8/10/2019

Windows is now that rude clerk at Home Depot

Saturday morning is time to finish up my grocery shopping list.  To ensure the very best prices I need to check with Safeway.com's Just-for-U, which gives me the warm cozy feeling that I am saving money and doing something right for a change. 

So. Pull down the laptop and fire that sucker up. 

Spinning ball bearings.  Spinning ball bearings that occasionally stop and start spinning again. 

What's taking this thing so long?  Let's find out.  Ctrl-Alt-Delete.  No immediate response.  Eventually the little menu comes up and I click on Task Manager.  No immediate response. 

Finally a pale small empty window labeled Task Manager comes up.  Overlaid on it is a message that Task Manager Is Not Responding.  In fact, Windows, NOTHING is responding. 

Yes at last Task Manager does respond, and I close things like HP Support Services and Chrome update and such.  Great.  All settled down.  Now I can browse Safeway.com.

And I think: "If I worked for a company that had Windows as an employee, I would agitate to get Windows fired ASAP."

It is true:  Windows is that rude clerk.  You know the kind.  You go into Home Depot to get the kind of exterior caulk that you can paint over.  Like everything else these days, the labels have all changed from what they looked like when you bought it last year, because New! and IMPROVED! or something. 

So you see a clerk. Two clerks in fact, yucking it up about something.  I walk up to within striking distance and announce that I have a question. 

He turns slightly.  The mouth opens slightly.  The eyelids close slightly.  Then he turns back to his co-worker and finishes what he was saying.  They both laugh.  I get the impression that he had finished with, "See?  This guy? He's just what I was talkin' 'bout. Heh."

Then oh so slowly he three-quarters faces me and puts on a sarcastic version of his work face. 

That's Windows.  Windows is that guy.  Like I'm interrupting Windows' precious time by wanting to actually use my computer for a non-Windows-sanctioned function.

Some day, Windows.  Some day I'm about decided I'm gonna hafta just Linux this thing.  Then you'll be sorry.  But then, given the limitations and learning curve, I know I'm gonna be sorry too. 

But it will be a satisfying kind of sorry. 

7/30/2019

The faces of my dead

The book in hand is Traffics and Discoveries by Rudyard Kipling.  The story I have open is "They" in which the narrator has met a blind woman at her country estate, where "they" live -- magical (?) almost hallucinatory (surely not!) almost faerie (?!) children.  The narrator almost asks whether his host had ever had sight. He stops himself, but she understands.  An excerpt:
     "Not since I can remember. It happened when I was only a few months old, they told me.  And yet I must remember something, else how could I dream about colours.  I see light in my dreams, and colours, but I never see them.  I only hear them just as I do when I am awake."
     "It's difficult to see faces in dreams.  Some people can, but most of us haven't the gift," I went on, looking up at the window where the child stood all but hidden.
     "I've heard that too," she said.  "And they tell me that one never sees a dead person's face in a dream.  Is that true?"
     "I believe it is -- now I come to think of it."
     "But how is it with yourself -- yourself?"  The blind eyes turned towards me.
     "I have never seen the faces of my dead in any dream," I answered. 
     "Then it must be as bad as being blind." 
Well now!  I know it is methodological madness to mix the author up with the narrator. Nevertheless, here is a conjecture:  Mr. Kipling was someone who could see and remember any number of faces while awake.  Part of his creative gift was that he could emphatically see and pay attention to anyone he met. Yet here he has the narrator saying, "I have never seen the faces of my dead in any dream."

How different I must be than Mr. Kipling!  (And yet I love him like a friend I never had, or like one of the friends of mine who have passed beyond the veil of this life.)  Yes, how different he and I are.

In my waking life masquerading as a grown-up, I have a hard time remembering names and faces.  I'm afraid I have to know you quite a while before I can see you.  Sometimes I wonder whether I ever see the faces of those around me.  But in my dreams -- ah, unexpected mercy! -- the faces of my beloved dead are frequent and comforting visitors.


7/20/2019

"An alternative to the synchrocyclotron is the isochronous cyclotron, which has a magnetic field that increases with radius, rather than with time." 

Thank you, wikipedia. Also, well, duh.  Of course!  But they fall short of telling me how to build one in my secret laboratory. 

A good wiki-wander, like the dinner table conversation around casa Crowndot, is topologically indistinguishable from a Rube Goldberg mouse trap, only without all that distracting utility. 

...the electronvolt was devised as a standard unit of measure through its usefulness in electrostatic particle accelerator sciences, because a particle with electric charge has an energy E = qV after passing through the potential V; if q is quoted in integer units of the elementary charge and the potential in volts, one gets an energy in eV.
Hmm.  You don't say!

But it doesn't get me any closer to finding out whether an old computer CRT repurposed into a particle pointer of whatever energy value (for purely aesthetic purposes I am partial to "in the two to four MeV range" just because I learned how to say that on wikipedia) can be used to knock out the electronics in those head-banger cars that pass the house in the middle of the night blasting their tooth loosening low frequency audio. 

After all, Earnest Orlando Lawrence (the Lawrence Hall of Science Lawrence) and Niels Edlefsen built their first cyclotron out of basic household materials (if your house includes things like brass sheets, baling wire, and sealing wax?) and it was small enough to hold in one hand.  I learned that on wikipedia! 



7/04/2019

The Wrong Box Character Cheat Sheet

The Wrong Box 
by Robert Louis Stevenson
and Lloyd Osbourne (Stevenson's stepson)
publishing date 1889

When a large sum of money is set to go to one of the two last survivors of a tontine, their offspring take a decided interest. 

It came to my attention that some readers encountered difficulty keeping track of the Who's Who of The Wrong Box.  What follows is a kind of registry of characters and their identities in the novel.  There may be some slight spoilers, but face it: you are going to read it several times anyway. 
By the way, when Rudyard Kipling was 20 years old, he wrote in a letter to a friend, "I have got R. L. Stevenson's In the Wrong Box and laughed over it dementedly when I read it."  Dementedly!

- - -

Major Characters:

Joseph Finsbury, age 71, one of the surviving tontine brothers.

Masterman Finsbury, age 73, one of the surviving tontine brothers.

Morris Finsbury, nephew of the brothers, orphan ward of Joseph Finsbury.
Robert Vance, a nom de guerre of Morris.

John Finsbury, nephew of the brothers, orphan ward of Joseph Finsbury.
George Vance, or The Great Vance, a nom de guerre of John.

Miss Julia Hazeltine, an unrelated orphan ward of Joseph Finsbury.

Michael Finsbury, solicitor, son of Masterman Finsbury.
Mr. Brown, a nom de guerre of Michael.
Mr. Dickson, a nom de guerre of Michael.
Mr. Appleby, a nom de guerre of Michael.

William Dent Pitman, art and music teacher who is the original intended recipient of the huge box.
Mr. Ezra Thomas, a nom de guerre of Pitman.

Gideon Forsyth, a young legal practitioner without much practice.
E.H.B., the nom de plume of Forsyth when he wrote a yellowback detective novel in his student days.
Mr. Jimson:  a nom de guerre of Forsyth.

Edward Hugh Bloomfield, Forsyth's uncle, also known as "the Squirradical" and "Uncle Ned".

- - -

Minor Characters

Mr. Chandler: a carrier who gives Joseph Finsbury a ride away from the train wreck.

Mr. Watts: proprietor of a public house where Joseph Finsbury spends a night.

Mr. Wickham: client / friend of Michael Finsbury, and a force of chaos.

Messrs. Bell and Judkin:  work at Joseph Finsbury's bank.

Mr Semitopolis: Italian art dealer / smuggler, a.k.a. Signor Ricardi.

Broadwood:  the piano.

Count Turnow:  a completely fictitious person invented by Michael Finsbury.

Teena:  Michael Finsbury's Scottish housekeeper.

James Payn, Walter Besant: names of yellowback detective novel heroes.

Mr. Holtum:  a former political adversary assaulted by Bloomfield.

Mr. Harker: a young carrier and novice at the pennywhistle.

"Colour Sergeant" Brand: con man / robber.

Mr. Moss:  business agent of Michael Finsbury.

Uncle Tim: Pitman's Australian relative.

Guendolen, Harold, Otho: Pitman's children.

- - -

Historical / Literary Persons Alluded to in the Book:

Lorenzo de Tonti: a Banker from Naples credited with inventing the tontine.

Mr. Gladstone: William Ewart Gladstone was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time of the story.

Duke of Wellington:  Arthur Wellesley (d. 1852) defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. 

Lord Tennyson:  Poet Laureate of Great Britain (d. 1892).

Sir Charles Warren: For the purposes of the novel, was head of the London Metropolitan Police from 1886 to 1888 (d. 1927).

Charoba: a princess of Egypt as depicted in the 1798 poem "Gebir" by Walter Savage Landor, "Past are three summers since she first beheld The ocean; all around the child await Some exclamation of amazement here. She coldly said, her long-lasht eyes abased, Is this the mighty ocean? is this all?"

Why the hiatus?

It's been a hard life/year.

12/14/2018

Language of the Circumlocution Office

I have a small sampling of circumlocutions, collected haphazardly over the last twenty years or so, since I decided a sampler of 21st Century gibberish might be valuable.  Today is the day I stuff and mount these husks for display in the Crowndot Circumlocution Museum.

The phrase that started all this is "knowledge amid general understanding."  In 1998 the Republic Powdered Metals company, manufacturer of a waterproofing material for the interior rain gutters in metal buildings, included this documentation:
Part 1 General
1.01 Applicator's Qualifications
  1. Applicator shall have knowledge amid general understanding of building design as well as Republic's products specified for the project.
I imagine a committee trying to write a "Gutter Liner Specification" document.  I imagine some overly honest member of the committee saying something to himself, only he actually said it out loud: "Well, they ought to know what the fuck they're doing in the first place..."  Instead of being kicked out of the meeting, the chairperson agrees, and puts the question of how to say that without actually saying that

Another phrase that came into use around the turn of the millennium is "compatibility issues."  In fact, the "Y2K" era was the beginning of describing a problem as an issue.  If there's a problem, there's a possibility of blame.  If there's an issue, gee, well, everybody's got "issues"  and nobody's to blame, right?  So if The End Of The World As We Know It happened one second after midnight on the First of January, 2000 -- well, there were some compatibility issues.  That's all. 

In fact, here is a real quote from a British credit card company spokesman when 20,000 of their card-swipers failed during a "Pre-Y2K" test on 27 December 1999:
It is a software time and date related issue, which will be resolved and we're entirely confident that terminals will revert to full functionality.
On 20 March 2002 I first encountered the term "Open Issue" (meaning unresolved problem" in the readme.txt file distributed with UPS Online WorldShip software.  "We still have some open issues..." means "Shit keeps happening and we have no idea what the hell we're going to do or when or if the problems are going to be addressed!"

A story on Slashdot.com posted by Zonk on 6 January 2006 and titled "Microsoft Censors Chinese Bloggers" quotes a Ziff-Davis article saying "Occasionally, as in China, local laws and practices require consideration of unique elements..."  Unique Elements.  Which means, Microsoft never did hold any values above $ale$ Dollar$.

Product descriptions, formerly in print, and now online, receive ever less editorial scrutiny.  A listing from CDI in January 2006 for the Ultra ATX 600-Watt SATA-Ready power supply lists among specifications, "Low Acoustic Noise."  As opposed to electomagnetic "noise" I guess? It also boasted "Thermal Overload Cutoff Protection" which sounds like it means that it protects the circuit breaker from cutting off in the event it overheats. 

Circumlocution is nothing new.  Read Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens (Really -- it's a great book!).  Dickens invented the term.  One of the great practitioners of the past was "journalist" Will Duranty, who sang thus about the Holodomor while telling his readers that there had indeed been "serious food shortages" in the Ukraine:  there was "no actual starvation" and furthermore "no deaths from starvation" -- merely "widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition."  Oh.  All right then. 

In 2011 I was told by a customer at the Valero refinery in Benicia, "We are rapidly becoming critical path on our coker!"  Me no know what that mean.  But I assume he means that if the repair schedule isn't shortened to IMMEDIATELY!, bad shit is gonna happen -- and when it hits the fan, there will be plenty to spread around to everybody.

In 2012 the Obama economy got worse and worse.  A spokesperson for the president insisted the economy was not in a recession or depression; it was not contracting, in his view, it merely showed numbers "consistent with a weakening growth backdrop."

In August 2016 it came to light that Defense Department intelligence assessments about ISIS had been skewed to downplay the threat and the White House (remember the "Junior Varsity" comment?) incompetence.  "The facts on the ground didn't match what the intelligence was saying out of the United States Central Command," said then-Representative Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas), adding that the intel had clearly been "manipulated."  In response, one Lieutenant Commander Patrick L. Evans spoke from the Pentagon to say that the intelligence community assessments were "based on multifaceted data related to the security environment."  Whatever that means.

I got an email from FedEx on 13 May 2017:
FedEx experienced interference with some of our systems which caused disruptions to the FedEx Express Memphis Hub sort operations.  We immediately implemented contingency plans to minimize the impact to our customers.  We regret any inconvenience this may have caused.
The email concluded by reminding us that, "consistent with the provisions of the FedEx Service Guide, the money-back guarantee is not in effect for FedEx Express packages due for delivery on May 13, 2017."  Great money-back guarantee, that.

12/13/2018

Passage of History

Did you know that Microsoft Excel can't do date calculations before January 1, 1900?  True.  Hasn't been updated since that's the way it was in the MS-DOS first release and original BASIC days.  It doesn't do the logical thing and convert the negative values to absolute values and blah blah blah.  It just gives you "##################" cells.  Weird.

Anyway to deal with the past you have to shift your earliest date to after 01/01/1900 and shift all your other dates forward accordingly, which can introduce errors because 2000  did  have a February 29 leap day but normally centuries do not.  If you're striving for precision, you'll have to come up with a C++ program or something.

This came up because last week I had a hunch that turned out to be sort of true.  The civil war was as long before World War II as we now are from World War II.  Roughly.

Actually, August 4 of 2022 will be (+/- a day?) as long after the attack on Pearl Harbor as the attack on Pearl Harbor was after the firing on Fort Sumter. 

Keep that date in mind as you go forward.  It just might be the date of the beginning of Civil War 2.0 (if we last that long), or else perhaps the beginning or when we have to go save France again or something.

You heard it here first.