Archive for November, 2010

Thanksgiving Eve Outing

November 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Last Monday’s snow — or the ensuing deep freeze and icy roads — brought a rare closure of the university on Tuesday. Even more unexpected, I awoke early Wednesday to discover that the university was closed yet again. This was bad news for a variety of reasons, but once I recovered from the shock, I decided Wednesday was the day to replace Gail’s decrepit iMac.

Her computer had been slow for months. I thought the problem might be our network, but more recently I came to appreciate just how slow it was. Web pages could take a minute or two to open, pages could take ten minutes to print. Joel decided to attempt a fix a week ago by backing everything up and then wiping the hard drive and installing the operating system anew. A sign of its slowness is that the backup took a day. He installed the OS last Monday, and tried to restore the backup starting Tuesday morning. On Wednesday morning, according to the progress bar, the backup was about 1/8th done. That’s when I knew this was a lost cause.

Along the way, I found the old paperwork and discovered that Wednesday marked the 4th anniversary of the date the iMac shipped. No coincidence. Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, Apple discounts most of their computers $50 or $100. Obviously I had taken advantage of that sale four years ago to order Gail’s. This might have been an argument for waiting two more days to take advantage of the sale again, but we had the day free Wednesday, Gail’s computer was inoperable, and I decided to wait no longer.

Off we went (Gail, Joel, me) to University Village. We stopped in at the Apple Store to take a quick look and make sure they had iMacs in stock, then walked over to Piatti for lunch. Pretty good. Back to the Apple Store, where we bought Gail a new iMac, and then home.

At which point things started going downhill. It started when I checked my email and found an odd message from my credit card company. It started:

For your security, we regularly monitor accounts for possible fraudulent activity. Please review the attempted charge below which occurred within minutes of the timestamp of this message.

Transaction Date: 11/24/10

Merchant: LIRR TVM’S

Amount: 408.00

Currency: currency code

Please call us as soon as possible using the number on the back of your Card to verify these attempted charges.

As it turns out, being a native Long Islander, I actually knew what LIRR stood for. It’s the Long Island Rail Road, the commuter train line that my father took every morning to get into the city, and that I thought was the coolest thing in the world. (In a post I wrote on the second day of this blog’s existence, I noted that my childhood dream was to be a LIRR conductor.) And I knew I hadn’t bought any LIRR tickets that day. Not at U Village. It seemed that someone was buying monthly passes with my credit card number. Not with my card itself. I just used it at Piatti and the Apple Store. This all seemed implausible.

I called the number on my card, as instructed, and was transferred to the security department. The man I spoke to said that indeed someone had swiped a card in an attempt to complete a transaction with the LIRR. The purchase was denied. In response to his questions, I said that yes, I did have the card, I was holding it as we spoke, and I was in Seattle, so I couldn’t have made the purchases by swiping the card, and in fact it had been swiped in Seattle just an hour earlier, at two places. He verified that I had made purchases at Piatti and Apple, then told me that someone had somehow gotten hold of my data and produced a new card. He also told me that he had just cancelled my card. I would get a replacement with a new number.

I realize this happens all the time, but it was most disconcerting. Things could be worse. I should have my new card tomorrow. But still, it’s a nuisance. And how did this happen?

As for Gail’s iMac, setting it up has been problematic. Some problems:

1. Because we were unable to transfer the data from the old iMac, she has to restore all her preferred settings from scratch. I guess I didn’t explain fully. The backup Joel made that was taking forever to put back on the old iMac won’t go on the new one either. This also means Gail has lost lots of documents, old email, etc. We may be able to recover it, but not by ourselves.

2. Another consequence is that Gail’s new computer is not recognized by the iTunes store as the rightful replacement of the old one. This means she can’t get her purchased music, TV shows, and apps put on the computer. If she tries to sync with iPhone and iPad, the computer will wipe them clean and rewrite its data, except that it has no data to rewrite. I’ve gotten around this with the music, which I’ve installed on the computer from the iPad without using iTunes. But I don’t know how to get around this with her apps on the iPad and iPhone, and her TV shows are lost. We need to get Apple to give us permission to re-download all this onto the new iMac. And this has to be done by email. They don’t take phone calls.

3. When we try to wake it up from sleep, the hard drive spins, it sound awake, but the screen doesn’t light up. We have to forcibly shut the computer down and re-start it. Not always, but over half the time.

What started out last Wednesday with such promise has become a continuing headache. And I’m next. My Mac Mini is even older than Gail’s iMac and has its own problems. You know that sale Apple has the day after Thanksgiving? I decided to take advantage of it. I’ve ordered my own matching iMac. I just hope I can transfer data and get it to work without the problems we’re encountering with Gail’s.

We had much to be thankful for on Thursday. Not Apple and credit card thieves though.

Categories: Computing, Family, Fraud

Les Chats de Paris

November 28, 2010 Leave a comment

In my last post, on Thanksgiving morning, I presented the photo above and asked where it was taken. Readers could choose from a list of a dozen cities. It’s time to reveal the answer.

Those cats are Parisians. (They have that look, don’t they?) My sister took the photo Thursday morning on Avenue Rapp in the 7th arrondissement. If you know Paris even a little, you may be familiar with the Pont de l’Alma, the bridge across the Seine that connects the 7th and 8th arrondissements and is the departure point for the bateaux mouches. Were you to walk toward the Seine from the Champs-Elysées along Avenue George V, you would be led directly over the Pont de l’Alma. On reaching the other side, you would find that the road splits, with Avenue Bosquet heading south-southeast to the École Militaire metro stop and Avenue Rapp heading south-southwest to the Champs de Mars, just south of the Eiffel Tower.

When my sister and her family first moved to Paris from Clermont-Ferrand in 1983, they lived on a small street that runs between Avenues Bosquet and Rapp, just three blocks off the Seine. A few years later, they moved to the far side of Avenue Rapp, near the Champs de Mars. She finds herself walking on Avenue Rapp essentially daily, but she hadn’t seen the cats until Thursday. Once she sent the photo to me, I couldn’t resist posting it.

Below you can see a photo Gail took when we were in Paris a year ago of a famous building on Avenue Rapp.

Categories: Architecture, Cats, Family

Thanksgiving Contest

November 25, 2010 1 comment

I received the photo above from a regular correspondent and blog reader, who took it with her iPhone. When I showed the photo to Gail, she said you could tell that the cats were [some specific geographic identifier goes here] cats. I’m skeptical. She had the advantage of knowing who the photographer was and where the photo was taken, so she wasn’t guessing from the cats’ facial expressions or head shapes that they were from [some particular place]. Rather, she knew the place and was reading real-or-imagined geographic identifiers into the photo after the fact.

So let’s see if there really are visual clues identifying the place. Can you tell where this photo was taken? If you think so submit an answer to the poll below. Or just make a guess. For the more ambitious among you, use the comments to suggest a particular neighborhood within a city.

Categories: Cats, World

The Hacks

November 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Alex Pareene has a brilliant series at Salon on what he calls the War Room Hack Thirty, his “least favorite political commentators, newspaper columnists and constant cable news presences … . Criteria for inclusion included writing the same column every week for 30 years, warmongering, joyless repetition of conventional wisdom, and making bad puns.”

Pareene has revealed his choices one at a time, from #30 to #1, building suspense. I was disappointed when Thomas Friedman turned up at #3. I had him pegged at #1. But he did finish ahead of David Broder, just barely, with Broder at #4. This afternoon, #1 was revealed: Broder’s fellow Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.

Pareene on Friedman:

He’s a silly, simple-minded man whose success leads a cynic to the conclusion that the world is run by similarly silly, simple-minded men.

Repeat offenses: Conflation of wealth with virtue, horrible jokes, repetition, warmongering, easy generalizations in lieu of research or analysis, cabdriver-on-the-street columns, mixed metaphors, generally awful prose, random capitalization of Certain Words when he’s Trying to Coin a Catchphrase.

On Cohen:

I sometimes ask myself, who is the intended audience of a Richard Cohen column? Who reads a Richard Cohen column and thinks to himself, “Yes, I agree with this”? I don’t write “thinks to herself” because I cannot fathom the existence of a woman who’d respond approvingly to this defense of Clarence Thomas’ vocal appreciation of large breasts. I think Ginni herself would say it does Justice Thomas no favors to have the support of this guy. And what does Cohen leave out of his defense of Thomas? That he was accused of creating a hostile work environment himself, for making inappropriate comments to a 23-year-old editorial aide in the late-1990s.

There’s no subject on which Richard Cohen is not completely inessential. The looming debt crisis? Caused by kids today and their tattoos and hippety-hop music! The financial collapse? Did you know that Richard Cohen went to high school with Ruth Madoff? ‘Cause that’s all he’s got.

Richard Cohen is the worst hack in the country.

At the bottom of Pareene’s list, just squeezing in at #30, is David Brooks, the great generalizer and pop social psychologist. Pareene gets right to his essence:

Brooks is singularly unsuited to be an opinion columnist, because he has no strong beliefs. He shows, rarely, flashes of genuine wit, of critical thinking skills, of acknowledgment of his own ridiculousness. But mostly he just sort of rambles on about kids these days, about how things used to be different, about how the Elites are so out-of-touch.

Occasionally he writes something exceptionally stupid or surprisingly vile, but mostly he just plays his part as a PBS Newshour Conservative.

Repeat offenses: armchair sociology, easy generalizations in lieu of research or analysis, boringness.

Representative quote:

“The magic is not felt by a lot of people. It’s not felt, obviously, by a lot of less educated people, downscale people. They just look at Obama, and they don’t see anything. And so, Obama’s problem is he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee’s salad bar, and people think he fits in naturally there.”

(Note: Applebee’s does not have salad bars.)

Read about all thirty hacks. How do some of these people keep their jobs?

Categories: Journalism, Politics

I’m #1

November 24, 2010 Leave a comment

You gotta love this photo. I do, anyway. I’m no fan of Duke basketball. I feel about Duke the way I feel about the Yankees. It’s not that I want them to lose, or do poorly. Rather, I just don’t want to be reminded that they exist. I have read enough about the program to last me a lifetime. If they simply disappeared, I would be happy.

But now they feature freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, and I have renewed interest. Is that jersey cool or what? I’ll be ordering one soon.

I always wished Dr. J (Julius Erving) spelled his last name a little differently. We had so much in common. We both grew up on Long Island. We both went to college in Massachusetts. And we had the same last name. Almost. But after his sophomore year at UMass, the end of my freshman year, we went our separate ways. He joined the ABA and became its greatest star. I stayed put and watched our team struggle. UMass came to town that next year, Dr. J-less, to play us. I went to that game. I don’t remember who won, but it wasn’t the same without him.

A few decades later, I now have Kyrie to root for. We’re #1!

Categories: Family, Sports


November 23, 2010 Leave a comment

I must have a soft spot for GM. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the 1959 Olds 98 we got in my childhood. Or my reading a few years later of Alfred Sloan’s My Years with General Motors, an odd choice for a 12-year-old. And then there were my Pontiacs, the 1974 Grand Am and the 1984 6000 STE. Two great cars. (Well, great if you ignore the idiosyncrasies of the Grand Am’s electrical system, which plagued it to the end. My favorite moment was the day I was driving back to my Cambridge apartment when I applied pressure to the brake pedal and the interior dome came on. Fortunately, so did the brakes. After I had several days to enjoy this new feature, I brought the car to the dealer to put it to an end.)

In any case, I’ve been enjoying all the great press the Chevy Volt has been receiving. I almost wrote about it last month, when the Wall Street Journal’s Dan Neil gave it a rave review, calling it “the company’s most technologically significant car since the 1912 Cadillac” and “a spark of genius.”

I get it. A lot of people don’t like GM because: 1) the bailout, or 1a) Obama; or 2) the United Auto Workers; or 3) because some Monte Carlo or Cutlass Sierra or deuce-and-a-quarter left them walking a long time ago. That’s understandable. These are sour times. But for the moment, we should suspend our rancor and savor a little American pride. A bunch of Midwestern engineers in bad haircuts and cheap wristwatches just out-engineered every other car company on the planet. And they did it in 29 months while the company they worked for was falling apart around them. That was downright heroic. Somebody ought to make a movie.

I’m writing about the Volt today because Motor Trend, in its January 2011 issue, has named it the Motor Trend Car of the Year. And because they are standing up to America’s biggest bully, Rush Limbaugh.

The award first. Motor Trend opens its piece on the Volt as follows:

“I expected a science fair experiment. But this is a moonshot.”

Chris Theodore is a wily veteran of the auto business, a seasoned development engineer whose impressive resume includes vehicles as thoughtfully executed as the Chrysler minivan and as tightly focused as the Ford GT.

As one of the consultant judges on this year’s COTY panel, Chris brought the deep insight and professional skepticism you’d expect of someone who’s spent his entire working life making cars. But our 2011 Car of the Year, Chevrolet’s ground-breaking Volt, has blown him away.

“This is a fully developed vehicle with seamlessly integrated systems and software, a real car that provides a unique driving experience. And commuters may never need to buy gas!”

Like all of us on the staff at Motor Trend, Chris is an enthusiast, a man who’ll keep a thundering high-performance V-8 in his garage no matter how high gas prices go. But he nailed the Volt’s place in automotive history: “If this is the brave new world, then it’s an acceptable definition.”

In the 61-year history of the Car of the Year award, there have been few contenders as hyped — or as controversial — as the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt started life an Old GM project, then arrived fully formed as a symbol of New GM, carrying all the emotional and political baggage of that profound and painful transition. As a result, a lot of the sound and fury that has surrounded the Volt’s launchhas tended to obscure a simple truth: This automobile is a game-changer.

The conclusion: “Moonshot. Game-changer. A car of the future that you can drive today, and every day. So what should we call Chevrolet’s astonishing Volt? How about, simply, Motor Trend’s 2011 Car of the Year.”

Now, about that bully. He’s been attacking the Volt at least since late July. In the wake of Motor Trend’s award, he attacked again, and the magazine’s Todd Lassa chose not to turn the other cheek. Here’s a sample.

… you continue to attack it as the car only a tree hugging, Obama-supporting Government Motors customer would want. …

In its attempt to force cars that don’t use much gas on us — how un-American/un-ExxonMobil/un-Halliburton is that? — the Obama administration is offering a $7,500 tax credit on the Chevy Volt, grabbing tax breaks and credits right out of the deserving, job-creating pockets of America’s richest individuals. How dare he?

This is another of your distortions, Rush, repeated by the otherwise more level-headed George Will in The Washington Post last Sunday. The $7,500 Obama tax credit is an expansion of President Bush’s hybrid credits from the last decade. The Obama tax credit extends to the new Nissan Leaf, too, but if you or Will slammed that car, I’ve not heard or read it. I’d be surprised if you did, though, as Nissan is building the Leaf in a non-union factory in a right-to-work state represented by two Republican senators. A factory located there because Tennessee offered Nissan big tax credits. Maybe you’re worried that if the $7,500 tax credit works, too many people will buy the Volt, and that could reduce the need for oil drilling tax credits?

GM designed the Chevy Volt after its failed experiment with the EV1, which was its attempt to respond to a California mandate. States rights, you know. While Toyota was developing, and eventually selling the hybrid Prius in ever-greater numbers, GM decided to move beyond the Prius-model with a new kind of technology that’s not quite plug-in hybrid, not quite pure electric.

It unveiled the Chevy Volt concept at the 2007 Detroit auto show. That means GM began working on it before the November 2006 elections, when the Republican Party had majorities in the House and Senate, before President Bush had signed a single veto. Bob Lutz, who famously decreed, “Global Warming is a crock of shit,” introduced the car two years before Bush gave GM its first bailout from TARP pocket change. This was two-and-a-half years before Obama’s Automotive Task Force forced GM into bankruptcy.

All the shouting from you or from electric car purists on the left can’t distort the fact that the Chevy Volt is, indeed, a technological breakthrough. And it’s more. It’s a technological breakthrough that many American families can use for gas-free daily commutes and well-planned vacation drives. It’s expensive for a Chevy, but many of those families will find the gasoline saved worth it. If you can stop shilling for your favorite political party long enough to go for a drive, you might really enjoy the Chevy Volt. I’m sure GM would be happy to lend you one for the weekend. Just remember: driving and Oxycontin don’t mix.

Hooray for Motor Trend. And for Chevrolet. If I were in the market for a car, I know the first one I’d be looking at. If only it were available here.

Categories: Automobiles

Bird House

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

I know a bird in hand is better than two in the bush. But what value do we put on a bird flying around in the house? An outdoor sparrow, that is, not an indoor pet. Joel shouted to me from upstairs an hour ago, a shout that made me think flood. Or leak. Not a good shout. I ran to the stairway and shouted, “What?” “There’s a bird in my room.” I told him to open the window, figured he had it under control, and went back to get the two copies I was printing of tomorrow’s NYT crossword, one for each of us.

Now, I forgot to say that we had our first snow of the year this morning, and an unexpected one at that. It was supposed to snow to the south of us, and well north, but here in Seattle, as the temperatures dropped, we weren’t supposed to have enough moisture to bring snow. Around 6:30 this morning, there were traces. I figured that was that. What I didn’t realize is that it was just beginning. An hour later, there was an accumulation on the grass, on our outdoor table, and on assorted other surfaces, though not the road yet. A couple of hours later, Gail drove me to campus. I figured I’d rather hitch a ride with her all-wheel drive and walk home. The snow started and stopped through the day, just passing snow showers, nothing big. But when I started walking home, it was blowing right into my face. The wind has picked up tonight, the temperatures have dropped, and the snow continues to fall.

When I got up to Joel’s room, crosswords in hand, it was snowing there too. He had the window wide open, and the sparrow was having none of it. There might be a reason he had chosen to fly in and take up residence. I sure wouldn’t want to go out that window. And there was Emma, pacing around, meowing away. We got her out the door, leaving just us and the bird, but no plan.

Joel reminded me that we had wild bird seed. He went down to get some. We chased the bird around a bit. I went down and did the crossword. I came back just as the bird landed on the window ledge, by the seed, but he showed no interest in either the food or the stormy outdoors.

We resorted to trying to get a towel or blanket over him. I succeeded once, but next thing I knew, he ran out the side. Many minutes later, Joel and I got him covered on the floor, we slid a piece of cardboard under him, Joel got a box over the blanket, we got him wedged in-between, Joel carried him down, I opened the back door, and Joel placed the ensemble on the ground. Released, the sparrow flew right off.

I hope he manages out there. We’ll be sure to spread some of the wild bird seed on the back patio in the morning.

Alas, I took no photos of the snow or the bird. I’ll content myself with the generic image above.

Categories: Animals, House