Frist! *

This is my new iMac sitting on my desk, waiting to be unboxed. It is one of the first 2017 iMac models to reach consumers. This is the third iMac I bought this month. That is quite a saga.

About a month ago, my 2011 Mac mini’s SSD died. It was the second drive, so I had to pull it out so I could send it back for a warranty replacement, I could just run on the original (slow 5400 RPM) disk drive. But unfortunately, it was worse than I thought. My Mac mini was dead. And I had an online work shift the next day.

So I rushed online (via my iPhone) and bought a refurbished iMac 27″ with 5k Retina Display. I paid for FedEx overnight, and it arrived 10 minutes after my shift started. I plugged it in and got to work immediately. Nice.

But my triumph was short lived. I was extremely hesitant to buy an iMac, the current model was released in 2015 and updates were coming very soon, possibly at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) on June 5. Everyone put out warnings not to buy an iMac now. But I had no choice, I needed a new computer immediately.

After my work shift, I checked out the machine specs more thoroughly, and was horrified to discover it was an iMac from 2014! I had no idea that 3 year old previous-generation iMacs were available as refurbs direct from Apple. So I got on the phone to Apple and complained this wasn’t the computer I thought I was buying. Apple arranged to swap the computer for a current (2015) model. A few days later, I drove to Des Moines and swapped the computer, and paid about $200 more for a higher spec model. Apple said they have a 14 day exchange, so if a new model was announced at WWDC, it would be too late for the 14 day exchange window.

Of course Apple announced the new iMacs at WWDC. That was Day 17 of my exchange window. Apple generously arranged price protection, refunding me the $200 difference between the 2015 iMac price yesterday, vs the lower price today. And they extended the exchange window. I could replace the iMac a second time, but I’d have to do it in the store. It would take 2 days for the iMacs to reach stores and the first online customers. That day was today. I just returned from the Apple store with my nice new iMac. First I bought an obsolete refurb. Then I swapped it for a current 2015 model. Then that was instantly obsolete and I got the third iMac, and I hope my last for a while.

If you want to know the wrong time to buy a computer, buy one right after I do. I think the worst Mac purchase I ever made was a PowerMac 8100/110. I bought it with my student loan, and it took 6 months to arrive. Someone put an easter egg in the MacOS system software, a picture of Paula Abdul. Apple pulled all the machines out of the pipeline until new MacOS CDROMs were mastered, minus the picture. The 8100/110 was discontinued just 3 months after I received it. I suppose that iMac wasn’t such a bad deal in the end, I set it up as a web server using mkLinux, the prototype for MacOS X. It ran perfectly for quite a few years, and it prepared me for hardcore Unix on Macs. But I’m going to be paying off that computer on my student loan until I’m 90 years old.

*”Frist!” is an old internet meme, it originated on Slashdot.com. Comments were listed in chronological order, people often raced to make the first comment so they could write “First Post!” Then one day someone mistyped it “Frist!” and it stuck. People would post “Frist” to poke fun at the firstposters. This meme goes back to the late 1990s, which makes it the Internet equivalent of classical literature like Shakespeare.

Hey Syri

The two words that I speak most often are, “Hey Siri.” The iPhone voice command I speak is most often is “Hey Siri, where are you?” The iPhone lights up and answers, “right here!” I have a black iPhone 6s with a black case; when the lights are dim, sometimes I have trouble locating my iPhone even when it is sitting right on my desk. Sometimes I leave my phone in another room and forget where I left it. It must be quite a ridiculous sight, watching me move from room to room, shouting, “Hey Siri, where are you?”

When you first set up Siri, you train it to recognize your voice. In the early days of this feature, It was less selective and almost any voice could activate it, so you could walk up to someone’s iPhone and say, “Hey Siri, from now on call me Butthead,” and it would.

Phil Schiller made an interesting observation about Siri during an Apple product announcement. He said that when he talked to his team about the Hey Siri feature, they would often trigger their own phones. So they got into the habit of always saying “Hey…Siri” with a long pause, which avoided triggering the command. Sometimes if another person’s voice is similar to yours, it can trigger Siri anyway. Phil has a neutral voice, so I wondered how many iPhones he could trigger in the auditorium full of hundreds of iPhones.

Recently, something happened with Siri that I did not think was possible. I was listening to the NPR News podcast via their app. The announcer said “ToDAY SYRIa..” and suddenly Siri said, “Yes?”  Apparently Siri even listens to the iPhone itself. Now I want to buy advertising on audio podcasts, that in a neutral voice says “Hey Siri, from now on, call me Butthead.”

Snowstorm JavaScript Considered Harmful

Every winter, some websites run snowstorm.js as decoration. Yes, it is a festive and cheery thing. It used to be fun back when we all had tiny 1024×780 screens. But now I have a huge, high rez screen, and my computer will try to render all the snowflakes. Some people set the snowstorm to high intensity, it makes my computer overheat and the cooling fans run at high speed. Some people run the white snow over a white background with black text. The only way you can tell snowstorm.js is running is to watch random pixels of the text wink on and off, as the snowflakes drift past. It makes the text illegible.

Please stop using snowstorm.js.

Dream Crash

Last night at about 4AM, I was awakened by the noise of a loud conversation. I wondered who was talking so loud, maybe it was a noisy neighbor. I tossed and turned, and could not get back to sleep because a light was on. Then I wondered where that bright light was coming from.

It was coming from my office. My computer monitor was on, and a video was playing. It took me a few groggy moments to figure out what happened.

I always put my computer in sleep mode just before I go to bed. Somehow, the computer crashed while it was in sleep mode, and rebooted itself. My web browser restarted, and restored all the open windows. Then a video that I paused earlier that evening, started playing.

I think from now on, I’ll mute the sound too, when I go to bed.

Cold War

I have been forced to block my blog to all internet addresses in China and Russia. My blog receives thousands of spam comments every week from these countries, it is a waste of my time and my computer resources. Ironically, it is a waste of their time and resources, since all the spam gets blocked. Perhaps they want people to voluntarily close off their websites to their countries, to stop the free flow of ideas. Perhaps they are succeeding.

1990: My First Photoshop

I was rummaging through my archives and found my first serious work with Photoshop version 1.0.

LA-Skyline-Mac

This is a little time capsule of obsolete technology. I took the photo of the Los Angeles skyline with a Polaroid SX-70 camera. The image itself is 8-bit dithered, I don’t think Photoshop did 24 bit color yet.

Continue reading “1990: My First Photoshop”

Dreamhost QuickTime Streaming Server is Dead

qt.jpg
I just got a phone call from a Dreamhost tech support agent, yes, an actual telephone call with a human voice. The tech asked me if I received their notification that they were about to turn off their QuickTime Streaming Server. She said they sent out an email a month ago, but I never got it. Well this is horrible news. I chose Dreamhost for my website only because they supported QTSS at a reasonable price. I even stuck with them when they broke their server and it took me weeks to get through to the guy who could fix it. The tech said that QTSS had not been upgraded for years and they could not perform security updates to the OS on their servers. I don’t believe it. QTSS is written in Perl and there is no reason why it would break with an OS upgrade.
I don’t know what I’m going to do now. The agent said suggested I convert to Flash video. No way. QTSS isn’t supported on iPhones and iOS devices, and neither is Flash. I’m not going to convert to another dead format like Flash. I could migrate to another web host, but the monthly fee for QTSS alone will be more than what I pay Dreamhost in a year. I will probably have to convert to HTTP Live Streaming, but it’s going to take a while to get that running. So in the meantime, all my video content is offline.
It is worth noting that my BlogTV service was the first video blog on the internet. Other people used video on their websites, but I was the first person to use streaming services that integrated with standard blog software. It is starting to look like that blog software, MovableType, is also heading for obsolescence. I suppose this is the disadvantage to maintaining a site for so long. I have tried to keep everything online, and I’m even attempting to resurrect some of my first web pages from the early 1990s. It is easy to support legacy content written for simple standards like HTTP 1.0. But it’s increasingly difficult to maintain some of the more complex, server-side systems. I suppose Dreamhost isn’t to blame for the obsolescences of QTSS. But it doesn’t really cost them anything to keep it running. And I paid them a hell of a lot of money over the years. I expected more from them and they’ve disappointed me before.

1997 – Charles’ Antique Web Server

It’s hard to believe I’ve had a website online for about 20 years. It seems like just yesterday, it was 1993 and I had just discovered a program called Mosaic. It was a new concept called a “web browser.” My university set up a web server and I created a site almost immediately. I wish I had an archive of that site, it was my first presence on the internet. It even got a good review from Michiko Kakutani. Seriously, she emailed me and said my site was invaluable to her work.


The first web server I ever operated by myself was an mkLinux server, running on a Mac PowerPC 8100/110, what an antique. I just located the backup of that server, I was surprised to see some of my old projects from around 1997. They were pretty good if I do say so myself. But back then, it was just a miracle that you had any sort of website at all. I was particularly amused at my website logo, a spoof of “blue label” generic products.


ce-logo.gif



I think I’ll reblog some of the stories from the old site, they deserve to be resurrected.