Why do Computers Love Me?

For the past few weeks, three of the people who live in my apartment have had what I would call “computer issues.”

Person A’s issue is the most basic: frankly, that she’s been able to survive two years of college so far without a personal computer – laptop, desktop, or otherwise. She’s now frustrated with her situation and seriously looking at purchasing one very soon. I, being one of the many resident computer geeks in the apartment, and one of the few (only?) who’s a certified “Sales Consultant” having worked for 9 months in the Appliance department at my local Sears, have been guiding her through the decision process. I can come up with recommendations, but Person A also has her own ideas and has read Consumer Reports. As is CR’s focus, she values brand reliability and quality of technical support. Those are not bad or non-worthwhile considerations for Person A or Consumer Reports to have. But they’re not at all the values and emphases that I would consider as much when buying a computer myself. I’ve never used technical support and only had one reliability issue with a Compaq post-HP merger that was fixed under warranty. I don’t worry about it. Continue reading →

Transportation of a Different Sort

The title of this post could also be called, “I haven’t updated the blog in a while and I have a steaming pile of homework that’s forcing me to find ways to procrastinate and not do it,” but I feel that’s too long of a headline.

I really like bike riding. This is not a phrase you would have caught me saying about 3 months ago, because before then I hadn’t sat on something chain-driven with two wheels in over 10 years. But, as this year I was living in Haverford College’s on-campus-because-our-marketing-department-claims-it-is apartment complex. One can never have enough time, and I really dislike “wasting” it by getting from point A to point B if there is possibly a faster way. Don’t get me wrong, I love the journey of getting from point A to point B – this is, after all, the essence of my lifetime love of transportation – but I have more than a bit of a leadfoot. Heck, if I could build a trebuchet and then catapult myself to my 10:00am class, that would still be a wicked awesome way to get from point A to point B. So I got a bicycle this summer, the pedestrian’s essential tool in getting wherever “there” is a bit faster. Continue reading →

The Fit is Go!

The debate wrapped up. The Subaru dealer had an intriguing used 2008 Honda Fit hatchback. Teal blue, a perlescent aquamarine. Not my color choice, but hadn’t I heard of this car before…?

OH right! This was the American port of the Honda Jazz in Europe! (Fit in Japan and here, because, let’s just say Honda didn’t want to be bogged down with certain Norwegian slang terms…) One of Britain’s most popular cars for almost a decade now! A prime example of a well-engineered Japanese city family car. Huge visible windows all around? Steering wheel F1 paddle gear-shifters? Seats that fold flat to a sleeping space? Or up to fit a bike? Or down to fit 55 cubic feet of whatever? Enough headroom for my 6′ 3″ frame? 40 miles to the gallon? A light weight and some get-up-and-go pep from that scrappy but eager exhaust note? *And* some taught fun-to-drive suspension? Continue reading →

So…about the Subaru

As I alluded to earlier, my venerable 11 year old crystal white Subaru came to an untimely end. Last January, my “low oil pressure” light came on for the first time. So, I got it changed – simple. In March, I brought the car to the dealer for some unrelated service, and they said it was several quarts low, so they changed it again…odd, but OK, it was probably those whackjobs at the Jiffy Lube swinging their crowbars in the wrong places.

I drove without incident until the middle of July, when I was about to make a trip to Haverford and wanted to make sure the Subie was worthy of holding my and my friend’s lives in its hands over the long trek. No – mice had chewed out the wiring for the gas gauge (and possibly other instruments) and I had a strut (suspension) on its last dregs of life, which leads to unsafe handling. On this same visit, the dealer found a bona-fide oil leak source – what’s called the “rear main seal”, an important link between engine and transmission, that had a crack in it. I was 2 quarts low – after having had 5 (max capacity) added in March. “How much to fix the part?” The part itself was $77…labor costs for such a deep part of the engine: a whopping $600. Figuring the oil changes since January and the intermediate leak levels, I was loosing about 2 quarts every 3 months. Okay, on my dads advice, I’d just keep putting oil in and checking the levels. I repaired the strut, but left the seal. Famous last words. Continue reading →

Why, Subaru?

For reasons I will explain in a more in depth post later, my beloved white 1999 Subaru Legacy has met its maker, after such a brief but full life of 125,000 miles. She could have been resurrected, but $3400 for a rebuilt junkyard engine seems like too much for a car that already has suspension, air conditioning, and other incurable ailments. I feel compelled to answer the siren’s call of a new mode of transport.

But from where does that call come? I thought long and hard about getting another Subaru, but have decided against it this time around. Why? They are no longer what they used to be.

Subaru’s fill so much of a niche they sell themselves up here in the snow-belt. All-wheel drive, on a standard-weight well-handling non-rollover-prone car, that’s not even an expensive Audi or Volvo is very very hard to come by – and yet Subaru makes it standard, low cost, and in my opinion the very best engineered AWD system out there. The cars are basic, reliable workhorses that you can run into the ground…it just may take 10 years. Quirky, off-beat styling that makes you go, “Is that really the way it’s supposed to look?”, helps them stand out for both good and bad, and gives “Subies” personality. Uber-basic, functional, practical interiors a la the 1995-1999 and 2000-2004 Legacies and Outbacks and the Impreza all the way to 2007 don’t over-complicate some of the questionable ergonomic decisions high-end marques like Volvo, Mercedes, and BMW make. And those tiny amount of us in the U.S. that care or pay attention to things like the World Rally Championships appreciate a car with not just a racing pedigree, but a flog-the-hell-out-of-it-and-then-drive-off-a-cliff-after-slamming-into-a-tree-at-100mph racing pedigree. The WRC is real stock car racing, not that namby-pamby NASCAR we’re forced to watch. I like to pretend I’m Colin McRae as I accelerate from that stoplight and soak up that low, oddly-syncopated yet distinct burble that comes from the unique horizontally-opposed Boxer engine. Continue reading →

Where’s Leslie?

If you’ve ever been curious what exactly my internship-employer does (I do quality testing for these guys), or given me a blank stare when I’ve explained our product before, here’s the perfect example.

One of our employees, Leslie Baker, will be riding a bicycle 192 miles across Massachusetts from Sturbridge to Provincetown for the Pan-Mass Challenge ride to support the Jimmy Fund and cancer treatment. The ride begins this Saturday morning, August 7th, and she’ll finish on Sunday the 8th after having gone through more than 40 towns.

The folks who actually write the programs (instead of me right now, who just tries to break them!) whipped up a neat sub-application running on Axeda technology that will track Leslie’s progress through the ride. Go take a look here: http://m2m.axeda.com/apps/whereIsLeslie/WheresLeslie.html

(If you’re curious, the big red logo is where our corporate headquarters are. I live kinda close to the first water stop, the droplet.)

Attached to her bike is a tiny device equipped with a GPS and cell phone modem. Periodically, it will transmit her bike’s GPS position data via the cell network to an Axeda server, and the server will display the data on the application.

So when I say “internet monitoring of assets”, this is what it is. Axeda could track all 5,000 bikes in the PMC the same way, and with extra equipment perhaps even the cyclists heart rates, wheel revolutions, gear, braking force, handlebar turning degree…the possibilities are endless. And they would be no different if we were tracking properties of ATMs or photocopiers or printing presses or cars instead of bicycles. It’s pretty cool.

I Just Got Served!

For just over a year, I’ve been “Web Editor” for Haverford and Bryn Mawr College’s student newspaper, The Bi-College News. I enjoy the journalism field, and I’m also a hard to come by technology geek on our two “liberal arts” campuses, so I naturally fit the bill to provide support for The Bi-Co’s technical infrastructure.

Since this past January, the paper and I and my former co-web editor have been working very hard on preparing to release a brand new, redesigned website. This has had its fair share of challenges and complexity, not the least of which has been switching our Content Management Software (CMS) from WordPress to Joomla. WordPress, what I use here on AndrewBThompson.com, is a fine CMS solution, but it really is more suited to blogs, and not a full newspaper or “online magazine” kind of like what the Bi-Co has. Joomla will be much more flexible for our needs. However, getting there has been a journey, involving converting incompatible databases of 10 years worth of articles from one format to another, deleting mountains upon mountains of errors and duplicates, offsite hosting issues, and even downright copy and pasting. And even when we release, my vision will not be complete. It’s tough work.

Well, on Monday evening, it got a lot tougher. Our newsroom server, a 5 year old Apple Xserve G5 that was already as slow as a tortoise and already on its way out, stopped responding to any and all requests. Browsing, pings, ssh, Apple Server Tools – all went into thin air. Continue reading →

Why Doesn’t the News Industry Get It?

This afternoon when I was driving to lunch, a panel of journalists was talking on WGBH/NPR about the effects and changes “New Media” is having on the old print world. A couple of their assertions had me irked:

  • The reader commenting systems on newspaper websites are revolutionary and allow reporters to connect with their audience in the best of times, and allow general flame-warring and caustic comments to see the light of day otherwise – they seemed legitimately surprised at examples of self-policing.
    My Response: I agree that the comments better connect the writer with readers (people have commented on my blog, which is good), but I’m amazed that they actually think good, worthwhile readers actually put stock in or even read the comment section. I’ve been on many a news site, and I almost never look at the comments. I’m realising my behavior is different as a writer myself, but as a consumer I don’t give two hoots what poster #4 says most of the time.
  • Some of the panelists pondered that this “younger generation” who was growing up with the internet and commenting on everything might be in for a rude awakening when they have to go find a job and realize their boss “Googled” them and found all these comments on stories. Said boss might not agree with them and they would be out of a job.
    My Response: Great! I don’t want to be working for anyone who holds my personal views or opinions against me (provided my personal opinions aren’t hateful in nature, which they aren’t). I try to attach my name to everything I post publically on the internet and would stand by that opinion if asked in the future.
  • The Journos wondered if and when anyone would be ready to pay for content. They rehashed the same arguments I’ve heard before about memberships and paywalls, the economics of delivering a 3 pound brick of paper to every subscriber’s house, etc.
    My Response: OVER HERE! I will pay for content RIGHT NOW! If you’re a newspaper, here are the things you need to do to get my money:
    1. I am a college student, and I don’t want to commit to a year or month of “membership”. I like the pay-for-use iTunes model.
    2. Make the pricepoint good. I will get about 5-10 minutes of entertainment/information from a well written article. Then, unlike a 99 cent iTunes song, I’m probably never going to read it again. BUT, I would like the security of knowing I *could* read it again. Anywhere from 5 cents to 20 cents per article would be acceptable.
    3. Make it easy for me to pay. Paypal or some other web-wallet system please. I don’t want to sign up for another account. And do me a favor and make it one-click like Amazon does.

I don’t remember everything and I am running short on time for this post. All I know is I get really frustrated when old fogies start talking about the habits of “this younger generation” and it seems everything that comes out of their mouth isn’t true, at least in my case. Have some actual representatives of “this younger generation” talk on your radio program and then maybe we’ll get some insight.

Themes

So, in case you haven’t noticed (you would have only noticed if you visited at some other point today), I’m moving away from my old “Titan” theme (potentially) and trying out some others. I’m naturally indecisive when it comes to things like this, and its especially hard since I’m not entirely sure what I want. Titan felt too simple. And yet, the simplest all-white themes out there seem too stark and bare. I need color. But, not too much color. I’m on the fence about white-text-on-black-background. Typography is important (and I do like this one’s, “Smooth”, because it has Cufon text replacement), but not as important as readability. I’d like to have some pictures, but I’m not one to upload photos all the time and my blog will be mostly text.

So we’re going to try out a few themes over the next week and see how they work out.

OK, I’m not done yet but…

…knowing I have this blog and I can’t use it for blabbing about other topics than Russia until my verbose self finishes writing about the trip (don’t even get me started on how Alaska travelblogging turned out) is going to drive me nuts.

Then it hit me: why the heck do I have to finish writing about Russia first? This is my blog, I’M IN TOTAL CONTROL!!! If I want to have other entries interspersed rather than exclusively chronological posts about Russia, then I darn well can do that. The feeling is liberating.

So, right now, I’m going to talk about shampoo. But not just any shampoo, but “Juicy Green Apple Shampoo.” Why? This weekend our family is visiting one of my dad’s ham radio friends on Long Island, one of the Casco Bay islands near Portland, Maine. Since this was a really quick trip (we arrived yesterday morning and are leaving in a few hours), I did a rather spartan job of packing. Including, unintentionally, not packing a second shirt.

One of the unnecessary luxuries I eliminated was shampoo, figuring I would live off the land and find something to use at the house – which is shaped like an octagon, you really have to see it. This morning I stepped into guest bathroom and found a green bottle of Juicy Green Apple Shampoo.

Apple? I thought to myself. Yeah, I suppose thats not such a terrible thing to slather all over my hair, not anything too crazy like Passionfruit Mango Bonanza or other such flavors that would completely emasculate me. Besides, [looking at the ingredients list] the Pyrus Malus extract (I guess that’s the Latin name for apple) is 3rd from last, after Trimethylclorinatozine-3 and Zinc Pyrethisane. Thank you chemical industry for your unintelligible compound names.

Apple is a utilitarian fruit, as patriotic as apple pie and schoolteachers. It’s the fruit you turn to for the everyday jobs when the Starfruits and Kiwis turn up their hoity-toity tropical noses. It’s so versatile it might even make a decent shampoo flavor. Not exactly Pert Plus or Head and Shoulders, but if I wanted to be picky I should have done a better job packing.

It did its cleansing job magnificently with a certain modicum of testosterone approved utilitarianism, as good as could be expected from fruit flavored shampoo. Unfortunately, since it was just shampoo, and not combined shampoo/conditioner, my hair felt rather sticky once rinsed. Hmm, I really need conditioner. I looked over and evaluated my only option: Passionfruit Mango Bonanza.

I really hate the cosmetics industry.