Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Looking for God

In the dead of the night, seemingly simple soft sounds travel far. A fallen leaf moving across concrete in a quiet breeze or rustling tree branches as a gentle rain falls upon them. While I'm a heavy sleeper, something out of the ordinary will wake me up with a feather's touch.

Last night, I slept with my bedroom window open. This morning, at 4 AM, I awoke to the gentle rustling of plastic bags about 50 feet away. It's a sound I occasionally hear. I immediately knew it was a homeless person dumpster diving. I went outside and asked him what he was looking for. He stared at me for a moment and, in an annoyed tone, he said, "I'm looking for God." I told him that he should move along. I went back inside and he was on his way.

After he left I began wondering what he was really looking for. The seemingly obvious answer would be recyclables. Yet he wasn't going through the bottle and can bin next to the dumpster, nor did I hear any clanging or banging of glass and metal. He was simply opening plastic bags, mostly, if not all, bags of Starbucks trash. Perhaps he was looking for food. But there are better restaurants, nearby, to scavenge.

He was definitely not looking for hard-goods, and he was a pro at being as quiet as possible. What could he – as many I've heard before him – be looking for?

Friday, December 12, 2014

iOS Spotlight Bug

Without noticing it, I've installed well over 100 apps on my iPhone. Obviously, the ones I use most frequently are on my first home screen with a couple stragglers on the second screen. Occasionally, I need an app that's buried somewhere on the other 15 screens. To find those apps, I, like most everyone, pull down on the home screen to reveal the Spotlight search text field.

Unfortunately, after most iOS updates or after restoring a phone from a backup, Spotlight seems to stop finding apps until I open the app I'm looking for, for the first time.

This is a reproducible problem that I've noticed for at least a year. Here's what it looks like along with my workaround.

1. Confirm that the Applications option is checked and it's at the top of your Spotlight search setting.

2. Search for the app that Spotlight can't find. In my case, I was looking for my little-used eBay app. Sure enough, it didn't show up in Spotlight.

3. Search for the app in the Apple App Store. The App Store knows if you've already installed an app so that you don't need to redownload it. If an app is already installed on your iPhone, the GET or $x.xx button will say OPEN. Tap the OPEN button and the App Store, which is hundreds or thousands of miles away, will find and open the app that Spotlight, running on your own phone, couldn't find.

4. Once I've opened the app and then closed it, it magically appears in future searches. As a matter of fact, once I've gone through this exercise it seems that Spotlight is now primed to find other apps too.

Postscript: I've also seen a similar issue when searching for people or text in the iPhone's Messages app, but I haven't found a work around for that, yet.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Super Stellar Service

As a consumer, nothing makes me happier than superior customer service.

Yesterday, I effortlessly exchanged an iPhone case at my local Apple Store. When I was done with the exchange, the Apple employee took me through the iPhone Apple Store app. This app allows customers to self-checkout items rather than hailing an Apple employee to process the transaction. This works for all their products except for the two serialized items they sell on the floor: Apple TV and the wireless basestations. That's amazing. As far as I know, it's the only place where customers can self-checkout without supervision. Obviously, that makes pilferage easy, but Apple doesn't seem too worried about that.

This afternoon, I caught a lift with a Uber driver from Ethiopia. Like most San Diego Uber drivers from East Africa, my driver was a former taxi driver. Since I used to live in East Africa, we had a great rapport. I couldn't help commenting how nicely his iPhone 6 was connected to his car vent. He popped it off and gave it to me so I could have a closer look. It was a Kenu car vent mount that snuggly held an iPhone without having to remove the case.

This evening, I took a trip back to the Apple store and bought a Kenu case. Of course I checked myself out. It was my first experience with Apple Pay and I was hooked. On the way through Bloomingdales I bought a Brooklyn t-shirt, that caught my eye, using Apple Pay and that was dangerously easy for this impulse purchase. Before leaving the mall I used Apple Pay, for the third time in an hour, at The Container Store. That, too, was a breeze.

The Apple Pay transactions happen so fast that I almost missed them except for the part where I had to sign; after all, it's still a credit card transaction. The cashier at The Container Store told me a previous customer said that the store receipt had the wrong last-four credit card digits. I took a look at my paper receipt and, sure enough, the last four digits didn't match my credit card. But, then it hit me that Apple Pay generates a unique, one-time, credit card number for each transaction.

Service with a smile in the blink of an eye. What more could I ask for?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Uploading Large Files to S3

I've downloaded and tried out quite a few AWS tools since I started using Amazon's web services in 2007. Originally, S3 had a 5 GB file size limitation which was increased to 5 TB four years ago. Unfortunately, all the S3 tools I've downloaded are limited to 5 GB. The challenge appears to be that any object larger than 5 GB requires the use of the multipart upload API and none of my tools can handle that.

Today, I needed to upload a 7.35 GB file. I was almost ready to give up after trying a few of my desktop tools along with my plug-ins for Firefox and Chrome. Then I got the idea to simply log into AWS with Safari and use their web based management console (duh). That, along with my speedy fast home Internet connection, did the trick. It was such a simple solution that I almost overlooked it.

Update: One bit of funkiness is that the tools which can't handle files over 5 GB can't properly report an object's size, although they do seem to be able to successfully download the files.

Free Music

Ever wish that you could listen to free background music like you hear in a cafe? It turns out that many mom and pop cafe owners simply stream multi-hour long music from YouTube. A bargain at twice the price.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday

What was I doing just shy of the Mexican border at midnight? Because, if you don't shop on Black Friday, then the terrorists win, I joked.

I shop for clothes once or twice a year and Black Friday has great deals. I didn't do too much planning. The outlet mall near the US/Mexico border opened at 6 PM, yesterday (Thanksgiving Day) and they'll close tonight at 10 PM (Black Friday). Yes, that's 28 hours straight they'll be opened.

A couple years ago I went to the outlet mall by Legoland when I was living in Carlsbad. It was simpler, there, since that mall was just a few miles from where I lived. At the time, they opened at 10 PM and stayed open for 24 hours. Now, they've obviously stretched that by four more hours.

The worst part about the outlet mall in San Ysidro, tonight, was getting into and out of it. From the freeway, it's a single lane in each direction, so it was backed up, up the offramp and onto the 5. After watching some people walk past me faster than the queue of cars was moving, I decided to park on the street and walk the last half-mile. That also saved me the hassle of finding a parking spot once I had actually made into the parking lot. Walking turned out to be a good decision with the exception of breathing in car fumes.

Obviously, the outlets were packed. Even Starbucks had a line out the door; so were lines at some other stores. Luckily, I was shopping at Brooks Brothers which isn't exactly known for being  trendy. There were no shortage of pooped families, plopped down on the benches with half a dozen shopping bags apiece. What did surprise me, though, were how many people were dragging large luggage bags to pack up their booty. That's fairly smart for those who had to walk back across the border into Mexico. I only had to walk half a mile and my fingers were getting a little sore carrying a couple shopping bags and a coat hanger. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Yes, Dave, Everything is Broken

Everything is broken. I said that in September and Dave Winer said it yesterday.

Ok, it's not quite everything, but it sure feels like it when your simple workflow comes screeching to a halt.

Software engineering is about managing complexity. It seems the level of personal technology has exceeded our ability to reliably manage it.

I'm typing this on my two-year-old iPad with Apple's Bluetooth keyboard. Normally, I use my MacBook Air, but today I wanted to focus on writing. It's too easy to go down a rabbit hole on my laptop. With just my iPad and keyboard, it's as close as I can be to being offline while being online. It minimizes my distractions.

Unfortunately, my afternoon is failing miserably. I can't get my iPad to keep its Bluethooth connection with my keyboard. On top of that, I can't respond to an incoming text message even when the keyboard is connected. One could make the case that it's a dying battery in the keyboard. (How would I know if the battery is dying? There's no way to check on the iPad.) But that doesn't explain why, when the keyboard is connected, it doesn't allow me to respond to pop-up text messages.

That frustration, added to the fact that Apple's Continuity fails me 50% of the time, is too aggravating. I hear my iPhone ringing, just a few feet away, but I can't answer it on my Mac half of the time. Oh, have I mentioned that the "Check Spelling While Typing" sometimes flags misspelled words now, and sometimes, at an arbitrary point in the future, it will suddenly flag a word that's been misspelled for hours? And don't get me started on the OS X dictation feature which is sometimes unavailable for no discernible reason.

So, I gave up trying to write in Pages on my iPad, this afternoon, and decided to blog here for a few minutes. Prose will have to wait.

And this isn't a case that all new technology has bugs. It's that the level of complexity is getting more than can be managed. My keyboard used to connect to my iPad, and stay connected; and my mouse used to do the same with my Mac. Now, both are hit-or-miss. Trust me, I clearly remember how elegant and bug-free the first iPhone was, yet how bad OS X 1.0 was.

Could it be turnover at Apple? I wonder if the lessons learned, from 15 years ago, are being repeated by the new software engineers at Apple?

Technology is suppose to move out of the way to enable productivity, not hinder it. But, I guess that's my problem to deal with. Perhaps I should focus on the positive, like the fact that I can count on one hand the number of times I've had a kernel panic over the last few years.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Visiting Home: Lasers, Computers, & Sweatshirts

I spent the last two weeks visiting my mother in my childhood home. It's been a long time since I've spent that much time here. Tonight, as I was packing up, I came across a few things from decades ago.


The first thing I came across was my prep school sweatshirt from NAPS. At a quarter of a century old it still looks as good as new.

Naval Academy Prep School


After seeing my old sweatshirt, it piqued my interest to take a peek in the attic. I found my first two personal computers. A TRS-80 Model I and a Model III. I spent many hours writing BASIC and Z-80 assembly on these machines. Without a doubt, these two computers formed the foundation of my career. The Model I was first manufactured in 1977 and the Model III shipped about three years later. The year 1977 was the defining moment for the personal computer industry; it's the year that the first personal computers shipped with a keyboard, monitor, and tape deck for persistent storage. It's the year of the Apple II, TRS-80, and Commodore PET. Out of the gate, Apple set the standard for a personal computer with upper and lower case text and color. I gravitated to the TRS-80 simply because they were sold in Radio Shack computer centers which were easily accessible to me via a two mile bike ride. The only store that carried the Apple II was twice that distance. 

Wrapped up TRS-80 Model I on the left, Model III on the right.

Metrologic He-Ne Lasers

Last, but not least, I came across my two helium-neon lasers that I purchased in junior high school to make holograms in my basement. The process of making my holograms was fairly simple. The most important thing was that there could be no movement more than a half-wavelength of light, otherwise the hologram would be ruined. I wrote about my first hologram a half dozen years ago.

I unboxed my two lasers, tonight, and I was astonished that, after more than 30 years, they both still worked. In the 1980s, laser diode technology was nonexistent for consumers – there were no laser pointers. Helium-neon lasers cost a few hundred dollars and they were the least expensive lasers that I could buy that could be used to make holograms. I spent many months delivering Pennysavers and newspapers to earn enough money to buy the two lasers.

I doubt I'll be using them to make holograms anytime soon. But, who knows?

More than 30 years later, my two He-Ne lasers still lase. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


I just saw Interstellar.
It's very good.

Tears and applause throughout the movie theatre.

It's this generation's 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick).

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Planes, Bikes, and Automobiles

I'd been looking at foldable electric bikes since 2012 and this past July I bought one. My thinking was that I could load it in my plane and use it, instead of renting a car, at my destination. This idea would be a one-bike endeavor, though. Even though my plane can seat four people, it would be difficult to squeeze in more than one bike.

Yesterday, I finally got a chance to try out my transportation mix when I flew up to La Verne to have lunch with my life-long friend, Andy. I told him not to worry about picking me up at the airport. Using my electric bike to cover the four miles from the airport to his house would be a cinch.

It's always a learning experience the first time I try something new. I remembered to pack my helmet and even though the bike has a 25-35 mile range, I packed the battery charger, too, just in case. I even remembered to bring flowers for Andy's wife since they're newlyweds.

I had to laugh at myself when I landed at the airport, took out the bike and hinged it together. I forgot to bring the key. No ignition key for the bike meant no electric power. Of course, I was too proud to call Andy for a lift so I had to use old fashioned human pedal power.

I don't mind making mistakes and learning from them. But I despise making repeat mistakes. So, to avoid this problem in the future I've placed one of the three keys for the bike in my flight bag. I will certainly never fly without it, again.