February 26, 2012

Let Me Tell Ye: A Cautionary Tale About Calendars

I call this: computers,mac,phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 6:18 pm

Let me tell ye a story:
Last week I was very nearly late for a meeting because I completely lost track of its existence. In my defense, it was seriously the only appointment I had all week, and pertains to a job that doesn’t start until April. But I have a habit before I go to bed each night of asking myself what I have to do the next day. Sometimes it’s really obvious, like if I’m rehearsing six days a week and just sent out the next day’s schedule six hours ago, then I don’t usually need to consult a calendar to remind me. But if it’s not immediately obvious, then I check the calendar to be sure.

On the eve of this particular meeting, as I was preparing to shut down my computer and head to bed, I asked myself the usual question of whether I have something in particular to do the next day. And I consciously made the decision not to take the 5 seconds to open iCal and check. So sure was I that I had no responsibility in the foreseeable future.

Well let me tell ye, I was wrong. Thankfully, my PSM texted me a little more than an hour beforehand to double-check where the meeting was being held.

As I sat fuming on a train wondering how this all happened, I broke it down to the most essential failure:

It wasn’t that I didn’t bother to check the calendar. It’s that this appointment was likely to be lost track of in the vast expanse of free time surrounding it, and I didn’t set a reminder alarm to go off several hours beforehand.

I have these kind of alarms for lots of things — when I’m going to visit my parents, the stage managers’ networking event at Equity next month, if there’s something on TV or an event on the internet like an Apple keynote (obviously things that don’t require leaving the house don’t need a 3-hour warning, but I might include a shorter warning in case I’m out shopping and need to get home).

So the real cause of my near-missing of this meeting is why I didn’t set an alarm for something so obviously in need of one. The real reason is because I’ve stopped using them as much.

I stopped using alarms because they had become unreliable.

I had been using my Google Apps account for my calendar, which is great because Google Calendar is kind of the de facto standard in calendar sharing in the theatre industry, even if it seems nobody uses it to its full potential. The problem is, for many months I’ve been having a lot of trouble with alarms properly syncing between iCal and my phone. I had done a lot of experiments with iCal, the Google web app, and the iPhone, trying to figure out the circumstances under which an alarm wouldn’t sync. I had looked for solutions online, and had heard some suggestions that adding a sound to the alarm caused problems, but that didn’t seem to fix it for me (not that silent alarms are a great solution anyway). I was really stumped. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t, and instead of entering my appointment in whatever app I pleased, I was now having to check and double-check on multiple devices just to make sure there really, truly seemed to be an alarm set somewhere.

Let me tell ye: this should have been a huge red flag. A rather important component of my workflow (the one responsible for not forgetting to be somewhere) had essentially stopped working, and while I had spent many hours trying to fix it, I let it continue to be broken. I was smart enough to stop trusting it, but I didn’t replace its function.

Late that night after the meeting, I created a bunch of calendars in iCloud, and gave them the same names and colors as my Google calendars. Then I changed all the appointments pertaining to the upcoming show I’m doing from the Google calendars to their new iCloud equivalents.

Now let me tell ye: I don’t really have great faith in iCloud. It’s no better than MobileMe, which was not much better than dotMac. But I always felt that MobileMe’s calendar syncing was a little more reliable, which is only natural when you’re using apps designed for it, rather than relying on support between two companies’ implementations of calendar standards. The only advantage to using Google Calendar, as far as I could tell, was if I wanted to share calendars. And let me tell ye, I have hardly ever shared my calendars, and definitely won’t need to in the kind of jobs I’ll be doing in the near future. It would also be very easy to convert back. Just a checkbox to turn the account back on in iCal, and one of those blue switchy-things on the iPhone to turn calendar syncing back on for my Google Apps account.

So far things feel a little safer. I am by no means saying that iCloud is a superior platform to Google Apps. On email features alone, I declare it is not. But the most important thing in my workflow should be to prevent data loss, because it could lead to absolute disaster for me and whatever production I’m working on. Sometimes that means picking the safer solution. It’s why I’ve never used Google to sync my contacts — it adds an extra layer of syncing between Address Book and Google, and in 12 years of syncing contacts, if I’ve learned anything it’s that they love to either disappear or inexplicably get duplicated 5 times, and it’s even more fun when field names get mixed up. Since my contacts are just for my own use, I prefer to go from an app to a cloud service to an app that are all designed to work together.

Anyway, my point in posting this is not specifically to talk about which calendar syncs better. The point is that I failed to fix something that was broken in my workflow — I guess because I was stubborn, or because I was afraid of breaking something else by switching formats — and it caused me to become disorganized and nearly make a major mistake. So I present this cautionary tale to anyone who relies on computers as much as I do, or on non-computer routines, for that matter. If something is preventing you from staying organized, fix it. If your thing is that you stick post-its on your corkboard, and you run out of post-its, run to the store and buy more. If your new corkboard makes the post-its fall off, stick them on with push-pins until you figure something out. Don’t stop using the post-its!

Also, it’s a good idea to look at your calendar before you go to bed.

I think this article may elicit some FAQs, so:

Why is Google Apps better than iCloud (for you)?
What I meant about the email being superior is best expressed in this Apple knowledgebase thingy. In short, MobileMe email would not push changes in status other than the arrival of a new message. So if you got 2 emails and read them on your computer, and then deleted them, your phone would still show two new emails until you actually opened the Mail app, at which point it would connect to the server and the emails would be marked read and then disappear off to the trash. Now imagine you’re on a train, and don’t have access to the server. Even more annoying.

Google mail had no such problem — all changes get pushed instantly, so you never have false unread mail alerts, and everything is in the folder where it belongs. Thus proving it’s never been a problem with the phone, with multitasking, or anything else. It’s just that MobileMe sucked. I had hoped that iCloud, whose only selling point was basically “MobileMe, but without the suck,” would fix this behavior. It didn’t. And that knowledgebase article basically says, “yeah, we meant for it to be this way.” So I no longer use any of my old dotMac/MobileMe/iCloud email addresses because it’s so annoying, and clearly not likely to change. Also with Google Apps I can use my own domain name for my email address, and that’s nice. Plus, if I someday didn’t want to use Gmail, I can keep my address and take it somewhere else.

So why don’t you just use Google Apps for everything and forget the syncing to iCal and Address Book?
Because I hate web apps. I do not trust the web, or the cloud, at all. Its only use for PIM (which is a term that’s never used anymore, but it means personal information management, and it’s a useful phrase), is to create local copies of my data simultaneously on all my devices. If it can’t be saved, accessed, and edited offline, and then successfully synced later without fucking everything up, I don’t want it. There are a disturbing number of places where I have to do my business without any internet access, so I prefer to work in well-designed local apps that stay in sync with each other, rather than in web apps that might try to throw in offline access as some kind of afterthought.

I like to know that if my tenuous hold on 1KB of bandwidth is severed while I’m entering data, I’m not going to lose anything, I don’t need to stop working, and I won’t be prevented from accessing data I’ve already entered. Also, I like purpose-built apps that are well designed and reliable at the tasks they were built to do. Sure I could use a browser as an email client. I could also use Photoshop as a word processor.

The only time I appreciate the existence of web apps is when I need to access something from somebody else’s computer, and when I do it’s very useful, but those occasions are rare. Also, they always seem to involve something about a printer that can’t be accessed except from the office computer. So yes, a great option to have in your back pocket, but I’m not comfortable with it as my primary method of working with my data.

You’re insane, you know that?
I offer this FAQ only as an explanation of why I personally have dismissed other available options. My way is far from being the most appropriate solution for everyone.

October 2, 2011

Let Me Tell Ye: Backstage Bathrooms

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:44 pm

Let Me Tell Ye: if you’re building toilets into your theatre — and let me tell ye, ye should, because it’s more comfortable for everyone and is required to meet Equity’s safe and sanitary policy — then please for the love of all that is holy, put locks on all the bathrooms.

Don’t try to psychoanalyze how I intend to use the dressing rooms and figure out which ones you can cleverly fit with plain doorknobs compared to locking doorknobs. Just let people sit on the can in peace and security. Just go to that by default. How much extra does it cost in a multi-million-dollar building for all the bathroom doors to lock instead of just some of them?

I don’t care if you think it’s a star dressing room and there won’t be anyone in it but the person trying to go, who can lock the whole dressing room when nature calls. Ye are wrong. Ye know how I know? Because I’ve seen it time after time, all over the country. Dressing rooms are used for many things, by many different people. In fact, I know of one venue in Connecticut where we had to use the bathroom in pairs to make sure somebody was guarding the door cause none of the crew-usable bathrooms (which were also dressing rooms) locked.

Which brings me to a slight tangent that even more venues are guilty of: if your only backstage bathrooms are in the dressing rooms, your theatre fails. Where is the crew supposed to go? I can tell ye, they do not want to invade the actors’ space during the time that they’re in the building, nor do the actors want crew members passing through their dressing room.

And if it wasn’t clear, this other bathroom should also lock.

July 2, 2011

Let Me Tell Ye: That’s Not a Broken Caps Lock Key, That’s a Feature!

I call this: mac,tech — Posted by KP @ 1:29 pm

I learned something today. I don’t know when it happened, but I feel like I don’t take the time to have my finger on the pulse of the computing world anymore. This one slipped by me at least a year ago, probably much longer.

If you own a Mac, you may be familiar with how the eject key requires a longer keypress than a normal key to eject your media. When this feature was introduced, it was disturbing at first, but I quickly grew to be OK with it, since ejecting media isn’t that common compared to pressing other keys, and is kind of a big commitment that will take at least several seconds to rectify if you do it without meaning to. A slightly more purposeful press of the key isn’t that hard.

When I upgraded from a 2007 to 2010 MacBook Pro, I thought there was something wrong with my caps lock key. Sometimes it just wouldn’t activate until after several presses. It happened often enough that I knew it wasn’t just my imagination, so I got this nagging feeling that there’s something wrong with my computer. Not something big enough to be worth fixing, but I started thinking, “What if my keyboard is defective? What if the problem starts to affect other keys? I can deal with having to hit caps lock more than once and make sure the green light comes on, but what if it happens to the ‘A’ key? Is it serious enough that I should get it repaired rather than suffer with a defective keyboard for years?”

Well today, as I said, I learned something.

Let me tell ye: this is a feature.

Yes, your caps lock key is designed not to activate when you press it. I don’t know exactly how many milliseconds you’re supposed to press it for. Based on my non-scientific method of pressing it for different periods of time, I’d say that if you tap it the way you would tap a normal key in the process of typing, it won’t activate, but if you give it a determined press (less than a second, for sure), it will work.

I’m not so much angry about this design choice (which might actually be a good one) as I am annoyed that I’ve spent over a year with this machine thinking it’s broken. I don’t know how I was supposed to know about this unusual feature, but if I knew about it, I might have saved myself a lot of time by learning to press the caps lock key more firmly rather than failing to activate it, having to delete what I’ve typed, then spending a good 30 seconds testing the key to make sure it works, and wondering whether the computer needs to be repaired.

I don’t know when this feature was introduced, obviously sometime between my last two laptops, and I don’t know if the current desktop keyboards support it, but I’ll bet they do. Anyway, I’m mostly blogging this not to rant, but as a public service announcement, if anybody else is as perplexed by their caps lock key as I was. Had I not read a blog comment that mentioned it in passing, I’d have never known.

January 1, 2011

Let Me Tell Ye: iPhone Alarms

I call this: phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 2:33 pm

Dear Steve,
Let me tell ye: I understand you had some problems with the iPhone alarm app a few months back when we switched over from daylight savings. That was pretty well publicized, so I think most people were prepared for some strangeness. I wasn’t, because I was in a place (Arizona) which does not switch over from daylight savings, but I took all the precautions, and I was a little surprised (and woke up late) because my phone fell back for no reason, which had nothing to do with the publicized alarm app. That was weird. It also happened to at least one of my actors, so I’m not crazy.

Cut to this morning, New Year’s Day. I got up around 6AM to go to the bathroom, and decided I didn’t want to get up at 7:30, so I re-set my alarms for 8:30 and 9:30 instead of 7:30 and 8:30. I crawled back into bed, and the next thing I know it’s nearly noon.

Now my first thought is that maybe a diet of vodka, beer, champagne and popcorn could cause a person to sleep through their alarms. I tried really, really hard to think about whether my alarms went off at any point, or whether I recalled snoozing them. Didn’t sound familiar. So I looked at my alarm app, and both alarms were still set. The only way I could sleep through four hours of alarms would be if I actually turned them off early on, and they never went off again. I didn’t remember the alarms going off once, much less snoozing them every nine minutes for 3 or 4 hours.

So I got out of bed (feeling pretty well-rested, thank you), and got on the computer to visit TUAW and see if they knew anything about this. TUAW has been annoying me in recent months, and I no longer read it unless I’m specifically looking for something, so I missed their post last night warning of this problem.

Apparently if you use non-recurring alarms between Jan 1 and 3rd 2011, your alarms won’t go off. Just great, let me tell ye. And I never use recurring alarms because I usually have to go to work at a different time every day.

Steve. Seriously. It’s an alarm app. How hard is it to get it to work? I’m not much of a programmer, but I’m pretty sure the gist of it is, “Is it this time? If yes, set off the alarm. If no, do nothing.” It’s also pretty much the simplest, most feature-deprived alarm app I’ve ever seen in my life. It doesn’t do anything, how complicated could it be?

I have two requests:
#1: fix this shit
#2: if you know about it (and once the Australians try to wake up, you will), send out a text message or push notification and warn people. I wouldn’t have been upset if I had a chance to prevent it.

Gotta go, I need to email my cast and tell them about this so they come to rehearsal tomorrow. I don’t know how many iPhones we have on this tour, but to say half the people on the tour have one is probably a good estimate. Why does it seem like it’s become part of my job to manage the phone alarm bugs of my actors, in the same way that one would say “just a reminder, the A train isn’t running this weekend”?

Get it together.
Love, Karen

December 23, 2010

Let Me Tell Ye: Words No One is Allowed To Say For Two Days

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:17 pm

Let me tell ye. I have been working for ten days straight. I am going to burn the metaphorical yule log for two days, and I hope I do not hear the following words for at least 48 hours:

1. groceries
2. shoes
3. handcuffs
4. bowler [hat]

That is pretty much my week-and-a-half summed up in four words. None of which has particularly much to do with the fact that today we completed our second full run of the show, and it’s falling-down funny (I keep waiting for something to make Ian actually fall on the floor — he’s come almost all the way out of the chair a couple times, but we’re not quite there yet).

But such is life that the things that take up most of my time are the little details that go on in the background, and if I’m lucky, most people on the production never know or need to worry about any of the convoluted process by which they’re made possible.

Yesterday, after I slapped a metal door frame a little too hard in response to #1, Meaghan was like, “can I help?” to which I responded, “there is nothing that can be done for this, it can only be solved by my death.” There is no way I know of to avoid these kind of situations short of not becoming a stage manager. Run away! Hit the back button on your browser while you still can! And if it’s too late to save yourself, well, take comfort in knowing that everyone is going through it.

And with that, I wish all you dear readers a safe and happy holiday. And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then even better — you probably got a couple days off for free just to chill. Which, after a video chat and remote present-opening with the fam in the morning, is what I intend to spend it doing!

And no, I don’t have the same Christmas tree on my desk as I did last year. That’s a recycled picture, cause I never got around to taking a shot of the cute ornament my mom sent me. It’s made all of glass, with a palm tree and flamingo inside a glass ball with sand and a couple shells loose at the bottom. It’s so that we think warm thoughts in rehearsal. It seems to be working.

November 7, 2010

Let Me Tell Ye: Daylight Savings

I call this: phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 9:58 am

Phoenix this morning at 6:38 (or 5:38 depending on who you ask)

Today is daylight savings “fall back” day in the US. Except in Arizona (except in the Navajo Nation part of Arizona, which follows the rest of the country).

Now I think daylight savings is stupid, because I’m not a farmer, and I can afford electricity, so I was very glad to find myself in Arizona for the time change, so I could avoid all the drama associated with it. I sent an email to my cast last night reminding them — don’t touch your clocks! Don’t let your mother, your Facebook friends or anyone else remind you to “fall back” tonight. You simply don’t have to do anything, and you will be telling the correct time. How difficult could that be, right?

Well let me tell ye.

There has been some kerfluffle in the press about the iPhone’s daylight savings bug. Basically the clock updates correctly but somehow the alarms get messed up. It only happens if you use a recurring alarm, and since I usually have to be at work at a different time every day, I don’t use recurring alarms, so I thought I was in the clear.

So I went to bed last night and set my iPhone alarm for 6AM so I could do some laundry in the morning. I set my hotel alarm clock for 6:38, as I generally like to have an alarm that will catch me should I fall back to sleep.

Well the next thing I know the hotel alarm is going off, and it’s 6:38. And I’m like, WTF? So I look at my phone, and it says 5:38. And I look at the stupid digital alarm clock on the table that has like 3 buttons, and it’s 6:38. So I’m like, “clearly it’s 6:38.” My phone has fallen back.

Now it should be noted that this is not the alarm bug. I have no doubt that the alarm would have gone off had the phone’s clock ever reached 6:00. The problem is that at some point in the night (2AM, I imagine), the phone’s actual clock fell back when it wasn’t supposed to.

It’s set to get the time automatically, which as I understand cellular phones, means that the network pushes the correct time to the phones. Whatever tower(s) you’re connected to (obviously somewhere in the middle of Phoenix) should tell your phone the local time. So why did it fall back? I have several theories:

a) AT&T’s towers don’t know what time it is, or where they are located. I don’t find this hard to believe.

b) The iPhone overrides the signal from the towers and triggers a time change without checking where the phone is located. I could also imagine this.

But I’m going to lay the blame squarely on this messed up daylight savings system in general, that even in places where it doesn’t exist, somehow manages to screw everything up.

Let me tell ye my general opinion of time. There is one time, the time we are living in. If I call someone in Australia, I can assure you we are talking to each other at the same time, despite the fact that technically I am talking to him yesterday. I think it would simplify things greatly if people around the world thought of things in terms of “what time is it right now?” rather than “what time is it here?” This association of the time with the position of the sun in the sky is so last millennium. I’m sure there are people in rural areas and less developed countries who do use the sun, but I would venture to guess that they don’t actually need to know if it’s 4:38 or 5:42, and if they do, they own a watch or maybe even a cell phone.

If there was simply one time, then areas could decide for themselves when it’s convenient to work based on the local daytime. Someone might work 9-to-5 in New York and 6-to-2 in LA, and both experience the same amount of daylight. A child could start school at 8AM in London and 2AM in Miami and both have the sun up when they’re waiting for the bus. These decisions about when to work are already rather arbitrary. Schools all have their own schedules, businesses may work 9-to-5 or 10-to-6, etc. What difference does it make what we call it? At least we would know that when everyone in the world says something is happening at 8:00, we would be talking about the same moment in time for everyone.

Let me tell ye, if I ever become President of the World, first we are building a rain bubble over Manhattan, and then we will all start using the same time and never change it.

September 5, 2010

Let Me Tell Ye: Windows 7 Upgrade

I call this: computers,mac,pc,tech — Posted by KP @ 11:20 pm

It’s been a while since I’ve done a “Let Me Tell Ye” post, so just a reminder / warning that in addition to some useful computer tips, you’re going to get some snark.

I’ve been using Windows XP since late 2001, shortly before I switched to Mac (basically WindowsME was what made me switch, and by the time XP came out, my mind was made up, but I bought it just to get me through the last couple months before I could afford a Mac). Since then I’ve always had an install of Windows on my Mac, which until this week has always been XP. I also have a gaming rig, which also runs XP. I recently hit a point where I felt that Windows 7 had been around long enough that I trust it will be compatible with my games and peripherals, and will provide better performance with modern hardware (such as my 4GB of RAM). Over the summer it made it to the top of my short list of things to buy when I get a little money.

As part of preproduction for my upcoming tour, I’ve been focusing on Windows a little more than usual because I have a PC-using assistant. So I thought it might be a good idea to take the opportunity to buy Windows 7 now, so that if we ever need to do something Windows-based, there won’t be a chance of it not working because I’m using an obsolete OS.

So let me tell ye, without further ado, my experience installing Windows 7 on my MacBook Pro, over an install of XP. I wrote this throughout the process:


So here’s what I’m working with:

  • mid-2010 15″ 2.66GHz i7 MacBook Pro
  • 4GB RAM
  • Mac partition with Snow Leopard 10.6.4
  • Windows partition with XP SP3 32-bit
  • Windows 7 upgrade disk (which comes with 32-bit and 64-bit install disks, I will be attempting 64-bit)

The Begininng

I made sure I had the latest Boot Camp update (3.1) for Windows 32 bit, which gets run on XP before the update. Honestly I’ve never been quite clear how Boot Camp works, but I know it’s necessary for driver support, so I need to make sure that’s done first, and everything I’ve read says this is necessary before installing Windows 7 in Boot Camp.

Step 1: Open the Box

When I had recovered from the optical spectacular that is the hologrammed install disc, I found a loose piece of paper in the box making it sound like if I’m going from XP to Win 7 my life is going to be miserable. So I grabbed one of my spare hard drives, reformatted as NTFS, and got ready for an ordeal.

The instructions sent me to a website to download a helper. I carefully typed in the address (in IE, cause I figured they’d do something stupid like make that important). But because I was using IE, it didn’t send me to the page because I didn’t put “http://”. Sorry. I must have been looking for that other internet, so it’s a good thing you sent me to Windows Live Search instead, where the only result happened to be the page I was looking for.

The first instruction cautions me that when I start the installation I need to select the “custom” option if installing from XP. Well, I know the OS is old. To me it feels like just yesterday because I switched to Mac just a few months after it came out. But let’s not pretend that the only OS in between didn’t suck. Plenty of smart people, and lucky ones who didn’t need to buy new computers, skipped over Vista. So stop acting like those of us still on XP are some kind of technology-shunning aberrations. Thanks.

So it checked that my computer is compatible with both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7. Then I was instructed to download the optimistically-named Windows Easy Transfer. Now this “easy” transfer doesn’t actually transfer all your stuff intact, it takes your files, but you need to reinstall your programs. That seems like a pretty smart idea when changing OSes anyway, but I’d call it more like, “We’ll Kinda Help You Transfer.” Like if a friend offers to help you move and all they do is hold the door open for you while you carry the stuff out, and then leave you at the door to your new place with a list to help you remember all the stuff you have to unpack.

While Windows analyzed my computer for ease of transfer, I heard my Mac reboot. Apparently spontaneously and unintentionally, because when I restarted it said the bit about “Windows has recovered from a serious error,” and actually used the word “blue screen” somewhere in there. I wish I had been looking, it would have been a great photo op.

With this comforting sign before I’ve even begun my major upgrade, I started over with the “Easy Transfer” program. That time, it alleged it was able to back up all my files. Then while doing absolutely nothing, my computer initiated a shutdown. It wasn’t a blue screen or anything, just a very calm “windows is shutting down now,” like any other shutdown, except that I hadn’t asked for it. Now I’m hoping that this install will wipe everything, cause obviously it’s F’ed up.

Side note: Dropbox is being real slow. I wonder if Evernote might actually be faster for transferring single large files. I’ve been researching and downloading the files I need from my other computers and then just putting them in my DropBox so I can get them from the machine I’m updating.

So finally I put in my install disc. Because I’m going from a 32-bit OS to a 64-bit one, I have to boot directly from the CD, it can’t be done with the OS loaded. Check out this futuristic loading screen. I’m so excited to be computing in the 21st century!

Of course the progress bar has no bearing on actual progress and freezes at 100% for an uncomfortable period of time. Maybe I should just play a game of Civ 4 or something while I wait so I’m not tempted to mess with it. I’m not kidding, that’s what I’m doing. Let’s see how many millennia I can get through while it loads files.

…I started in 10,000BC, by the year 435AD I gave up.

I came to discover through more googling that apparently while you can upgrade from XP to 7, on a Mac it’s not so easy. Something about how it boots off the CD, and the differences in how Macs and PCs boot. The only path seemed to be to do a clean install. Which is more or less what it was going to end up being anyway, as I understood it, so I didn’t find that to be a problem. Back to the same “loading files” screen… This time I got beyond it. There were even some greater-than-1-bit graphics.

Finally the whole thing installs beautifully. Then I go to put in my product key and it says it’s invalid. I come to find out that you can’t do a clean install from the upgrade disk, despite the fact I had read that you could. It doesn’t bother to ask you for a valid XP product key or install disk. So now I’m back to square one of reformatting and installing XP (which also means an upgrade to SP3 and all other updates since then) before I’m ready to try the upgrade to 7 again.

Total elapsed time so far: 3 hours.

5 hours in, I am now back where I started. I got interrupted when The ’70s called, asking for its progress bar back. I said it was still frozen on my screen and I’d return it when I got it unstuck. I even tried using the 32-bit install disc, thinking that would be an OK solution temporarily until I can figure out how to fix this. But that still told me it needed to boot from the disc, and still froze in the same place.

I googled some more, and found that getting stuck on “Windows is loading files” is very common, for Mac users and regular PC users alike. One lucky fellow I read about said he found the solution to his problem in that after randomly restarting about 10 times, all of them resulting in the process freezing at “loading files,” he was rebooting again, giving up and trying to boot in OS X and suddenly it worked. Mine had only failed about 3 times, so I decided this ridiculous “solution” was worth trying. And on the fourth time, suddenly it loaded fine. So far so good. Back in the 21st century.

If I EVER have to go through this process again I will not be happy. I would just like to point out that this is one of those situations where legitimate users get punished. I can only imagine how many people have installed pirated copies and had none of these troubles because they could have done the clean install and avoided the incompatibilities with XP.

6 hours and counting — it accepted my product key and I’m using the OS. Haven’t installed Boot Camp drivers yet, but it’s run its first software updates.

Boot Camp installed, so I can now see it in full resolution. This is the ugliest OS I’ve ever seen. I don’t think it’s supposed to be. When I start tinkering with settings I’m sure I’ll figure it out. Right, Microsoft?

Well I found the personalization settings. Yeah it does get a little more attractive with all the Aero effects turned on.

The default wallpaper is hideous. I’ve always thought Microsoft was pretty good about that in the past. I don’t like any of the built-in wallpapers. I decided to start with an orange theme, and found a wallpaper I liked online. I’m not sure I like it, but I would have died of boredom with the default theme on. My buttons still turn blue when I mouse over them, and I don’t see a way to change that.

Overall performance seems good. I like that I finally have an OS for gaming that can see all my RAM. I haven’t done a lot of gaming yet, but what I have done feels very good. Sorry, I don’t have any before-and-after FPS comparisons.

So to summarize, if you run into this problem that a lot of people face with the install freezing at “loading files,” the highly sophisticated solution is to just keep doing it over and over and one time it might work. Which, incidentally, is also the definition of insanity.


After getting everything up and running in Boot Camp, I checked it in Parallels. I had to go through a bit of a reinstall, but Parallels handled that pretty well. There was a point where Windows tried to do a repair on itself and failed, but I used the tried-and-true method of “just try it again” and it worked. I wasn’t given any grief about activation. With virtualization you can have problems because the OS sees your machine as having different hardware in Boot Camp and Parallels, and thinks you’re a filthy pirate trying to install it on two different computers. I actually don’t know how they check it, but I’ve never had it reject me since 2007, when I had to call a number and explain to them what I was doing. The nice woman I spoke to in India cleared it without giving me any argument, so it wasn’t a terrible experience. I’m just amazed that as many times as I’ve messed around with that install, it’s never happened again.

Performance in Parallels is something I’ve been struggling with for quite a while. I had finally gotten it to a level I was happy with, which involved devoting less than half my RAM to the virtual machine. Unfortunately Windows 7 requires 2GB of RAM, so I have not tried giving it less than that. I’m still experimenting. I really would like 8GB of RAM, but it’s still pretty expensive.

I wish the install hadn’t sent me on a wild goose chase, but when it was all done, I was able to get the OS I wanted installed, and so far I like it. Of course I won’t really be spending much time in it, but I like what I see so far.

May 16, 2010

Let Me Tell Ye: The Internet is Too Quiet Today

I call this: tech — Posted by KP @ 9:29 am

One of my favorite things to do with my spare time is to read and comment on articles from my favorite internet sources. Usually tech blogs, sometimes forums, occasionally mainstream news.

Let me tell ye: I am sick of there being nothing to read on the weekend. I know the rest of the world browses these sites while sitting in an office pretending to work, and that’s why a lot of content (both professionally written, and provided by readers) occurs at those times. My job makes it very difficult to slack off and surf the net under most circumstances, and even then rarely follows the same hours as everybody else who’s pretending to work, so generally the day means nothing to me.

Some of the professional blogs even have editors specifically assigned to the weekends, or evenings. I know they can’t help it that companies don’t issue press releases on the weekend, but it would be nice if they could save up some thoughtful slow-news-day pieces so I don’t stare at my empty RSS feeds all day (I’ve been planning an RSS reader roundup for a while, been waiting to decide I actually like any of them).

In short, I am bored. I’m perfectly capable of amusing myself, but I am accustomed to having a certain amount of interaction with the tech news of the day and discussing it with other geeks, and when inexplicably (from my perspective) it goes from hundreds of articles a day to like five, I feel lost.

I do have a life, actually. I’m spending the day with my parents today. But when I get up at 8:30, and there is not a single new article in any of my feeds since I closed the computer at 11:00 last night (yes, I do occasionally go to bed before midnight!), I don’t know how to go through my morning routine, which is partially based on how long it usually takes me to get through my feeds. In short, let me tell ye, I am not amused, and I’m going to blog about it, so in case you’re feeling the same way you’ll have something to read.

May 5, 2010

Let Me Tell Ye: Cloud Computing

I call this: computers,phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 5:17 pm

Today’s Let Me Tell Ye comes about after I read this article at TUAW. If you don’t want to click the link, I will tell you it’s called “Can Cloud Computing Replace the Finder?”

Cloud Computing: n The idea of having all data stored on remote servers so mobile and desktop devices have no need for local storage.

the Finder: n stupid name for the thing that looks at files in Mac OS. For Windows users, it’s basically the same thing as Explorer. Not Internet Explorer, which is something totally different, and come to think of it, that right there makes Explorer a stupider name than Finder. It does not, however, make the Finder icon any less stupid.

Now that we’re all caught up, let me tell ye what I think about cloud computing.

Good Clouds

Not all cloud computing is bad. Some of it is really awesome. The fact that I can read an email on my laptop, respond to it later from my phone, and if for some reason I was actually separated from both my laptop and phone, I could then access all my email from any other computer, is pretty cool.

I love the way my iPhone works with MobileMe (and also Google Apps). If I change a calendar appointment, or add a contact to my address book, within a minute or so, it will sync to my phone without me even having to turn it on. The next time I look, it will just be there. The same is true of some third-party apps like OmniFocus for my tasks, which currently requires a little more user interaction because of the lack of multitasking, but the idea is the same: what is done on one device can be accessed by any device. My bookmarks automatically sync between my main computer, my phone, and even (gasp!) my PC, without me having to do a thing.

I have also used Google Docs pretty extensively — not so much for work, but for side projects requiring a lot of collaboration — and there is a definite advantage to having a single copy of a document accessible to all people who need them, from any computer.

Bad Clouds

Where cloud computing gets scary is when people start talking about the fact that someday we won’t need to store anything on our computers — even our applications will be on the cloud.

My main concern with this prospect is that if there’s one thing I know, it’s that internet access is not ubiquitous. I think the people who talk about things like cloud computing use their computers at home, at a civilized office, and use their smartphone in an area with data coverage. But life is not always like that. Yes, sometimes even on Verizon.

As much as I try to avoid the situation, there are lots of places where professional theatre is rehearsed and performed where internet access is not available. By that I mean wifi, ethernet, things that connect to computers and handle large amounts of data. There are also many such places which are deep in basements, or buildings with very thick walls (remember, theatres have no windows), and are completely cut off from cell phone service. Yes, even to people with Verizon. So even if you could tether through your cell phone or had an aircard to plug into your laptop, you’d be out of luck.

I travel with a router and a phone that can tether, but sometimes even my preparedness leaves me stumped when faced with a particularly technologically-bereft facility (or one controlled by some draconian IT department that makes it impossible for anyone outside their organization to get online).

So OK, you go outside. Which, by the way, is not OK. I’m working at my desk eight hours a day, I need internet access at my desk. But even if you do go outside… I present downtown Fargo, ND. As well as the outskirts of Ottumwa, IA. And a bunch of places on highways in the middle of nowhere. Places where your phone will simply display “No Service.” Maybe not all of those on Verizon, but certainly there are some places where that would be true with any carrier. I also present most parts of the NYC subway.

I need the internet a lot as it is, but the idea that without internet access I wouldn’t be able to access any information at all would be a disaster. Everything I need to know in the world is in digital format. No way I would trust not having it on media that’s physically in my possession, and we’re a long way from being ready for 100% reliable internet access everywhere.

Also, as one commenter on TUAW points out, editing a 30GB video file remotely is completely impractical. So we would need ubiquitous internet, plus bandwidth as fast as the fastest processors. Not gonna happen.

The Email Argument

There are also the people who say, “but we already do this with email — my gmail is all on the cloud.” To them I say, let me tell ye: your gmail is all on the cloud. I, however, will not use webmail. I have an email client, and while it constantly syncs with my four primary IMAP accounts and occasionally with my catchall account for this site, I know that all of those emails are physically on my computer, for all those times I am offline. Also, I have every non-spam email I’ve ever sent or received, including attachments, since 2003 (some unfortunate data accident many years ago lost the rest). Do you store that on the Google cloud? Would anyone want to?

I keep a lot of emails on the cloud, because I may need to access them from anywhere. For instance, I just moved all my emails from the tour to my local archive folder (which contains subfolders sorted by year) when the tour ended last week. It was about 3,000 emails, sent and received over the last six months. I wasn’t taking a chance on needing access to one of them while the job was still going on, but I don’t need them cluttering up the folders that sync with the cloud after they have outlived their primary usefulness, and I’m sure you can tell I’m not throwing them out. Just a few days ago I pulled up an email from 2004 to find my account name and password for an online store I haven’t ordered from since then. It took about 5 seconds.

The Trust Factor

Some people like having their data on the cloud because they feel it’s less likely to get lost. Because a company like Google or Microsoft must be better at doing backups and stuff than little old me, right? Now to be fair I’ve lost things in my life (such as my emails prior to 2003, and inexplicably, a couple songs from iTunes that I didn’t notice were missing until after the six months that I had Time Machine backups for). And most of these backups are contained in one place, which is not particularly safe. I did try during the tour to back up my entire tour folder to my iDisk at least once a week, because I know I have been lax about offsite backup, but backing up the hundreds of GB of all my files to the cloud is just not practical now. Still, I know where my backups are, and I have access to them.

Consider the case of Microsoft’s Sidekick debacle last year, in which the T-Mobile device, which backs up only to the cloud, had a major server malfunction and erased everybody’s data, including that stored locally on their devices. Apparently on that device it was not even possible to plug it into your computer to back up your files. So while I don’t deny that the likes of Microsoft and Google have people with more IT knowledge than me working on my data, I’m not convinced that that means they will always take better care of it than I do.

But my biggest part of the trust factor with any cloud-type services (ebooks, streaming music accounts, games that have DRM requiring them to connect to the publisher’s server to play) is that I have many things in my short life that have outlived their creators. I have many games on CD-rom (and a couple on floppy) that were made by companies that no longer exist, and/or are no longer supported. Where possible, or with proper emulating software, I can still play them. I have word processor files (currently in .doc format) that I wrote going back to the early ’90s. Documents that were written on a 386. Now part of being able to do that is that you have to take the care to translate them to modern formats every five years or so, but I have control of those files and I can do that, even if everything that created them becomes obsolete.

So I don’t like the way things are going, especially in regards to DRM, that require the seller of the item to continually be part of my usage of it. 20 years from now when I take my Windows XP disk and find a way to install it on my toaster or something, it’s going to pop up with that “This copy of Windows is not activated, click here to activate” crap. Now I’m guessing in this example, Microsoft will still be in business, but whatever server that process needs to connect to will not be there, and I will be unable to use this otherwise perfectly good software that I paid hundreds of dollars for in 2002.

One of the first albums I owned was Thriller. I’ve had it since I was three years old. It’s right here:

It sounds pretty crappy, but with digital music we won’t have to worry so much about that. The point is, I can still play it — because I have it, and I have a walkman in my possession — and as long as that’s the case, and they still make AA batteries, I can listen to it forever. Music is not disposable, it doesn’t lose its value in a few years. Even the bad stuff gets more fun to listen to with age sometimes. The idea of replacing music that you own with streaming music or DRM content that requires there to be an iTunes to authenticate your music before you play it is not a good deal. So I have converted most of my purchased music to MP3 — not to share it, but to ensure that someday I can convert it to whatever format replaces MP3s, AACs, etc. so that I can listen to it for the rest of my life. And those files are on my computer, right under my right wrist, where I can keep an eye on them.

Let Me Tell Ye: Terrorist TV Training

I call this: random — Posted by KP @ 6:02 am

The first in a series I’ve been planning for a while: I call it “Let Me Tell Ye,” in homage to one of the Nurse’s lines from Romeo and Juliet — one night while watching the show it struck me that it would be a great title for any random rants and thoughts of the day. Here goes the first:

Tonight while rearranging my apartment, I watched a lot of documentaries between the Military Channel and National Geographic. Probably about nine hours straight. They all started to run together, but there was a definite theme, especially on Nat Geo, that a lot of them were about potential methods of future terrorism, such as nuclear weapons, dirty bombs, and biological attacks.

You ever watch shows like that and think, “Gee guys, do you really think it’s a good idea to be telling everybody about all the things our security procedures don’t cover, and how a terrorist could exploit those weaknesses?”

And then when that inevitably gets said, somebody else will be quick to add, “This may not be common knowledge to the average person, but any terrorist already knows this stuff and they aren’t learning anything new by watching these programs.”

Well let me tell ye…

If I have become sure of anything this week, it’s that terrorists thankfully appear to be pretty stupid. Like mind-blowingly stupid. I mean if it was your main goal in life to carry out a glorious attack in the name of Allah or whoever, and you can’t even manage to detonate a bomb — I’m not just talking about the guy in Times Square, I mean like all the terrorists we’ve ever encountered in and around the US since 9/11 — they foil our security a number of different ways, but then demonstrate they actually have no idea what they’re doing.

So now I’m not so sure that they already know all this supposed Terrorism 101 stuff. If they don’t know that some types of fertilizer aren’t explosive, how do we know they already know that only a tiny percentage of containers entering New York Harbor ever get inspected?

Maybe in light of this new understanding, we should be a little more interested in keeping potential threats in the dark cave of ignorance of which they are clearly the inhabitants, instead of assuming there’s no new tricks we can teach them, just in case they ever get the hang of the “make something go ‘boom'” part.