Evil after all?

I habitually block outbound connections to tracking services like google-analytics.com. (I use Little Snitch for this.) Just because I don’t like them. Recently I noticed I often can’t connect to youtube.com, getting “server not found” errors. Amazingly, once I let google-analytics through again, everything works.

I haven’t verified exactly why this happens so I’m guessing the DNS for google-analytics resolves to at least some of the IP numbers for youtube, causing this to happen. Maybe not, maybe something else is happening.

But that’s not the important question. The thing that disturbs me more is if Google is intentionally making life difficult for people like me that don’t want excessive tracking of their surfing habits. Is that what is going on? Is it the start of a new and highly evil trend?

Little snitch rules for outbound filters
Little snitch rules for outbound filters

All those terabytes…

Just a piece of warning: Seagate has a serious problem. It seems that some series of drives have total failures within the first couple of months. It is claimed that up to a third of the drives will fail this way. This is all due to a firmware problem, according to Seagate. I’ve heard rumours of deeper problems, but that’s all they are right now, rumours. The affected series are roughly 500, 750, and 1000 Gb drives in the 7200.11 series, including ES.2 server grade and desktop grade. Jeez… yes, I’ve got a number of those…

Anyway, now you know. Gentlemen, start your worry engines.

Update Jan 20: Just talked to my distributor in Sweden (Dustin) about this. They don’t have any policy. They have no idea what I’m talking about, or maybe they do and just pretend they don’t, but they say these drives have a 0.2% failure rate and if one fails they’ll see if (!) they would do something about it. BTW, I have four that are one week old, and that’s their policy on this. And, no, they would not consider halting sales of these drives, even though the failure rate is estimated to 30%. They won’t consider changing the drives to another brand unless they’re bricked first (easily done, just update to the official SD1A firmware…) IOW, don’t trust your distributor. They don’t giva sh… at least this one doesn’t.

To follow this drama as it develops, check out the Seagate support fora.

Windows, the one and only

One of the supermarkets I go to used to have self-scanning handhelds based on Linux but recently changed to Windows CE based scanners instead. I have no idea why. Can’t be the resilience, since I saw at least as many disabled scanners as I used to see with the old ones, if not more. One in ten, maybe.

This is how one of the new one typically looks. Motorola, Win CE and crashed. But the interesting thing is that Microsoft doesn’t seem to have bothered to actually adapt Win CE much to handhelds. The errormessages still assume a user, a PC, and the usual set of input devices. How else do you explain the recommendation to check your network settings and to see if your network card is properly seated. I mean, the average shopper…?

And grandma Jonsson, please do a warm reset. But first click the OK button with, um, with my umbrella? A mouse? (Note: not a touchscreen at all, and no mouse dangling from the handheld scanner either.)

Oh, grandma, please contact the vendor of SPB2_CE.exe. That’s, um, who?

And just for kicks, this is how the holders look when the cover is missing. Several were missing, in fact:

Yes, I know what it looks like, but I promise, it’s made of plastic and not porcelain.

Chairs and the Internet age

So I had this old office chair that’s been with me since 1982. It was expensive back then, which explains why it lasted this long, but lately it’s become wobbly. The back rest seems not to know exactly what’s vertical and what’s not. Parts and padding are falling off every now and then. It’s a German or Belgian make, forgot exactly which. Good stuff, for its time.

Old chairOld chair backsideOld chair, handrest

Looking around for a new chair, I couldn’t find much except IKEA, and their chairs aren’t really good quality. Don’t get me wrong, I buy a lot of stuff at IKEA, but I wouldn’t buy an office chair there. I didn’t find any other decent brands that I could test and experience, either. There are lots of brands and types, but it’s very hard to find a store where you can check them out, and I won’t buy an unknown chair sight unseen or seat unsat. About the only chair I would dare buy on reputation alone is the Aeron. It’s the chair a lot of programmers expect to get, just as they expect to get top end workstations. It’s a top end office chair. Just google it.

Now, price… in the US, you can find the Aeron for around $950, which isn’t exactly cheap but considering the current exchange rate, it comes out to around 6000 SEK (I’m in Sweden), which is only twice the price of most decent office chairs.

Checking out the official Aeron prices from the Swedish distributors is bound to make you sick; around 15000 SEK, plus tax. That is $2500 plus tax! Jeez… how the h… can they mark it up like that?

Second hand, you can find Aeron chairs in Sweden for around 7-9000 SEK, but then you have no guarantees. I found them on Blocket.

Next, I checked out prices in the USA and found Home Office Solutions. They’re selling it new for around $750 and free shipping within the USA. I called them and asked if they’d ship to Sweden and they told me they can’t sell new chairs to me, due to Herman Miller prohibiting them from selling outside the USA. Good old market protection in action. However, they can sell “Certified Refurbished” chairs anywhere they want, and these go for a little less, $718 plus $199 shipping (when I bought it), including a 12 year warranty. Yes, I ordered one, plus the casters for hard floors, around $30 extra. I expect to pay around 5% customs. The VAT will be added by Fedex, but I’ll get it back on the company VAT account, so it’s of no consequence. At the current exchange rate, this chair will cost me around 6000 SEK.

The chair arrived today (it took a week) in perfect condition. Even examining it in detail, I can find no sign it’s ever been used. I’m sitting in it right now and it’s simply great. Here are a couple of pictures of it, including my little son who I had a lot of problems convincing to let me use it.

I highly recommend buying this chair, and if you do to get it from Home Office Solutions. There may be other good places to get it, of course, I didn’t check them all.

Update 26 aug 2008: just got the invoice from Fedex, and I was only charged 100 SEK admin costs and VAT. No customs charge. So the grand total comes to around 5600 SEK plus VAT, just a whisker over a third of the Swedish internet mail order price for a new chair. And as I said, you can’t see the difference. What a deal.

Update 19 september 2008: this chair is heaven. It’s so good that I just want to go sit in it all the time, and while I’m there, I could just as well get some coding done. Developer managers out there, if you don’t get this kind of seat for your developers, you’re missing out on a great ROI opportunity. Payback time? I’d say a week, but I’ll claim less than a month, to be on the safe side. Ok, two or three months at the Swedish prices, but still.¬†(No, I don’t have shares in Herman Miller or Home Office Solutions or anything related.)

Big box

Extra carpet casters

Julian on chair

Julian on chair, jumptin

Handles right side

Handles left side

Julian figuring out how it works


Browsing through the people LinkedIn recommends I should link to, people it thinks I may know, I just discovered that LinkedIn not only flags what people I may enjoy contacting, but it often clearly flags what people to avoid.

There are a small number of people around that I’ve had a very bad experience with. Anyone that recommends any of these guys or is recommended by them, is automatically very suspect to me. One explanation for the recommendation is that they’re similar in character (a bad sign). Another is naivit√© (not a much better sign).

In other words, LinkedIn may be a valuable tool to filter out people you should avoid and not waste time on. Maybe even more so than the other way around. When someone you know and trust links to someone you know and mistrust, it has a tendency to diminish the trusted person more than it enhances the mistrusted person. Especially recommendations have this effect. Simple links may not mean that much.

So, be careful who you link to, and especially who you recommend. Or who you accept recommendations from (you can decline, you know). It may reflect badly on you.

One pilot missed the point

I have this “letter to the editor” on my desk that is too good to throw away, still I don’t know what to do with it. So I’ll just translate it freely from Swedish and post it here for your enjoyment.

The letter is a response to another letter to the editor from “LS” and goes like this:

“I’ve been a pilot all my professional life, largely with SAS. The last five years I flew long distance with Boeing 767 and Airbus 340 to, among other places, Thailand. LS’s statement that a trip to Thailand corresponds to a release of two tons of carbon dioxide per passenger is an exaggeration of colossal magnitude!

“An A340 weights maximum 260 tons when it departs from Copenhagen and has 261 passengers, 11 crew. That means 272 persons on board.

“Releasing two tons of carbon dioxide per person would come to 544 tons. The fuel load is about 100 tons, of which six tons remain after landing in Bangkok.

“To ensure that the discussion on environmental impact remains credible, such absurd statements as those of LS must be avoided.”

Carbon dioxide molecule

Now, I must admit that such incredibly unscientific remarks from a professional airline pilot scares me more than a little bit. I never saw a response to the above letter to the editor, so I assume a lot of readers swallowed it whole.

With the numbers above, two tons of carbon dioxide per passenger is entirely possible. If you don’t see how, go back to your high school chemistry, or ask any high school kid, and they’ll tell you how this works out.

To be entirely fair, the number comes to almost 1.3 tons per passenger so LS exaggerated a bit, but I think the pilot who wrote the letter thought it came to 94 tons divided by 272, that is 0.35 tons per passenger. It sure looks like that from his letter.

And, no, I’m not going to publish the pilot’s name, even though he signed his letter to the editor in full. He ought to be ashamed of himself.

PS: this isn’t an april fools joke either.

Why apps will get slower

New machines come with multicore processors. Mine has eight, ought to be plenty fast. Unless the apps only use one of them, of course. Since the number of cores go up pretty quickly with each generation, while the speed of each core remains more or less the same, and the workload of the apps goes up, the net effect of a singlethreaded app is that its performance goes down with each new generation of hardware. So, please, fellow developers, get a grip and go multithreaded now.

For the last half hour I’ve been watching grass grow, or rather the Mac OSX Stuffit Expander unpack excercise files from Lynda.com. These excercise files are for Final Cut Express HD and consists of 12 sitx files, each around 240 Mb. …ah, it just finished. Looking at how the CPUs are loaded during the execution of the Expander, it’s no mystery why it’s so slow:

As you can see, there’s a 100% CPU hogger walking from core to core. It’s even clearer just as the walking ends and the process is done:

Interestingly, during this half hour, Safari hung (which in itself isn’t too unusual) and Parallels that was running two XP instances in the background that were doing nothing and I did nothing with, crashed. Normally, this machine is stability itself, except for occasional Safari hangups and I’ve never before seen Parallels crash like this, so I think there’s a connection.

Now, if you look at how a righteous app like iMovie ’08 works, you’ll see something like this (while creating movies):

I could run WoW with totally normal performance even while iMovie was going full blast. No crashes or hangs either. I wouldn’t be surprised if the system is most stable when all cores have some headroom left, while 100% load of any core is destabilizing. I’m just guessing here.

Mac XP: some stuff arrives

Post office delivery truckSome stuff arrived today as expected. Other stuff did not. The stuff that did arrive was the Mac Pro itself with the displays. The stuff from OWC seems to be still in Indiana somewhere. According to Fedex tracking, it will be here next week tuesday.

The post office truck arrived with three boxes. One big and heavy box for the Mac Pro itself, plus two boxes, each with a 23″ cinema display in it.

Three boxes on a table

Optical drive slotsAfter unpacking the Mac Pro chassis, I got my first disappointment. They’d obviously forgotten the two superdrives I ordered. Checked the invoice and sure, there they were. Checked the chassis and there was just two blind plates were I’d expect two optical drives to be. I would never have expected Apple to be this random about a custom build. With the phone in one hand, ready to give Apple sales hell, I figured I’d check if they had simply forgotten to remove the covers or something. Poking the blind plates I noticed they could slide down, and lo and behold, there was an optical drive behind each cover. Well, I’m glad I didn’t call sales and make a fool of myself. They hadn’t forgotten. You simply can’t see the drives from the front unless you eject.

Opening up the chassis is like opening a vault. This machine is awfully sturdy and quite heavy. It has a definite tank aura. You’ve seen pictures of the insides, I’m sure, but if not, then Apple has excellent pictures of it on their site.

I set up the machine under my desk and the two new displays on top. I have to wait for the new drives before I transfer all the content from my iMac to the new Mac Pro so I have to have both machines on the table for a couple of days. As you can see, it’s getting crowded. Lucky for me, it’s only temporary; when the new machine is ready it moves to the office and I can use the old one, the iMac, to access it from home if I need to using “Back to my Mac”. Or the MacBook if I’m on the road.

A really filled desk

Right now I’m typing on the new keyboard, and it feels totally the same as the keyboard on my MacBook, but more solid. I think I’m going to like it. Having the two new displays on the same desk as the 20″ iMac and the Dell monitor actually makes the iMac look a bit dim and slightly yellowish. I have tuned the colors on the iMac so they don’t deviate too much from the Dell, but that’s only part of the explanation. These 23″ cinema displays are really much brighter and whiter than the iMac. Now, comparing to the Dell monitor, which is three years old, the Dell looks like something found in a dumpster. It’s unbelievably crappy in comparison, at full display intensity.

There are two things missing on this system. There’s no webcam built into the displays. I’m sure Apple will come out with 24″ cinema displays with built-in iSight cameras any day now. They only waited for me to buy these two first. I’m going to try to get my old Logitech webcam to work with this system (there are open source drivers for all this, which I hope will work).

The other thing missing that I simply didn’t think of is a sound system. Having tinny dialogue emanate from under the table simply isn’t right. I have to do something about that.

My little son is sitting here asking “Is that my new computer?” over and over again. That is not a good sign. Have to get this new machine out of the house before he gets used to the idea.

Son and new mac