A Poetry Post?

I thought this was a tech blog, and he’s writing about poetry?
What gives? 

No, Arcadia is where I muse about anything I think might be interesting. That happens to have mostly been about tech so far (and in all honestly, has been very little and sporadic—this is never going to be a high traffic site; the ads are basically irony).

But yes, poetry. I really don’t have time for it, even though my English V teacher (in my senior year at Reserve) seemed to think I had a real aptitude for analyzing and appreciating it. Nobody was more surprised than I. Still, I read a review in The Nation this morning of The Golden Age of Paraphernalia, a new book by Jordan Davis that I will have to make time for.

The whole review was intriguing, but I had to share one excerpt in particular. In order to get the formatting right, which is important, I put it on its own web page rather than typing it into this blog entry. You can find it here. Go read it, and see if it strikes the same kind of deep chord with you as it does with me, a profound and funny (yet worrisome) statement about the kind of world in which I increasingly find myself—and which I am indeed helping to create.

Ironically, I thought it might be a wonderful first book to buy on my second-generation Kindle, which should be arriving next week, but it is not currently available in that format.

Dealing with the Curse

My Power Mac is dead and will stay that way. It would cost about $1,000 to get a new logic board installed, which is at the high end of what I could hope to sell the whole system for in perfect working condition today, never mind when I want to replace it in a month or two, when the new line of Mac Pros comes out. So I eventually picked it up from the hard-to-reach (on the phone) repair shop, and it’s sitting in my storage locker as a very heavy and attractive source of spare parts for Marc’s own tower should anything (other than the logic board) fail on him.

I found a way to limp along without it, though. I have temporarily repurposed the Mac Mini I had been using as a voice mail system in my comm closet. By adding a 500 GiB external hard drive (which I scored for $80 at Target, hurrah), partitioning that drive to boot Intel Macs, and installing Leopard on it, I was able to boot into the migration assistant, and pull over the environment from my Power Mac’s SATA boot drive. There was some hassle with software that I wasn’t able to deactivate on the old machine before it died (not knowing said death was imminent), so I had to contact support at Adobe and Mark/Space to get my registrations moved over, and jump through a few other hoops, but now I have access to my important media libraries and other such things while I wait for Apple’s exciting announcements next year.

The Mini actually does a surprisingly good job of filling in for the PowerMac and driving my Cinema Display, although it is way short on memory by comparison having just 1 GiB shared with an on-board video controller; the tower had 5 GiB and a screaming video card. I won’t be doing any video encoding projects for a while, and if I get sick of virtual memory paging lag, I may spend $30 and some effort prying open the case to double the RAM. But I can definitely get by for a few months and save the $1,000 repair cost towards buying a new screaming machine when the Nehalem Xeon models debut.

The TiVo is back to full capability, with a Seagate-mechanism 750 GiB eSATA external drive from WeaKnees working just great. I expect it to last much longer than the officially-supported Western Digital drive did, and even though this enclosure has fans (which is a good thing for longevity), you can’t hear them. The drive mechanism itself is more audible, but it’s not an unpleasant sound. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the very bright blue LEDs on the front of the enclosure, but a couple of pieces of electrical tape calmed them right down. I may find a more aesthetically sophisticated solution someday, but from normal viewing distance this looks fine for now. And the TiVo Series 3 did warn me it was uncertified, but was quite happy to go ahead and use it anyway, as expected.

Curse Update

Now that I am back from a great visit to friends and family in New York City and Connecticut, I finally had time to make some progress in diagnosing the TiVo. I called back to discuss my trouble ticket last night, and to report that things had degraded significantly, to the point where I could not watch or record anything. No programs had been recorded since Monday, November 24.

The friendly TiVo tech walked me through various troubleshooting steps, leading up to a “Kickstart 54” which performed hard drive diagnostics once we got it to launch successfully. Even doing that required letting the external drive power off for a while first.

It turned out that, as I suspected, the external drive was garbage. It had started to fail days after its warranty timer ran out, and was now unable to pass any of the tests other than the “initial state” which seems to just say “are you there?”

The silver lining is that the internal drive, which would be much more of a pain to replace, is just fine. So I ended up biting the bullet and severing the TiVo’s connection to the external drive. Of course that meant irrevocably losing almost a terabyte worth of the TV programs and movies I had saved, many of which I hoped to watch or burn to DVD. One advantage of the seasonally-imposed delays in getting to this point is that I had already mentally prepared myself for this outcome.

Now my TiVo is working fine again, with a quarter of the space it had before. It snagged an episode of The Venture Brothers last night, and let me watch some spooled Good Morning America while I got ready for work this morning.

I’ve ordered a replacement drive from WeaKnees. I am giving up on the “TiVo Certified” route, since they still only officially support Western Digital drives, and my experience with the last one lived down to my expectations. Happily my Series 3 will let me use an unsupported drive, and WeaKnees has a nice Seagate mechanism that is designed for DVR use, in a quiet enclosure. And I already know how to run the hard drive diagnostics if it ever comes to this again in the future, so good-bye to supported but low-quality hardware.

On the other major front, I am having less luck. It turns out that The MacXprts were not out of business, they were just having problems with their phone line (and still are). They can get calls from some places, but not my office in Fitchburg. If I call on my cell phone I can at least reach their voice mail. When I stopped in (without time to do so, really) on Wednesday, they told me that the original person who took my Mac had misspoken when he quoted two business days for me to hear a diagnosis and repair plan; the real figure was a much less satisfactory five business days.

Well, even that has more than elapsed now, and I have received no communication from them whatsoever. I left a message expressing concern and dissatisfaction yesterday, and they have not called me back. So, I have to report that their customer service, speed, and general business is leaving me highly unimpressed. I should not have tried to support a local business, it seems. At least not this one.

Now that it is clear I will be without my Mac for several weeks, I am being forced to find ways to cope without it. Last night I dealt with the most pressing issue, migrating Quicken, my data files, and the Treo syncing software over to my laptop. I needed to do this in order to record the past few weeks of transactions, adjust balances, and pay some bills that were very nearly coming due.

At some point I may well conclude I can limp along without the desktop machine until Apple’s new line next year. But there are some things I won’t have space to migrate over to the laptop, and some that will be hard to deal with. So I hope it doesn’t come to that.

If I don’t start hearing from the folks at The MacXperts soon, I am going to go and demand my hardware back and dispute their charge on my credit card. Very disappointing.

The Tech Curse gets even worse

It used to be Joe who suffered from incredible tech failures. I fear he has bequeathed that curse to me.

First my Treo’s antenna fell off somewhere during a workday. Luckily, I had his as a spare, and it did not take too long to migrate my software, data, and Bluetooth trust relationships to it. Then our TiVo started rebooting with increasing frequency. I have started jumping through their support hoops but won’t have time to get to the bottom of it until after this weekend. And the best-case scenario is that my external drive (barely out of warranty) is defective, and I will lose almost all my recordings in replacing it. I really didn’t like the fact that the only TiVo-approved drive was a Western Digital, and it has lived down to my expectations.

My car had a low tire last week, and the compressor I keep in my trunk for such situations is dead.

This kind of thing did not previously happen to me with such frequency. And there have been other minor annoyances… But the pièce de résistance is this: My dual G5 Power Mac, which has been out of extended warranty for a year and a half, which I want to replace early next year when the new powerhouse Intel chips make it into the Mac Pro line, died on Thursday. I hoped it was just an NVRAM battery or memory, but no such luck.

So I took it in for repair Saturday. The MacXprts had moved to a new location very conveniently close to my home, so I decided to support a local business rather than dealing with the zoo at the official Apple store. They seemed friendly, there was stuff on the shelves, they asked good questions and wrote up a repair order. I expected to hear back Monday or yesterday. But nothing yet, so I just called them back.

Their number “has been temporarily disconnected.”

At this point I don’t know if they are a victim of the credit crunch, just flaky and forgot to pay their phone bill, or running a scam. And I do not have time to deal with this. I have questions racing through my head like “will the police help me bust in and look for my Mac?” “Will my homeowner’s insurance cover this?” I know that’s premature, but this is very unsettling. I need to use some of the software on that machine soon, and won’t have time to even really pursue this until Monday. Augh!

Thank heavens that I at least had the foresight to remove the hard drives before dropping it off.

Fun in Milwaukee

Last night I joined Judy for the first performance in our season subscription to the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Many of the people I hope to see on these excursions were still traveling as summer draws to a close, but I can already tell it will be a wonderful way to stay connected with friends I met through Joe. And, of course, it was a great night of theater. The play was State of the Union, and as much as I worried about being burned out on the concept of presidential elections, it was interesting being reminded that politics were just as dirty in the 1940s, and the story’s human side was engaging and moving, especially given the quality of the production and acting.

This morning I joined Oliver at the Milwaukee Art Museum to see Sensory Overload, and I definitely recommend a trip to check it out before it closes in October if you can make it. I’ve always been interested in op art, and the restored “walk-in infinity chamber” was a truly breathtaking effect to experience, and it was nicely complemented by the new “Matrix XV” walk-through experience. There were some other fun interactive pieces, and of course the op art that I expected.

When we were getting our tickets (unexpectedly free, thanks to some guest passes generously shared with us by a friend at the Rep), we were told not to miss the photography exhibit on the mezzanine level just above Sensory Overload, and we were both very glad of that advice. The photos were surprisingly interesting and moving, contrasting some of the earliest daguerrotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes with very recent photographs made with similar techniques, and which look like they come from another time. Although Madison comes off seeming more eccentric and less classy than I like to think of it in the couple of pictures taken here, I now have much more interest in Manitowoc than before seeing this exhibit. These photographers developed the kinds of personal connections with their subjects that enable amazing portraiture, the kind that is completely impossible for me. It closes on November 30, and is definitely worth checking out too, if you can make the trip.

Another interesting find upstairs in the museum was “sphere #5” sculpted by Arnaldo Pomodoro, with intricate “machinery” showing through cracks. The effect is very steampunk, and reminded me strongly of some columns I had enjoyed very much at the new Amaliehaven park in Copenhagen when Joe and I were there last summer. Sure enough, they are by the same artist.

I felt a very strong connection with Joe while walking and driving around the city, and could not help feeling a bit wistful about the fact that, but for his cancer, we would probably be living there together today. I definitely want to spend more time hanging out there and even just enjoying walking and sitting in the lakefront parks.

Blu-Ray misadventures part 2: MCE’s missing Support

I wrote email to MCE’s technical support last Wednesday, with details about the problems their drive was causing my system. I heard nothing back, so I wrote to their customer service address on Friday. I have still not heard back from either. So I can’t recommend purchasing from these people, after spending over $500 on a drive (which was back ordered for weeks). Which is a pity, because the specs on the drive are very nice.

I needed to be able to use my G5 tower this weekend, so I took out the new Blu-Ray drive and put the factory DVD burner back in. This yielded an instant and total restoration of system stability.

Out of curiosity, I pulled off the jury-rigged SATA to ATAPI adapter they shipped the Blu-Ray drive with, and tried hooking it up externally using my NewerTech USB 2.0 Universal Drive Adapter (a veritable “swiss army knife” of drive attachment which I have found very useful on occasion—they are selling a newer version with more blinky lights and a slightly higher price today.)

In this configuration, I still had the exact same error trying to burn a BD-video disk using Toast 9, but the drive otherwise worked perfectly. I was able to burn and read all different kinds of media with no issues, and my system remained completely stable. So it looks like the drive itself works fine, but the card they taped to the back to connect it to my older Mac is garbage.

I expect them to do something about this, because I would really much rather have it work internally. And even if I can’t get to that state until I upgrade my Mac, I can’t have it sitting naked on the floor with lab wiring running to my computer every time I want to work with Blu-Ray media. So if they can’t get me a stable internal adapter, I want a working Firewire or USB enclosure. And I want a response from their support teams, and an apology for the delay and silence so far.

I’ll also need to open a ticket with Roxio support to sort out the Toast issues burning BD-video when I get back from my trip.

MCE Blu-Ray Burner: So Far, So-So

Almost four weeks ago I took the plunge and ordered a Blu-ray burner from MCE Technologies to install into my Power Mac G5 tower. It was on back order for quite a while, as was the media I ordered from Meritline (which I expect to finally show up this week). The drive itself arrived at the end of last week, and they were kind enough to ship a re-recordable Blu-ray disc with it, so I was able to play with it some over the weekend.

The results so far have not been encouraging.

Read more »

Where has James been?

You might think my hopes to start a habit of blogging failed miserably. Well, that’s not actually true; I did get into the practice, but all my activity over the past several months has been on a private blog for my family and close friends, as I dealt with the end stages of terminal cancer in my partner of almost seventeen years.

I’m through that now, and ready to move back to more public thoughts. But I will be busy or away much of the next month, between catching up at work and going on a cruise from London to Barcelona with a friend. So I apologize for the hiatus, and hope it can be understood.

I’ve set up a memorial page to commemorate Joe, and will be adding links and resources to it as they are shared with me (and as I have time).

Effective Java™ Second Edition: Worth the wait?

Yes, I have been horribly impatient for Joshua Bloch to update his fantastic “Effective Java™” for the last few years. There is so much potential for new effective idioms in Java 5, and I couldn’t wait to see Bloch’s recommendations and insights.

Well, the new edition’s been out for a few weeks, and I am happily making my way through it. The wait was painful, but a worthy update has been the result. So far the best major new content has been the chapter on Generics. I really wish I’d had this two years ago, it would have saved me hours of pain trying to figure out some of the subtleties for myself, from scattered sources and cryptic compiler errors.

So, definitely, pick up a copy of the new edition and read it all again, making up for lost time.

A Happy Reader

Ryan noticed a very nice review of Harnessing Hibernate on Amazon this Friday. I don’t think we could have hired someone to do as nice a job of reacting to the approach we took to the book—even the Stripes section which had made Ryan a little nervous during tech review, because it is a bit of a stretch beyond the core topics in the first half of the book. But we’re evidently not the only people who enjoy that lightweight web framework after even a brief exposure.

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