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).