Took them off the autodial, 2008 version

I just cleaned up my instant messenger list. This was a strange experience.

Mostly I pruned multiple service accounts for people I only talk to in one place. A surprising number of my friends had three or four old IM names from their pasts, some of them five years gone.

A few of the nicknames had been used once because of one incident: a temporary breakup, avoidance of one person or another, a joke. Some were from friends’ previous jobs.

Two of them were dead. The collision of instant messenging and death was unexpected.

None of them were people I don’t or shouldn’t or won’t talk to any more, which was a relief.

And then I left a few in because I could not remember what they meant. Accidents? One-time work contacts? A stealth name of someone I forget? Keep it in there, I guess.

Against wiki

I dislike wikis.

It wasn’t a bad idea for storing object oriented software info (thanks, Ward!) and I didn’t mind maintaining one for a bunch of other nerds ten years ago.

But now they’re everywhere, and it’s annoying. Reasons I dislike the wiki phenomenon are:

  1. Every nerd who saw the idea reimplemented it, so there are 20 different wiki software packages, all different from each other.
  2. It”s yet another example of the user interface that nerds thing is intuitive. It’s so easy, and fun, and transparent! If you like learning another markup language, that is.
  3. Wikis are used for everything. As a shared resource for software development it makes a lot of sense. As the knowledge base for a tech support site, or an archive of scripts, or damn near anything else, it’s worse than useless. How many times have we seen “Our useful resource thingy is now a wiki! Enjoy, everyone!” and then been asked to create our own answers to a problem?
  4. Wikipedia.
  5. Administering one of these things is a huge pain in the ass. I never know whether I’m changing my own user settings, the entire site, or someone else’s user settings. No one using the site has any clue how wiki code works or any desire to learn, and I don’t blame them, so I end up doing all the stuff that’s supposedly intuitive and simple and beautiful.

ACCENTUATIVE THE POSITIVE I have to say that I love HTML and its successors, hyperlinking, the WWW, and the Internet. I just don’t want to play Choose Your Own 404 Adventure or User-Generated Reality all the time!

bloated corpse

I own an HP color inkjet printer that also scans and copies. It’s handy and well-made.

Today I had to update the driver software to fix some bugs.

The download was 200 megabytes.

The uncompressed installation itself was over 400 megabytes.

There was no “custom install” option of less components, only the “default install” of every damned thing.

I had to opt out of their Customer Participation thing which is a daemon that runs constantly telling HP what’s going on.

I had to opt out of instant registration, and then opt out of both a reminder on next login and a dock item that would remind me to register. I also had to opt out of instant registration on the web.

Finally, it shat two useless items on my dock, the photo sharing app and the “device manager” app, that I will use maybe twice a year if at all.

The driver itself is tiny.


Edit: I had to buy black ink, which I did on Amazon. HP Ink. One cartridge, high quality, 660 pages: $18. Two cartridges bundled, lower quality, 480 pages each: $33. Math is hard.

Annals of Employment: PC Load Letter 2.0

Today I had to submit a financial form to the office. I work remotely, so I couldn’t just fill it out and drop it by the finance person’s office. The question was: how to get it there?

The form was an Acrobat PDF. Nowadays, many of these can be filled out as forms onscreen and then printed or emailed or faxed, making them easy to fill out and easy to read. Not this one. So the problem was: how to get it to the office without driving 50 miles in heavy traffic?

As I realized what was necessary, a tear rolled down my cheek.

I printed out the document and filled out both pages in black pen. Then I took them to the scanner/printer device at the other computer. I scanned each one in, which had to be done separately. The first go scanning them in greyscale produced an illegible grey smudge like a 1980s drugstore copy machine. I redid it at 48-bit RGB color and the greyscale document came out right. What the…?

Now I had two scanned-in .PDF documents, each one half of the previous .PDF document. I used Adobe Acrobat Pro to combine these into one document so that I could send it as one fax.

Now it was time to fax. This involved connecting to the other computer and using its modem as a fax printer. It should be simple, but it rarely works the first time. It’s never clear how to find the modem/fax/printer in the first place. Decisions about long-distance prefixes and area codes have to made by trial and error. Feedback from the computer sending the fax is almost nonexistent. To make the whole thing perfect, I was doing all of this over a wireless network.

Because of these things, the promise of faxing over the network with ease is a cruel lie. I walked back and forth at a ratio of five times per page trying to see the status of my fax, hear the fax modem dialing, figure out if it had been sent, etc. The first go was a failure because I’d been given the wrong fax number. The second try vanished ambiguously from my computer, but showed as “sent, okay” on the machine actually attached to the fax modem.

I decided that it had been sent, and fired off an email to the recipient, because of course anything can and will go wrong with the fax on the other end: paper jam, paper loss, toner failure, and inexplicable failure to receive a document or notify anyone that a problem has occurred.

Finally I sat down with relief to do some actual work. This was not to be. From the other room, I could hear an insistent beeping. Perhaps the fax modem hadn’t hung up? Sometimes they decide to stay on the line and one has to manually kill the connection.

I went into the other room to find the fax modem trying manfully to send the first fax, the one with the wrong number. I called up the dialog window to see fax jobs and deleted it. I went back to my desk. Three minutes later the beeping started. I marched into the other room and once again deleted the job. This time I stayed and watched. The same thing happened three more times.

Looking at other system preferences in desperation, I had to unlock one with my administrator password. A light suddenly shone upon me, and I saw the problem. Administrator privileges were required to remove a fax job. Sure enough, after I’d proved I was entitled, the fax job stayed removed. The system never told me that I wasn’t permitted to kill the bad fax without admin privileges: it just cheerfully removed and reinstated the bad fax job, forever.

Now I’m back at my desk, waiting for the email saying the fax was never received.

If anyone has extra peacock plume pens and pots of India ink, I’d be grateful for a loan. I have parchment and papyrus already.


  1. What phone headset should I get? I do not yet have bluetooth. My phones, both cordless on landline and wireless, have 1.5mm plugs. Previous headsets have been flimsy and had such bad sound quality that everyone insisted I stop using them. Suggestions?
  2. I may need to dump my Sidekick and get a new PDA. My needs are: a terminal program that does ssh; a web browser, however small; a decent email program. I’m looking at Blackbery and Treo and some other smart phones but would be interested in hearing about what you think.
  3. I know the blood runs hot when defending technologies, so don’t flame each other or I’ll give you such a PINCH.

RIAA, 1700

This mode of travelling, which by Englishmen of the present day would be regarded as insufferably slow, seemed to our ancestors wonderfully and indeed alarmingly rapid. In a work published a few months before the death of Charles the Second, the flying coaches are extolled as far superior to any similar vehicles ever known in the world. Their velocity is the subject of special commendation, and is triumphantly contrasted with the sluggish pace of the continental posts. But with boasts like these was mingled the sound of complaint and invective. The interests of large classes had been unfavourably affected by the establishment of the new diligences; and, as usual, many persons were, from mere stupidity and obstinacy, disposed to clamour against the innovation, simply because it was an innovation. It was vehemently argued that this mode of conveyance would be fatal to the breed of horses and to the noble art of horsemanship; that the Thames, which had long been an important nursery of seamen, would cease to be the chief thoroughfare from London up to Windsor and down to Gravesend; that saddlers and spurriers would be ruined by hundreds; that numerous inns, at which mounted travellers had been in the habit of stopping, would be deserted, and would no longer pay any rent; that the new carriages were too hot in summer and too cold in winter; that the passengers were grievously annoyed by invalids and crying children; that the coach sometimes reached the inn so late that it was impossible to get supper, and sometimes started so early that it was impossible to get breakfast. On these grounds it was gravely recommended that no public coach should be permitted to have more than four horses, to start oftener than once a week, or to go more than thirty miles a day. It was hoped that, if this regulation were adopted, all except the sick and the lame would return to the old mode of travelling. Petitions embodying such opinions as these were presented to the King in council from several companies of the City of London, from several provincial towns, and from the justices of several counties. We Smile at these things. It is not impossible that our descendants, when they read the history of the opposition offered by cupidity and prejudice to the improvements of the nineteenth century, may smile in their turn.The History of England from the Accession of James II

I can’t believe I’m tying an onion to my belt, here.

Today is August 11, 2006.

I am using Windows 98 SE and an RS-232C serial cable to program a new radio. To do this I have to run Virtual PC on my Mac, use a USB serial adapter, tell VPC to use that adapter as COM2 on the Windows box, and manually set all kinds of options for this “serial port.” Then I get to use a 1996 quality Windows application to read spreadsheet type data and very slowly write it to the radio over the serial cable. This works approximately 40% of the time.

I have no reason to believe it would work more of the time if I had a PC laptop running Windows natively.

There’s a place where the wonderful Web 2.0 Nifty Gadgets Open Source Free Extensible Modular Optimized World of Today ends. It’s the place where you have to hook your computer up to a device, any device: radio, weather station, medical equipment, anvil, surface to air missile, automobile, inclined plane. Immediately you’re struggling with some antedeluvian program written by a semicompetent nerd who hates humans, using ten-year-old tools, which is never ever going to be updated. The interface is guaranteed to be opaque, features will be missing or greyed out forever, and there will be no tech support of any kind. You are, at this point, in Hell.

I wish I knew how to write software. Half this shit has open protocols and is just begging for someone who isn’t an assclown to write something useful using exciting new technologies like “USB” and “user interface.”