worked. My MBA really is “instant-on” from sleep; when I open the lid, I see the password prompt before the lid is 45 degrees open. And the system feels much, much snappier. (And it was pretty snappy to start with.)


Since everyone seems to be blogging about Steve Jobs…

Here’s an extract from a piece I wrote in January, 2009 on how Steve affected my career:

Why am I a Mac user? During 1996 there were rumours that Sun was trying to buy Apple. While any talk of acquisition soon fizzled, contact continued. For most of that year, I was part of a secret team working to integrate the Sun and Apple technology portfolios. Sun was to give up making desktop computers, Apple would abandon its minuscule server business, Solaris would be used as the basis for OS X, and sales and channel strategies would be coordinated. I spent much of my time that year at Apple, working on the networking aspects of the deal. It all unravelled when Steve Jobs returned to Apple at the beginning of 1997; with the NeXT OS technology he had no need for Solaris. Shortly afterwards, Eric Schmidt left Sun to join Novell, before moving to Google a few years later. All I got was a T-shirt, and a PowerBook – but that was enough.

The Apple side of the proposed deal was initiated by Ellen Hancock (CTO) and Gil Amelio (CEO), both of whom were dumped by the Apple board as part of Steve’s return. Neither seemed the kind of person who understood the importance of design, and could have led Apple down the path towards the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. So in retrospect the Apple board got it exactly right. But the joint venture was fun while it lasted, and I got to work with some amazing Apple engineers: figuring out how to add AFP and Apple printing support into Solaris, and working on eliminating the last non-TCP based networking dependencies in Mac OS.


The blogosphere at its most enjoyable: “Aristotle’s Revenge”

Over the last few days I’ve been reading (and occasionally contributing to) a lengthy blog thread entitled A Central “Argument” in Feser’s Final Chapter, “Aristotle’s Revenge” « Choice in Dying. The starting point was a back-and-forth between Erin MacDonald, the thoughtful author of the Choice in Dying blog, and Edward Feser, an intemperate advocate of Aristotelianism and Roman Catholic “natural law”. The comments provide an excellent contrast between those who believe that teleology of some kind is inescapable, and those who feel that at best it’s a consequence of the way that our language reflects our intentional stance (cf. Dan Dennett), and at worst it’s just a crude attempt to smuggle in a purposive deity. Good clean philosophical fun. Recommended.


The view from my (office) window



Imagine if every Android device maker lost their Linux distribution license

Every so often, I come across a blog posting that makes my head spin from thinking of the implications. This evening was one of those occasions. I defy you to ignore this after reading the opening paragraph…

Last week I read about an Android licensing issue that I wasn’t previously aware of. It’s a pretty serious one, and it’s not that hard to understand. The short version is that

  • rampant non-compliance with the source code disclosure requirement of the GPLv2 (the license under which Linux is published) — especially but not only in connection with Honeycomb — has technically resulted in a loss of most vendors’ right to distribute Linux;
  • this loss of the distribution license is irremediable except through a new license from each and every contributor to the Linux kernel, without which Android can’t run; and
  • as a result, there are thousands of people out there who could legally shake down Android device makers, threatening to obtain Apple-style injunctions unless their demands for a new license grant are met.

This is from the FOSS Patents blog. It is not a joke, there is no hyperbole. Even though IANAL, the analysis seems to be persuasively grounded in GPLv2 language and case law.
This could get very interesting indeed….
UPDATE: There’s been widespread reactions to the FOSSpatents piece, most of it critical. The Register picked it up (well, they would, wouldn’t they?), linking it to efforts by Edward Naughton, and the commenters rubbished the analysis. Over at Twitter, Carlo Daffara, Dj Walker-Morgan, and my old buddy Simon Phipps all piled in.
One of the toughest things in reading the legal tea-leaves is that when cases like the various BusyBox suits are settled before they go to trial, it’s impossible to determine whether the settlement was due to the strength of the case or the balance of expenses. Those who have an axe to grind will always insist that the settlement smoke means that the licensing fire was real. Skepticism seems prudent. Nevertheless, the stakes are high, and I’m glad that we’re discussing the topic.


Testing social integration (2)

The old plugins that I was using seem to have become abandonware, so I’ve been doing some housekeeping.
You know, blogs and computers are really great ways of procrastinating. There are always updates, patches, tweaking, and other essential but non-productive tasks to be done. And the complexity of smartphones and their apps now means that we can take this timewasting wherever we want. When I was a kid in England, male home-owners tended to use their garden shed or allotment for this kind of thing. The nearest kind of portable procrastination was smoking a pipe; a pipe always needed scraping or cleaning, or something.


Why am I waiting for a book for which Glenn Beck contributed to the back-cover blurb?

As Tweeted:

@geoffarnold: Hallelujah! Amazon reports my copy of Penn Jillette’s “God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist…” is in the mail!



In an uncharacteristic spasm of organization, I just piled up all of my t-shirts on the bed and sorted out the non-keepers. There were 33 of them. Quite a few passed the first test – “Do I like this shirt?” – but failed the second: “Am I really going to wear this in the future?”
I should probably go through the same exercise for the 411(!) iPhone/iPad apps on my computer. At the very least, I guess I should get rid of the iPhone versions of apps which I have in both formats (iPhone and iPad). But it’s hard for me to shake off the conviction that eventually I’m going to own an iPhone again. After the first few weeks of going Android, I feel that AT&T, Samsung and Google are going to have to work hard to keep me as a customer. (And maybe that’s the problem – all three of them have to get it right. Who is The Weakest Link?) Of course the current spate of lawsuits – Apple v. Samsung, Oracle v. Google, and LodSys v. everyone – may render the question moot. We’ll see. (I think that last sentence merits its own #FAIL tag.)


An unexpected experience connects with my childhood love of science

I’ve developed cataracts. Nothing very surprising there: there’s a family history of cataracts, and 42% of people here in the US between 52 and 64 are affected. So I’ve moved quickly through the various stages of understanding:

  • Shit, what’s happening to my eyesight? Did my optometrist screw up my last prescription?
  • Hmmm, I’m having difficulty reading highway signs. Perhaps I should get this checked.
  • Cataracts? Eye surgery? Ick…
  • Hmm, lens implants. How does that work? Let’s watch the video…. Wow, that’s cool!
  • Just a minute… you can choose any power lens you want? So I could get 20/20 distance vision and use reading glasses? So I could go out… walk… drive… without glasses for the first time since I was 4 years old? Awesome!

And so that’s what I’m going to be doing during September and October, spread out to accommodate travel and other stuff.
But that’s not what I wanted to write about.

I was sitting in the optometrist’s office, going through the usual left eye/right eye tests, reading the charts (“Can you read off line 2 to me?” “There’s a line 2???“), and suddenly she handed me a black paddle with a pin-hole. “Look through this,” she said, “and tell me what you can read.” And after a moment’s adjustment, I was able to read off the whole chart. Then I moved the pin-hole slightly, and everything went blurry. From somewhere inside me, an 8-year old voice asked if she could wait for a moment, and by moving the pin-hole around I was able to trace out the blotchy shapes of the cataracts on my lens. And as I did so, I was back in 1958, in our house in London NW2, lying in front of the fire in the sitting room, reading the dark green, leatherette-bound, 18-volume encyclopedia of science that my mother had bought for me at a jumble sale, and reviewing the diagrams of the optics of the eye, filled with awe at the power of science.
We all assume that a trained professional can measure things like cataracts to sub-millimetric precision using fancy technology. But it was surprising – delightful! – to find that I could visualize the same phenomena using a $5 piece of plastic. That was a very cool experience.