Thursday, March 30, 2006

The iMac is Back

The replacement iMac arrived last night, and I set it up this morning (in about 20 minutes, including the immediate software update it performs). So far, except for a rather obnoxious set of fingerprints on the edge of the screen, so good. Cheryl has used it a bunch today, and has not reported any keyboard or mouse freezes yet. She also uploaded some pictures from the camera and made a slideshow that she is really happy about, so I guess the machine is doing what I hoped it would do. To be safe, I set the hard drive to never sleep. We also have not yet turned it off for the night, so we don't know whether we will have a repeat of the startup problems. I won't be able to relax around this thing for a couple of weeks, at least.

For those interested in such things, someone on Wikipedia has created a Mac timeline that shows the rather shocking number of different models that have been introduced since the original 128K (!) model debuted in 1984. You'll have to go here to see it clearly, but it looks something like this:

Clicking on each model should take you to another Wikipedia entry on that model.

Not that I'm becoming a Mac aficionado or anything.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Making the Most of Those Fifteen Minutes

Immediately after UCLA's victory over Memphis that placed the Bruins in the Final Four, UCLA coach Ben Howland ended a television interview by noting that among the many benefits of the win would be a boost to his recruiting effort. Our new dear friends, the Patriots of George Mason University, are seizing the same opportunity to promote not just their basketball team, but their fine institution as a whole.

I have it on good authority that some folks at George Mason are getting a little tired of hearing their university described as a "commuter school." One source notes that "most students are housed in townhouse-style housing built during the last ten years." Indeed, this looks like a pretty traditional collegiate setting:

As our GMU correspondent reports:
George Mason currently has the highest enrollment (more than 29,000 students) in the Virginia public university system--more than UVA and Virginia Tech. In addition, GMU was recently rated as the most diverse university in the nation. Mason has two Nobel Laureats, 87 graduate programs including 16 doctoral programs, and its top-50 law school's faculty is rated 23rd in the country. And of course, now we have a Final Four basketball team.
Well done. So remember: George Mason University -- we have dorms!

Monday, March 27, 2006

From the Credit-Where-Credit-Is-Due Dept.

In the most improbable sports story of this or any other recent year, the men's basketball team of George Mason University, a large university serving the commuting students of the Northern Virginia from the decidedly unpowerful Colonial Athletic Association, beat the number one ranked team in the nation, University of Connecticut, in the NCAA basketball tournament. GMU was a controversial choice to be invited to the 65-team NCAA tournament, and was ranked 11th in its tournament region.

Against all odds, however, George Mason prevailed against a final four team from last year's tournament (Michigan State), last year's national champion (North Carolina), and this year's number one team and consensus championship favorite (UConn). By beating UConn, George Mason is headed to Indiannapolis as one of the final four teams remaining in the tournament, a staggering accomplishment for such an unheralded team (one that lost this year to Hofstra -- twice). GMU's tournament run does not yet rank with Villanova's championship over Georgetown in 1985, but it is close, and will be a feat that will be recalled as long as there are beat writers on deadline and talking heads with airtime to fill. GMU's victory also destroyed approximately 98% of the tournament brackets filled out in offices and dorm rooms across the country. However, I get the sense that most people enjoyed seeing UConn get a whuppin' from such an unexpected and joyous foe.

While unheralded, George Mason has not been entirely unnoticed. I noted them myself, not long ago, when one of George Mason's key players was suspended for the first game of the tournament for punching an opponent in the ... well, you know. Of course, GMU is also the university that conferred a Ph.D. upon old roomie Chris, and now employs him as an Assistant Professor. I can only hope his Patriots meet my Bruins in the final game (UCLA's presence at the Final Four, while a source of satisfaction around here, is not quite as much of a surprise).

This is what can be great about college athletics; I give you the picture on the home page of the normally staid, digified website of George Mason University:

And if you want to taste a little of the "I can't believe this is happening to us" joy, try this video of the GMU student section at the Verizon Center (sorry about the Bon Jovi soundtrack). They might have been closer to the court if they had stayed in Fairfax, but the enthusiasm for their non-powerhouse but giant-killing team is pure.

Apple(tm) v. Apple

Trial will begin on Wednesday in the Beatles' lawsuit against Apple Computer over the use of the technology firm's very name. The Beatles recorded under the Apple Corps name and logo. Emperor Jobs foolishly named his company in tribute to his favorite band; in this context, "in tribute to" means "in anticipation of litigation and millions of dollars eventually paid out to." According to the linked article, the Beatles first sued Jobs, et al., in 1978 over the use of the Apple name. Three years and $800,000 later, Apple was permitted to keep its name on the condition of staying out of the music business.

When music came to computers in the form of CDs that could be played on computer disk drives, the Beatles sued again. The band scored a $26.5 million settlement in 1991, with another agreement that Apple Computer would stay out of the music business, except that computer devices that could play music would not be considered to constitute breach of the condition.

Then along came the iPod and, critically, iTunes. Apple is now in the music distribution and sales business. The Beatles' barristers noticed, and sued again in 2003. No settlement has occurred, and trial will begin this week. Given the Cupertino crew's lack of success so far, it seems likely that the band, before a London court, will score another hit.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Just Enough Knowledge to be Dangerous

From a star baseball player:

He's more like Jesus than I thought. Guys would be huddled around talking smack in the clubhouse and Roger walks in. It's like the parting of the Red Sea."
-- Chipper Jones on what it's like to play with Roger Clemens

Yeah, remember when Jesus came down from Mount Olympus with the Guttenberg Bible, after wandering around the Mohave Desert for forty hours and forty minutes? That was really great.

Uh, what? Moses? No; what did he do?

Movie Mini-Review: Walk the Line

If you have seen "Coal Miner's Daughter" and "Ray," you have seen "Walk the Line." That is no knock, as both of the earlier movies are excellent. There is something about telling the story about mid-century popular musicians arising out of the South, though, that forces writers into a familar arc: childhood poverty plus love of music; seemingly miraculous confluence of events that give the singer his or her big break; endless, frenetic touring, as if the artist knows that the art can barely keep poverty at bay; the inevitable breakdown hastened by drugs; and redemption in the eyes of family, friends and fans.

I had never paid Johnny Cash much thought. I didn't dislike him, but I had never sought out his music. "Walk the Line" made me want to read biographies and buy albums. I haven't been a fan of Joaquin Phoenix, as I've always felt he was a bit leaden in his acting, but that heaviness served him well in his portrayal of Cash. I have been a fan of Reese Witherspoon, however, and she was excellent as June Carter. Her effervescence onstage is coupled with a seriousness offstage that illustrates well why Cash viewed Carter as his soulmate. Finally, the music is terrific, and like the best movies about music (try "The Commitments" sometime), the genuineness of the actors' performances as singers lends an authenticity to the story that dubbing cannot possibly provide. The concert scenes are almost always filmed from the musicians' point of view, so it is not so much a concert film as an inside look at the insecurities and triumphs of young performers in a genre of music they created as they went along.

Overall, "Walk the Line" is highly enjoyable, at once an interesting slice of American musical history and well-polished, satisfying big Hollywood movie.

Fun While It Lasted

Hello, I'm back.

Remember all that hoo-ah about the new iMac? Well, it's iToast. Tragically, even though it looked uber-cool, did things in that intuitive Mac way and appeared to have neat features that we would enjoy for years, it was more buggy that Orlando in August. It would consistently hang when coming out of "sleep," and the keyboard and mouse would consistently freeze. One thing it would not do consistently is boot up after being turned off. Like a little scrawny dude who shows up at Rucker Park thinking he's going to do some ballin', the iMac is being sent home.

Apple tech support, to its credit, has been excellent. I never waited more than a minute to get through to anyone, my case documentation was centralized so that each new person I spoke to knew what had been done so far, and they willingly agreed to exchange the machine after I had exhausted all of their suggestioned fixes to determine if the problem was related to software (nope) or hardware (oh, yeah). Unfortunately, after I put the machine on the FedEx truck today, I'll be without an iMac for a few days. I hadn't even had time to explore the cool features that were a big part of why we chose it: the ability to easily work with digital pictures, the ability to create DVDs, etc.

This is the lament of an early adopter. After running into trouble with our iMac, I finally checked the support message boards on the Apple site. Whoops. It seems that sleep and keyboard/mouse problems are rampant with this new machine. It doesn't give me a whole lot of confidence that the next machine will be any better. On the other hand, I still want it, and as long as product support remains helpful and prompt, I expect that I will put up with a lot of beta testing in order to get to the truly finished product.

Gee, that Kool-Aid went down smooth, didn't it?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Where's the Beef? Nowhere Near Here

Well, if Wendy's thought it had a problem with a little human digit fraudulently dropped in its chili, the fast food industry may be shaken to its knees now: a beef cow in Alabama has been found to have mad cow disease. The only issue to be determined is if the cow was born before or after a ban went into effect in 1997 that banned certain kinds of feed that leads to mad cow disease (trust me, you really don't want to know what's in that feed. Let's just say that the Hannibal Lecters of the bovine world really liked it with fava beans and a nice Chianti).

Chicken burgers for me, then!

What? Avian flu?

Friday, March 10, 2006


Indeed, worlds have collided, empires have fallen, all that was old is now new. Down is up, out is in, and, most importantly, black is now white:

Yes, I've lost my mind, joined the iCult and bought an iMac. Of course, it is a misimpression among some that I am anti-Apple. Far from it. Jobs and Wozniak went to my high school and started the company just down the road from it. I took electronics from the same man who taught them. I'm actually very proud to be from the birthplace of Apple. I used a Mac all through college (thanks, Chris!). Several factors have kept me from owning one, however. First, Macs were always more expensive than the roughly equivalent PC. Second, they were typically slower, and in the early days, only available with tiny greyscale monitors. Of greater concern was the dearth of software available for the Mac. The cultists put up with it; that wasn't for me. DOS/Windows machines could be readily modified, unlike Macs.

Over time, however, computer usage changed. The internet arose to be a dominant force in computer usage, rendering software availability somewhat less important. Digital imagery became very prominent, and Apples have always had a substantial edge in that area. This is one aspect that became the most frustrating to me with our old computer; it was tedious beyond belief to upload photos into the computer.

As we came to the realization that the eight-year-old laptop had to go (it is out of storage space and the screen is about to fall apart), we evaluated our computer usage. We use Word and Excel (available for both platforms), the internet (obviously available for both platforms), Quicken (available for both platforms), and wanted to do more with digital imagery (clear edge to Apple). Then Apple signed on with Intel, the source of my historical loyalty (thanks, Dad), and stuffed a 2GHz Dual Core processor into the new iMac. Hmm. Now compatability problems will be even less of an issue, and prices became amazingly competitive. By the time I built up a Dell desktop with all the power and doodads I wanted, which made it roughly equivalent to the iMac, they were just about the same price, although I could usually get a substantial discount through online coupons not available for iMacs. But that left me with a stodgy desktop when we had enjoyed a laptop that we could bring out to the kitchen table or living room if needed. Laptops were too expensive to consider, but the iMac is semi-portable. Hmm.

In the end, I couldn't think of a strong reason not to get the iMac, and was intrigued about the unique usability of the iMac. Plus, we received exceptional assistance from a true expert (thanks, Andy!) that enabled us to swing the deal with exactly the equipment we wanted.

So, it arrived today at about 4:10. By 4:30, the kids were laughing themselves to tears goofing around with the photo effects on the built-in video camera. By 5:00, I had uploaded all the pictures from our Nikon and began preparing this post. Easy, easy, easy. By the way, I'm sitting at the dining room table; my wireless router is in the office, and the iMac recognized it immediately. No hassle at all. Once I get the AirPort plugged in (which will take all of 90 seconds, most of that taken up with opening the box and walking to the office), I'll be able to print remotely.

It's going to take some adjustment (I have to learn to work around the lack of a second mouse button that calls up copy and paste commands), but I think things are going to work out great.

Now, excuse me while I polish off some of this delicious iKool-Aid.

It's a Sickness

Baseball season is just around the corner again, which means it's time to crank up the fantasy league teams. For the record, in four seasons, I've won twice and come in second once. Total cumulative pre-draft study time in those four years: probably less than five hours. So we can draw one clear conclusion: I'm insanely lucky. (Well, that and pretty good at making free-agent acquisitions during the season.)

Today was the first day of a multi-day draft in a new-to-me league that Chris brought me into. For the convenience of the owners, each owner is allotted 10 hours to make a pick, so the draft is intended to take about three weeks. The draft hours are 8 am to 11 pm every day, which would be fine, except for the fact that the league is almost entirely based on the east coast. So, first pick was set for this morning at 5 a.m. out here on the Left Coast.

I was assured that I did not have to be up at the crack of dawn. The pace is intended to be relaxed, and I had the third pick anyway. Here's the scary thing: I woke up at 4:55. Without an alarm. Might as well join in on the fun. The irony, of course, is that the guy in the first position did not make his pick until four hours later. Ah, well. We all make sacrifices for the things we love. I can sleep some other time.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Oh yeah. There's no mistaking it now. The cataclysm is nearly upon us now. And yet, out of the smoldering black ashes of the old will arise the new -- clean, pure as the driven snow, with a newly strengthened heart. All will be revealed tomorrow.

[There's a clue of sorts in that passage. Clunky, but it's there.]

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

You Can Go Home Again, But It's Expensive Now

Someone in one of the internet communities of which I am a part started a thread about the car that got away, the one you wish you still had. Anytime a discussion like this starts, I think immediately of my first car, my 1981 VW Scirocco (interestingly, the Probe I sold two years ago, as much as I really, really liked it, doesn't even enter my brain in these kinds of discussions. At least, not yet). Like all Sciroccos, it was a VW Golf/Rabbit underneath the cool, wedgy body designed by the famed Giugiaro, and built by Karmann. It was light, quick, very economical, and could carry a truly amazing amount of stuff. It got me through my first three years of college until it was unceremoniously totaled by someone running a red light. It is because the car was suddenly and unexpectedly taken from me, I believe, that I still carry a torch for it today.

I have sometimes thought, in idle moments, how much fun it would be to buy another one just like it for old time's sake, since one would think that they could be bought for pocket change by now. I have discovered that there are several problems with this theory. One, Mark I Sciroccos are very scare, and are so old that they rarely show up on the typical car sales sites. Two, the car I had was, apparently, somewhat unique in its equipment, in that it was the last year of production and had particular VW alloy wheels that I haven't seen anywhere. Three, the few nice examples are now going for far more than what you can dig up from the sofa cushions, and considerably more than I paid when the car was but seven years old.

But then, I find something like this:

Every mechanical bit of consequence has been rebuilt, and it has the neat GTI wheels, somethat that I eventually would have done with my car if I had kept it long enough to have a real job to pay for them. Still, $2,500 for a 26-year-old small car means that you really have to love one of these. Those that do are salivating over this one.

Then there's this:

It may not look like much, but it is actually a brand new 1981 VW Scirocco. It reportedly has less than 900 miles on the clock, and other pictures verify that it has no wear on it at all. The owner is asking $20,000 (!), but has also approached VW to see whether the company would like to buy this pristine example back. Again, aficionados of the model are falling all over themselves -- this is a modern VW update of the classic story of the treasured car found in the back of a barn, locked in a time warp.

I'm sure if I ever found a nice Scirocco, even to look at it for an afternoon, I would find that its lack of power and creature comforts would bother me far more than they did back then. But I'd like the chance to find out.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Least Surprising Expose of the Year

The scanty, diaphanous veil of doubt that has covered Barry Bonds' alleged steroid use appears to have been well and truly ripped away. A book by two SF Chronicle writers is about to be released that describes in numbing detail Bonds' injection and pill regimen, which apparently started in 1998.

The details apparently come from many sources, several of which are nominally confidential. I have deep misgivings about the disclosure grand jury testimony, which led to Jason Giambi's semi-confession and brought Bonds' "the Cream" and "the Clear" into the sports lexicon. However, if the new book is to be believed, Bonds is and was a cheater of the highest order. Even if the use and effectiveness of certain "dietary supplements" that were not banned at the time is subject to reasonable debate, the direct injestion of human growth hormone and a steroid "designed to improve the muscle quality of cattle" is beyond the pale.

Denials are to be expected. However, the breadth and scope of the allegations (which is rapidly approaching "proof") is going to make those denials ring mighty hollow. The only mystery remaining in my mind is why Bonds has not been tagged by MLB's drug testing, as Rafael Palmeiro (and several lesser lights) was last year. The guy takes a pharmacy's worth of steroids every day and never pops up on a drug screen? It's odd, and the only thread left of the veil, which no longer conceals anything of consequence.

What Are You People Teaching Those Kids, Chris?

At least one of the fine, upstanding young men of George Mason University evidently skipped that page in the college sportmanship handbook that delivers the institutional frown on the lowest of playground behavior.

On the plus side, a successful career as a campaign manager is all but assured.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Feel that? Yep, the earth shook. Details to come in about a week.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Proud Papa, Take II

The hits keep on coming. Today, Kelly received ACE academic achievement awards for the past term. Not only did she receive an award for both math and language arts (the two subjects for which awards are given), but she received both awards with honors, meaning that she receives grades of 95% and up in both areas. Kelly was one of only three students in her class to receive ACE awards; one of the other students also received both with honors.

As it probably was for many people, third grade was a real academic awakening for me. I'm very proud to see that it appears to be the same for Kelly. She hates to be in front of the crowd receiving awards (she's had a lot of experience with it already), but she is clearly pleased to have earned them.

Not half as pleased are her parents are to see her succeed!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Hear That?

The distant rumble? Almost like the initial rending of the very firmament itself? Mr. Dylan might even say that times, they are a-changin'.

Or not. Stay tuned.