Lorem Ipsum

I was preparing to populate a test database with some fake names, when I realized I was bored with the usual Jane Doe, Richard Roe, etc. I couldn’t think of any other scheme to provide distinctive fake names. Then I had a flash of inspiration:


Lauren Ipsum

Dolores Sit

Ahmet Consectetur


At that point, I realized I wasn’t going to get very far with this scheme
either.

GCAS: Ground Collision Avoidance System

I am fooling around reconstructing my old Mac IIcx and I found my old joystick. I used it to play a lot of Falcon, an F-16 flight simulator. I played a lot of flight simulator games and Falcon was probably the best. I bet if I could get my IIcx running it would have Falcon on the disk and ready to fly.

One of the features of Falcon that is realistically modeled after the real F-16 is the GCAS, the Ground Collision Avoidance System. The flight computer continuously calculates if your current flight path intersects with the ground. If you are going to crash, a pleasant but insistent female voice shouts, “Pull up! Pull up!” It was thought that a female voice would catch the (predominantly male) pilots’ ears.

With a computer flight simulator, you get to try a lot of boneheaded flying stunts that you’d never try in a real plane. Real fighter pilots get millions of dollars of training, all you’ve got is a $39.95 flight sim, a brief manual, and lots of trial and error. You hear the GCAS a lot because you’re constantly pushing the envelope to learn what the plane can and can’t do. You chase around dogfighting, and you fly poorly and you get into a “maneuvering kill,” where you’re chasing someone and he is more agile and he can pull up and you can’t. Maybe you’re in a steep dive, going too fast and you haven’t got enough altitude to pull up in time. You can pull back on the joystick as hard as you can, but by the time the GCAS shouts “Pull up! Pull up!” you are already doomed to hit the ground.

I used to play Falcon when my girlfriend Susie was around, she’d be quietly reading a book or something, my Mac would be emitting soft whooshing flight sim sounds, and suddenly it would startle her by yelling “Pull up! Pull up!” One day I was playing the game, and she snuck up behind me and started shouting “Pull up! Pull up!” She sounded just like the GCAS and I just lost my focus and crashed the plane immediately. We both cracked up with laughter, I don’t think she thought her prank would be so successful.

So after that, once in a while Suzie would see me doing something stupid or something she didn’t like, she’d start yelling “Pull up! Pull up!” and I would just burst into laughter. She seemed to use it appropriately, sometimes I needed a little warning when I didn’t realize I was flying into the ground, even outside the flight sim.

Sometimes lately I feel like I am trying my hardest to pull up. The economy seems to be flying into the ground. People are working themselves to death in an attempt to keep flying. I know I’m working way too hard against way too difficult circumstances, it is hard to keep the old plane in the air. I can put on the afterburner for more power and it may only fly me into the ground quicker, or run me out of fuel faster. I need to pull up or I will crash. I am pulling back on the stick with all my might and it still seems like the ground is rushing up at me too quickly to recover.

Recently I’ve enjoyed watching the TV show Dogfights
, it has amazingly detailed computer graphic animations of famous dogfights and flying techniques. It’s like watching a movie with the best flight sim graphics ever, it reminded me of how much I loved flight sims. Much to my surprise, they showed a few maneuvers that will avoid a collision even after the GCAS says it’s too late. Some of the greatest dogfights depend on these maneuvers, the thinnest margin of error in a crazy stunt means victory or a crater in the ground. Just a very few maneuvers will allow you to snap vector, slow rapidly, and recover a viable flight path that points up instead of down. And you have to be a pretty skilled pilot to pull off such a stunt. Even the most skilled pilot can easily fly himself into a corner he can’t fly out of. But a great pilot is always pushing the envelope, constantly pushing himself to the brink of disaster, that is The Right Stuff.

What’s That Weird Red Dot on my iPhone?





What’s that weird red dot on the iPhone icon? It means your iPhone is dead.

My iPhone suddenly developed this weird problem today, I lost my EDGE service which means no internet or email, and no voicemail. The local AT&T Store replaced the SIM card but that didn’t work, and that’s all they can do. The phone still makes and receives calls, but that is the least frequent use of my iPhone.

My iPhone is just barely out of warranty, but Apple’s Customer Relations Department has generously agreed to replace it free, since I have unsuccessfully tried to resolve a couple of other minor hardware issues while it was in warranty. Unfortunately, the nearest place that services iPhones is an Apple Store 250 miles away and I have been unable to travel there. But now this is a major problem, it must be resolved immediately. And Apple is convinced this is an urgent problem, they are shipping me a new phone.

Thank you Apple, this is why we pay premium prices for premium hardware: we expect premium support, and we get it.

Update Nov. 12: I received a brand new iPhone by FedEx at 9:30AM. I plugged in the old SIM card, synced it to my Mac, and I am up and running again in just minutes. That was easy.

Pulp Sci Fi

I was sorting through some old books when I found this wonderful little set of 1956 Ace duo paperbacks by Phillip K. Dick. It’s hard to believe these cheap 35 cent novels are rare first editions.


Phil Dick Ace Duos



The books are “duos” because they are two complete novels in one book. You flip them over and on the back there’s an entirely different cover and a different novel. These cheap pulp paperbacks are so fragile I couldn’t possibly read them, the binding would splinter into pieces if I just opened them up. But I do recall reading “The Man Who Japed” about 20 years ago when these books weren’t so fragile, it’s hilarious, and oh that cover art and tagline, “He undermined their world with mockery!

Floods of 2008

Major flooding is hitting Coralville, Iowa but my neighborhood is relatively unaffected. Many of the roads are closed but as long as the Interstate is open, I’ll probably be able to get to work (if it’s open). Unfortunately, my DSL went out so I’m blogging this from the only Internet access I have, my iPhone, and even cellular service is intermittent. We are just now surpassing the record flood of 29.5 ft. in 1993, and the expected crest is 32.9 ft., five days from now. This could be bad.

Sol-20 Restoration

I retrieved my vintage Sol-20 microcomputer from my storage vault and I am about to begin restoring the keyboard. I dusted it off and took a picture, it’s old and a little dinged up, but it sure is a beautiful piece of hardware.


Sol2007.jpg



The Sol-20 is legendary for several unique features such as the solid walnut side panels and the one-piece construction. When the Sol was released, most microcomputers were naked circuit boards like the Apple 1, the Sol was the first microcomputer to have everything in one box. The Sol kit came with the keyboard pre-assembled, it was considered too tricky for hobbyists to assemble on their own. And of course, that turned out to be the piece that everyone has to disassemble and restore. Oh well.

Yahoo! TV: Suicide by Web 2.0

Recently there has been a considerable backlash against Web 2.0 online services, and a perfect example of this is Yahoo’s new TV listings. Yahoo has “upgraded” their listing services with all sorts of flashy GUI gadgetry, but they have completely destroyed the usability of the site.

I’ve used Yahoo’s TV listings for a long time, and I’ve been pretty satisfied with their service. I have very simple needs, I want to know what’s on every channel on my cable TV right now, or what’s on during the 3 hour prime time block. To get current listings, I just opened a bookmark and instantly got a grid. My only minor complaint was that if I checked listings at, say, 6:59, it started the listings at 6:00, when I want to see what’s coming up at 7:00. My TiVo is smarter than that, if I check listings at 6:55, it knows I’m looking for upcoming shows at 7. So why don’t I always use my TiVo for listings? Because it only shows what’s on now, I can’t see a 3 hour block in a nice grid format.

But now with Yahoo’s fancy Web 2.0 Ajax-ified interface, their system is useless. The new interface makes it almost impossible to bookmark the main listings, you are supposed to start at the advertising-laden main TV site, then click a dynamic, non-bookmarkable link to the listings. It took me a considerable amount of searching to find a fixed, nondynamic link to the listings that I could bookmark. Once I arrive at the listings page, it does not show all my 50 channels, it displays them in blocks of 10 channels. Each group of 10 is dynamically generated as I scroll down the page. As each block scrolls up onto the page, you can see a little progress bar move as it struggles to generate the grid. On my laptop, it takes over 60 seconds for the entire grid to display, while my CPU churns at 100% usage.

But it gets worse. Once I manage to scroll to the bottom and all 50 channels are displayed, there is no way for me to view the prime time block from 7PM to 10PM. I can only view 6-9 and 9-12. This makes it impossible for me to check listings that start or end around 9PM. This wouldn’t really be such a problem, but lately some shows have started to move their start or end times slightly, to 9:01 or 8:59, to defeat TiVo subscriptions. If I want my TiVo to record one show that ends at 9:01, but I also want to record another that starts at 9:00, the second show will not be recorded due to the overlap (even though the final minute of the first show is probably a commercial).

So what’s the point of all this griping that Yahoo no longer gives me exactly what I want in exactly the way I want it? It’s because they’ve done the exact opposite, Yahoo decided exactly what I should get and exactly the way they want to deliver it: with extra advertising and unwieldy Web 2.0 crap. Even worse, their Web 2.0 gadgets have shifted the CPU burden from their servers to my local computer, slowing everything down to a crawl. If the advertising and the usability problems weren’t enough to drive me away, the slow loading IS. So I will have to find another TV listings service that isn’t intent on driving away their customers. I’m trying out TitanTV, it’s not quite as good as the old Yahoo TV, but it’s close.

Burro + Beer + Camera + Me = Childhood Trauma

burro, beer, family photos

I’ve been going through a bunch of old family photos, and I found a couple of surprising photos of me, taken on a family vacation to Mexico in 1968, when I was barely 9 years old.


burro.jpg



Until I saw these photos, I had completely suppressed all memory of this event, but the moment I saw them, I remembered it instantly. In the first photo, my Dad put me on top of a burro to take my picture. There’s a little baby burro nipping at my legs, I remember being a bit unnerved at sitting on a stinky burro with another little animal trying to bite me, but I am smiling and seem to be enjoying it. Then all of a sudden, the burro’s owner gave it a bottle of beer, and it reared its head up to guzzle it down. I look like I’m trying to figure out how to get off this crazy animal.

There is one other event in this photo that is not visible. This is the moment I decided I hated having my picture taken.