Skip to content

Using the L(whatever)S

About a year ago, while I was gallivanting around, and paying someone about three times too much to stay at my house and dogsit while they were renting their place out via AirBNB, my thermostat failed. In December. The day after Xmas.

Now this isn’t Buffalo. It’s not life-threatening. But having spent a cold winter shivering without a heater (Dirtbag climber dude thought process: “Ah, 52 F. That’s not that cold. I’ve been way colder than that lots of nights! I can make it through to spring!”), hanging out in a 55 F house wears on you. Especially if you are a skinny little actress. I would imagine. It was a long winter for me, and I am a big warm slab of beef, aside from my frost-nipped toes.

After that miserable winter, I had the 100 year old floor heater ripped out and a modern central air system put in, forthwith. I don’t get use it much, but it’s very nice to have. When you want it, you want it.

With the nine hour time difference, and the basic incompetence of a $75/night housesitter, I spent a lot of nights in Spain standing in the dark or the rain where my phone had reception (cause the climber bungalow didn’t, but the clearing across the road did). After climbing, after dinner, and instead of sleeping, or hanging out, or having a drink on a cold night. Trying to mediate between a flaky person’s schedule and the HVAC company that just didn’t give a shit. Plus holidays. I should have been living it up with the other climbers over warm sangria and sleeping late, and instead I was lying awake at night wondering if my dogs were being taken care of by someone who was clearly not that together.

Eventually the HVAC people made it out to everyone’s maximal inconvenience, and I sat in a hotel room in Gandia looking up thermostat prices on Amazon (because they couldn’t tell me via email, or in advance (“gotta look at your system first”. “You installed it, why don’t you just look it up?” “Oh, we don’t keep records.”).

They wanted close to a grand to install a Nest or Ecobee – $500 for the $250-everywhere-else thermostat, and $400 or $450 to install it.

Clearly that was bullshit and not gonna happen.

So I went with the $67 el cheapo thermostat that they charged $250 for (believe me, I argued with them about this), and only $250 for installation that took less than an hour. I know because I was on the phone the whole time.

Truly a blue light special, this thermostat was lit by a blue LCD screen that I had to cover with a cardboard flap, as it lit up the whole house at night otherwise.

A few days ago, I saw that the Ecobee was on sale, and right next to it was a button that said “Amazon installation: $77”. Really?!? I pulled the trigger and said goodbye to the blue light special even though it had cost me $$$ and worked well enough.

It would have been easy enough to install the new thermostat myself, but there’s a lot to be said for someone coming in and doing in 30 minutes what would take me a couple of hours of reading instructions and looking at videos.

The Amazon contractor showed up at the beginning of the window, was polite and friendly, called and told me what time he would be there, then was!, and came in and got it done. $77 for 30 minutes work, $169 for the thermostat. Which seems about right. For what Air-Tro would have charged close to $1000.

Like the LBS and LHS, I would like for the local HVAC to stay in business. I want to use them to install a new system and do maintenance (for which they have jacked up the biannual price to $200/visit, for 45 minutes work, and for which they never show up on time, even though I arrange for the first appointment of the day). I want to be able to call them and get shit done. But for a reasonable price.

But I don’t see how, when the basic mode is rip-off everything you can get your hands on for all you are worth.

So good riddance, LHVAC. Go join the LBS and LHS in local business graveyard. I’ll be a bit sorry. But like the LBS and LHS (and taxis!), the grave you are digging is your own.


I have to give Apple credit for one thing in iOS 10 – they finally made the Maps “End” button bigger than one pixel, to either see, or hit.

They still haven’t figured out how to tell Siri to pronounce “LAX”, or the interchange between the 5/10 to get to the east side of DTLA (where only about a million hipsters live), or that I’m not going to take Orange Grove to the 110 no matter how many times I ignore it, or that sometimes it’s better to take the 405/134 even if it’s way more miles, or that there’s construction and no way for me to take the entrance Siri wants, so stop telling me to go back to it.

I’ll believe that we’ll have self-driving cars and AI when AI finally figures out how to get from one place to another. It ain’t happened yet.

PotD 15 November 2016



PotD 12 November 2016


PotD 10 November 2016


PotD 9 November 2016


PotD 7 November 2016


PotD 6 November 2016



Steve Jobs would never let this happen

As a huge Apple fanboi, I’ll be ordering a new MBP as soon as they are available from my workplace (they have to go through their stupid “verification” process first, even though it’s the same OS as currently available, and it’s not like they’re going to say no to the 2500 of us who have been overdue for replens for the last year). Though the one I’m typing this on at home is fine, and will likely last another four years (although see below – foreshadowing!).

My not-so-hot-take after reading all the threads:

  • Thinner at the expense of utility: The FAA mandates that the biggest battery you can carry on planes is 100 WHr. The current MBP is 99.5; the new one is 76.5. If you can get 10 hours of use with the smaller battery, why not make it thinner if you can’t make the battery bigger? I carry a MBP on my back or shoulder every stinking day. Through airports, hotels, and in the Chrome bag on the bicycle. Thinner and lighter is not a small selling point.
  • Memory: The currently available Intel mobile processors don’t support more than 16 GB. So 32 GB isn’t possible until next year anyway. Did you want to wait another year for an MBP update? See also battery life above, and Apples answer about 32 GB killing battery life with the memory Intel supports. There is no way Apple are going to advertise “10 hours of battery life (unless you buy this option)”.
  • Ports: The world is going to USB-C. The SD port was nice, but I only recently got a camera that supported SD. Real cameras still use CF, so I had to use an external reader anyway (which yes, has always been a huge PITA – card readers are generally shit). Apple has historically tried to force the world to follow it to modern interface standards: USB-A, Firewire, Thunderbolt – with varying degrees of success. Now it’s doing the same for USB-C. Even nicer, USB-C has no polarity, which even Thunderbolt failed at. I’m a big fan of this idea – it has been very nice for the last few years to plug in one Thunderbolt cable to the TB hub and have backup disks, headphones, display, and ethernet all at once. When it worked. Which it didn’t always (looking at you, Belkin). Which leads to…
  • MagSafe: I am a huge huge fan of MagSafe. Genius, practical, laptop saving connection. But going back to the one-port to rule them all – right at this instant, I have two cables connecting my laptop to the outside world. One break-away MagSafe, and one non-break-away Thunderbolt. The MagSafe is not really able to do its job anyway. If I could plug in one cable, be connected to the dock, and charge the laptop, is that worth losing MagSafe? Honestly, I’d rather have both, because I travel a lot, and there are lots of times that I just need power in a conference room, hotel room, airport, cafe, lab. But the other half of the time, I’m plugging into a dock at work, home, hotel, or the Snow Conference Room. I get the logic. I would have still liked to have MagSafe in addition to USB-C. But I get it.
  • Dongles: These follow an inverse breaking-wave curve. I carry them, then they go away one-by-one, then with the next version, I have to start carrying them again. I still carry the ones for VGA and DVI, as most of the conference rooms in the the world don’t use mini-DisplayPort and have only recently started with HDMI. And ethernet because Airbus turned off their guest WiFi. I suppose I’ll be replacing them with different ones. Hopefully I can get a really small USB-C hub to use for charging and everything else (hint hint, Apple. Make one of these, as Belkin and Griffin tend to be good at ideas and suck at execution). With a breakaway MagSafe connection. And an SD card reader. And CF card reader.
  • Performance: I process data using Matlab and Python. Neither of which has ever been particularly optimized for battery life or multiple cores. I would like more memory, and but even more, faster processors. Matlab is never going to run on multiple cores, not for the things I do.

The Touch Bar looks promising. Less weight on my back is fucking great. One unipolar port to rule them all is a Really Good Idea. Touch ID has been wonderful on the iPhone and will be fucking great on the laptop. Space Gray is neat. A better screen is always welcome. We’ll see about the keyboard and bigger trackpad but I’m not as big a keyboard nazi as some.

Are we going to see an external Touch Bar keyboard? That’d be pretty great. An Apple USB-C hub?

It is stupid that I can’t plug a new iPhone 7 into a new MBP without buying dongles that didn’t come with either. I don’t know about anything else, but I’m pretty sure Steve wouldn’t have let that happen. At least the new 256GB iPhone is USB3 so it didn’t take two days to copy over music. Finally. iTunes still sucks. This computer stays on 10.10.2 so I can use iPhoto and Aperture.

This update is missing the built-in LTE radio. I travel a lot, and mobile devices have gotten to the point where I don’t worry about having a connection, or data usage. I’ve had a reasonably good LTE data connection on all my devices everywhere I’ve been overseas in the last couple of years (10+ countries). Work pays for AT&T, and with TMO, I just don’t have to worry about it. So a built-in LTE connection in addition to the Wifi would be awesome for those times when I’m in places without.

What I really think all this says – lack of new processors, lack of efficient fast memory, long times between refreshes – is that we’re about to see Apple go to ARM processors in Macs. The same thing is happening with Intel that happened with PowerPC. Steve Job’s Apple would not be held hostage by Intel’s lack of ability to produce processors. Will Apple do this with the Mac Pro and Mini? One can only hope that’s why there hasn’t been an update on these lines, rather than just giving up.

Was there any chance I was going to change? Get real. I have to use Linux and Windows laptops (and desktops) at work. I just spent the better part of two days setting up a new Windows computer so that it can be cloned properly. No one else has ever even gotten close to making something as good as an MBP trackpad, let along palm rejection while typing. Linux can’t even get a basic bog-standard terminal window to be as good as the MacOS Terminal, much less as good as iTerm. A one-pixel width to grab to change the window size? That alone would kill that idea dead dead dead. We won’t talk about Windows 10, Ubuntu, connecting to WiFi, or sleep.

PotD 25 September 2016



I do not understand why I can’t watch regular Netflix when overseas. I am still a US citizen, paying with a US account. It’s not as though I am going to go to a German sports bar and show episodes of Archer (“So you’re saying Germany is the Alabama of Europe?”) on all the screens for money. There is no such thing as a German sports bar, for one thing.

And it’s not as though I magically begin speaking German when I’m in Germany, so why are you showing me all the German titled shows? I can do a bit of French and Spanish, but German is just hopeless.

Then when I come back, Netflix still tends to want to show me German-ish shows. I still don’t speak German…

Show me the damn shows I want to watch. Dammit. I’m jet-lagged and I need distraction.

Autobahn redux

Once again, the drive back from Utah provokes thoughts about driving and human behavior.

In Utah, with the closest thing to a German autobahn no-speed-limit experience that you’re likely to get in the US (80 mph limits, meaning 90 mph traffic), people are polite, move over, and largely don’t park in the left hand lane. Notable differences – semis still feel the need to pull out and block the fast lane to pass another semi going 2 mph slower than them; autos don’t know how to not be a blocking dick [1]; highway patrol will give you a ticket.

However, the same traffic – exactly the same autos, with exactly the same people driving them, when crossing the border into AZ, then NV, then CA, undergo personality transplants to become the fast-lane-hogging, road-blocking, failure-to-yield road-rage-filled humanity that I’m used to from LA freeways.

When you ask yourself, why do the autobahnen work so well, and why are driver so shitty in the US, a lot of it seems to come down to the speed limits. When the limit is either not there, or close enough to the reality that people are going to drive anyway, then drivers become polite and friendly. When the limits are 20 mph below what a straight-to-the-horizon six-lane freeway [2] will bear, then the very same people become assholes.

[1] I don’t have a pithy name for this – it’s watching traffic flow so that you don’t get trapped behind a semi and either have to slam on the brakes, or pull out in front of a Merc SLC going 200 kph in order not to slam on your brakes. Conversely, it’s the fellow in the Merc SLC going 200 kph flashing his headlights to let you know it’s ok to pull out in front of him to get around the truck, because when you are driving 120 mph, you pay attention to traffic around you, and there’s no need to be an asshole. Fear of flaming high-speed death will do that to you, I suppose.

[2] Every autobahn I’ve been on in Germany is a two-lane road, four-lane highway, with narrow shoulders, and an exit for [P]eeing every 5 km, lest you think that the Germans have no speed limits because they have US-like superhighways. One of the few things I love about Germany is the autobahn and a rest stop every few miles. Driving back the 700 miles from Utah, there were perhaps 4 legal single-purpose rest stops, and 2 of them were closed for repair.

Peak story – or peak podcast?

I can’t decide if we’ve either reached peak story, or peak podcast, when I hear the same guy telling the same story that I already heard on TAL, Snap Judgement, the Moth, TED, and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

Are we really out of new stories to tell, and new people to tell them?

Yes, I just spend 10 hours driving. I can’t decide whether it’s a good thing that I can now just turn on the local NPR app and get the live feed for the whole way. No more searching through the airwaves to find something to listen to. It’s good in that it lessens my exposure to right-wing talk radio; it’s bad in that it lessens my occasional exposure to right-wing talk radio*.

* and I am no fan of NPR. It’s just usually better than the alternative, and Pacifica is just too full of BS woo.

Apple iTunes album rating fail

Apple implemented a new feature which derives an “album rating” from the ratings that you give individual songs. However, they did this in the most brain dead way possible – if you rate any song with any stars, the whole album gets that rating. Then any playlist based on ratings will have the whole album on it. Because no one in the history of recorded music has ever liked just one song on an album. And one-hit wonders are such not a thing that there’s not even a name for them like “one-hit wonder.”

It really goes south when you do something like download the completely free and legal torrent of collections of demo songs from bands playing at SXSW. Which are released every year. It’s a good way to find new music. I have literally gigabytes of music from the SXSW torrents. However, now, if I like even one of those songs, all the songs from that year, all 1300 of them, now show up in the Rated playlist, because Apple’s stupid Album Rating algorithm treats a stupidly derived automatic rating the same as a rating that you actually gave to the song because you liked it enough to click on it.

Just try to fix it, also. Can’t be done. If you try to erase the Album Rating, or change it to “none”, the algorithm immediately changes it right back, with lots of spinning beach ball of death, because it’s trying to do it on 1300 songs at once.

Fucking idiots. Thanks for fucking up my carefully curated playlists. It’s like no one at Apple has ever used a playlist based on ratings. Oh wait, I’m pretty sure they invented them. Maybe they’re all using Zunes.

Tagged , ,

PotD 8 August 2016

garage door

Tagged ,