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ongoing laptop saga, summer at citi

I called the IBM repair center again yesterday morning, got the same report that there was only one LCD known for this laptop (despite the fact that I'd quite happily used a different one for a few weeks), complained that we were going nowhere, and got forwarded to a technician, who said they'd take another look later in the day and then call me back. That never happened, so I called again this afternoon. The report this time was that they've ordered a part. Well, that sounds like progress.

Normally citi has a bunch of undergraduate interns hanging around over the summer. Which can be fun. The last few years, since Peter hasn't been teaching so much, they've been more scarce. But we had a good group of them show up at donuts this morning. They seemed likely to be smart and interesting.

sparky, work work, fun work, groceries

Graham used to call his daughter "squiggly". Now that she's walking and talking, she's "sparky". It seems to fit. Saturday, the five of us had lunch at a new Indian place on main and did some miscellaneous book and grocery shopping.

I should qualify the "talking" thing--her pronunciation isn't quite there, so you have to concentrate a bit to understand, but mainly she doesn't quite seem to have figured out what this talking thing is for. It's all a game to her. She can ask for stuff, but a lot of the time she's just a random sentence machine, repeating the last thing you said, or telling some made-up story without much care for whether anyone's paying attention.

We parted ways in the early afternoon, and Sara and I went to the library, where I copied and assembled the tax returns. Sara read, and waited till it was time to go to a party at a co-worker's place. I was feeling slightly antisocial and behind at work, so after finishing with taxes I went to my office, and worked there (on a work project that I've let get too far behind) till late in the evening, then rode my bike home. It was snowing a little, but not cold, so the ride was pleasant.

Sunday I stayed home and worked on my fun-work project helping get git's documentation into shape. Work and hobbies all run together these days.

Monday I had a reasonably productive day at work, then did a grocery run at Busch's, arriving home with 40-some pounds of stuff loaded in the panniers. For dinner we had burritos and went through the Firefly DVD extras, which were pretty fluffy--I think I'd rather have just re-watched an episode.

paperwork, support, Joyce, end of Firefly

Graham mailed earlier this week to suggest lunch tomorrow. What with that and a backlog of random work, I decide to take today off and get my taxes out of the way.

Taxes take me much too long. It's easy, but I only do it once a year, so I never get good at it, and I'm nervous about making mistakes, so I check everything several times. People tell me I should buy software. But I live most of my life never having to deal with proprietary software at all, and the occasional glimpse I get of it--trying to deal with the odd problems at my parents' house or whatever--reminds me why I don't miss it. I suppose I could try something web-based next year.

Somehow taxes inspired me to clear some more paperwork off my desk. So I also signed our new lease, paid some bills, cleared out a backlog of bank statements, and threw away a lot. Oh, and backed up fieldses.org, which I hadn't done in months. (Shame on me.)

The laptop saga continues: Wednesday afternoon they left a message asking for more details. The person I got the next morning of course knew nothing, and could only read me a note the technician left, which claimed that my laptop had never been sold with the LCD I used to have. Huh? So she said a supervisor would call me back. When I hadn't heard back Thursday night I tried calling again and all they could tell me was "the customer had unblocked the job", or something. Who knows. I'm regretting not just trying to solve the problem myself. I doubt the LCD replacement was necessary at all.

So I don't expect my next laptop will be a Lenovo. I think it's to the point where I should just ignore the big Windows vendors entirely, actually. There's a couple sources of Linux laptops now, but more interesting to me are the barebones laptops, which I'd previously overlooked. I've been satisfied with the desktops I've built from parts--they're inexpensive, and in the event of a problem (which I've rarely had), I'm not suddenly dependent on some hard-to-communicate-with bureaucracy.

Every now and then I pick up Joyce's Ulysses and read the first chapter. I don't think I've ever made it much further. There's a scene I love--just a few sentences--where the characters settle with the woman who delivers their milk. I like the combination of the amusing odd non-base-10 denominations, the vivid dialog, and the image of this old woman reeling off the bill from memory and doing the sums out loud. Also, I realize this is totally trivial and geeky, but: it reassures me that the author gives me all these numbers, and that they all add up right. I get this warm feeling knowing that I'm in the hands of someone with an attention to detail, and knowing that whenever I slow down and examine some passage, I'll find something interesting.

Maybe this time I'll make it to chapter three. Probably not.

We watched our final Firefly episode tonight, "Objects in Space", a good one. I'm borrowing the DVD set from my sister, so I'll hand it over to my parents when they visit weekend after next. That gives us a couple weeks to maybe try an episode or two with the commentary turned on. I don't entirely understand why the show had such a cult following--it won't change my life--but it's pretty good, and seems pretty original in some ways.

multitasking, big ideas

I got an empty box delivered to my doorstep this morning, put in my laptop, filled out a form (trying to squeeze into the bottom margin a reminder to get the LCD resolution right this time), called DHL to schedule a pickup at work, then stuck it under my arm and went to catch the bus there.

Work was busy. I talked over those tangled data structures with my coworker Andy for a few minutes when I got in, then called into a two-hour (argh!) conference call about NFSv4 ACLs. Which could have been done in email, in my opinion--in fact, a lot of it already *had* been done in email--I'm not sure why things somehow have to be said in meetings before they count.

Then Andy and I continued our conversation. I think we agree on what to do next. The result will be a smaller change to the current design than was previously attempted, which is probably good.

I had a sandwich (delivered from Jimmy John's) for lunch, and read a little more of David Mitchell's intriguing novel "Cloud Atlas" while I ate.

Then Olga, David and I argued about the design of something else that Olga's working on--something I should probably be taking care of instead of her, but I just haven't been able to get to it.

With the day almost over, I finally got a short start to what I'd wanted to get done first, which was to respond to review I'd gotten to some patches I posted a few days ago.

Still left: I promised to discuss some code (that I haven't read yet!) at a meeting at noon tomorrow. I'll have to try to work that in between Wednesday morning donuts and the meeting itself....

I usually assume that to make any progress on a technical problem I'll need a big expanse of time to immerse myself in the details. But in practice I'm often surprised at what can happen if I force myself.

After work Sara and I met for our monthly book group, discussing Calvino's "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler". I often have the feeling that the other people in this group look for different things in a book than I do. They want to find the big ideas, the significant stuff, what a book says about life in general. I like the details, and like to stay more closely focused on the text.

So they seemed worried about whether "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler" is merely clever. *Merely* clever? Good grief, this one of the cleverest books in existence--we could spend our whole two hours identifying clever bits and not make a dent. It could be fun.

Next month is "China Mountain Zhang". It sounds pretty good, but I'm not sure whether I'm going to get to it. So much to read, so little time.

ascenseur pour l'échafaud, data structures

Sunday night we watched "ascenseur pour l'échafaud", Louis Malle's first full-length fiction movie. "Before that I'd only directed fish" he says, or words to that affect--his previous gig was with Jacques Cousteau! It has a Miles Davis score that everyone was very excited about, though it didn't make a big impression on me. Maybe it's a case of something innovative that's since become a cliché. I found the movie very funny, actually, though I'm not sure that's how it was meant to be taken. The humor stems from something about the characters' steady accumulation of terrible luck and predictably boneheaded decisions.

I spent much of today trying to understand an oddly tangled set of data structures which a coworker modified to improve some our authentication code. In the end I may be convinced that he did the right thing, but I keep thing there must be another way to do this that would confuse me less....

I got some groceries and a loaf of bread on the walk home, Sara made some nice soup, and we watched another episode of Firefly ("The Message", about an old war buddy that meets a tragic end). I cleaned up then stared at the problematic data structures a little while longer.

Snow, furniture, hardware, cinnamon, Miyazaki

After some more hot days, it's back to winter again this week--lots of cold and snow. I'm ready for summer.

My new computer came Thursday, and I had a fun morning putting all the bits together--tinkertoys for grownups! (Or not-so-grownups.) The new machine is small, reasonably quiet (by office standards--it might sound loud at home), and compiles my (minimally configured) kernel in about three and a half minutes.

My old desktop died on Friday morning--when I power it up, LED's come on, fans spin up, but that's it. I was looking forward to keeping it around as a test machine. But Trond gave me his old desktop (of a similar vintage), so I can use that instead. Maybe I'll swap some parts around to see if I can find out what broke.

As long as I was moving all these machines around I decided to move my desk too. I'd been meaning to for ages. I wanted it back at the position it had when I first moved in, against a side wall. I'd move it out to face the door, but discovered that uses up a lot of useful space in the middle of the room and creates a barrier that makes it hard for people to come in and work with me at the whiteboard.

I got my laptop back Friday, having put in my complaint Saturday, received the empty box for the RMA Tuesday, and shipped it back Wednesday. I can't complain about the turnaround time. They wiped my linux installation and reinstalled XP, which I knew was a risk, so I had backups--no big deal--but I don't understand why they needed to do that to fix an obvious hardware problem.

But, worse, they "fixed" the problem by replacing the LCD by a lower-resolution LCD. Initially assuming a software problem, I wasted a couple hours Friday night trying to figure out why I couldn't adjust the resolution, until I finally realized what had happened. Saturday morning I borrowed a magnifying glass from Sara and made some test images with Gimp to confirm the obvious.

It was actually fascinating looking at the pixels closely. You can see the three separate red, green, and blue pixels, and how they're offset from each other, quite clearly.

The support people appear to be totally confused about the variety of panels that were available as options for this machine. They promised another RMA box for me Tuesday. Hopefully they'll get it right this time.

Sara planned to make some pumpkin bread Saturday morning, but realized halfway through she was missing baking soda and cinnamon. The baking soda I found at the convenience store next door, which also had a few spices, cinnamon not among them. What the heck? So she put a cinnamon stick in the coffee grinder instead. The bread was fine--great smell, very tasty, no surprise bits of cinnamon sticks as far as we could tell. Does it dissolve in the batter? Melt in the oven?

We took some of the bread with us to juggling in the afternoon, then had dinner with the jugglers at a Chinese place that replaced a Middle-Eastern place (Kabob Palace) that we'd liked quite a bit. The new place turns out to be pretty good too, so we'll live.

We made plans to meet at Paul's later to watch Miyazaki's "Laputa", then went with Ajit to Borders. I picked up the second edition of a kernel book I already have in the first--but it's pretty good, and my copy's out on indefinite loan, so what the heck--and an English translation of a "Exercises de Style", which I already have in the original--but it's the kind of book whose translation must require quite a bit of creativity, and I've heard the translator's very good--and a book on SELinux, which I've been thinking I should learn more about.

At Paul's we ended up watching Ivy instead of the movie, but that was fine. Ajit gave us a ride home a little after midnight.

shopping, crime

One of the Michigan Daily blogs recently pointed out a list of classic Crime Notes from years past, which includes my favorite--I didn't know anyone else had ever noticed it--"Boyfriend reports missing girlfriend, later found." My only proof it ever existed was a clipping I kept, now taped to my office door. Now I know that it was published March 14, 2000.

After some more time googling around, trying to figure out whether the hardware I'd picked out for my new work desktop made any sense together or not, I finally threw up my hands and hit the "order" button. I think it'll work:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 Conroe (2.4Ghz, 4MB shared cache, 1066MHz FSB)
  • ASUS T3-P5G965 Intel G965 Barebone (built-in Intel graphics, Gig-E, 300W power supply, etc.)
  • Kingston 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 667 (PC2 5300) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model KVR667D2K2/2GR. That was the most confusing part. I *think* I got it right.
  • Western Digital Raptor WD740ADFD 74GB 10,000 RPM Serial ATA150 Hard Drive: is 10,000 rpm overkill? Or too noisy? We'll see.
  • The cheapest DVD burner NewEgg sells, just in case I need it some day.

The main goal is to compile kernels as quickly as possible for under $1000. And I wanted Intel graphics, since Intel's the only company producing free/open-source video drivers these days. Not that I care much about graphics, beyond the occasional wobbly window.

I stopped by Trader Joe's and picked up some groceries on my way home. I got complimented on my nifty new panniers again.

Our monitor at home has been acting a little odd recently, so maybe I should look into a replacement before it just falls over and has to be replaced in a hurry.

weekend at home, hardware woes

Except for getting stuffed full of good (mostly indian) food Saturday night at a party at Sara's coworker May's house, I basically spent the weekend at home, reading and dealing with a computer computer problems.

One is the laptop. Its screen has a particularly high dpi (1400 by 1050 on a screen that's just 12"), which is why I wanted it, but also why there was a nearly two-month delay delivering the thing--no doubt some factory promised yields of these panels that they couldn't deliver. And now it's causing problems--the bottom part of the screen is distorted and shaky to the point of being unreadable. For a while it was intermittent, and could be temporarily fixed by wiggling the combination hinge/swivel connecting the panel to the machine, but Friday night it became constant, so I backed up a few odds and ends and then called Lenovo to have them pick it up and repair it.

I would have preferred to just open the thing up and take a look myself--maybe the fix will be as simple as reseating some connector, and that'd save having to wait for the repair--but as long as it's under warranty I guess I should be more careful.

My other problem is that the various laptop delays have made me painfully aware of how out of date my desktops at work are. So I spent some time reading up on the latest hardware. Even for a computer geek it's always a bit of a pain figuring out all this stuff. The web helps, but it's tough digging up reliable information amidst all the babble and the marketing.

yellow, overload

My new panniers, which I ordered from REI last week, came yesterday. Given past embarassing pannier failures, it's silly that it took me this long to get around to finding replacements.

I ran across some Ortlieb panniers at an REI in DC and fell in love them for their sheer beautiful yellowness. And they had an obviously better attachment mechanism and looked much more durable--just what would appeal to me after my previous panniers fell my the bike occasionally and developed holes in the bottom after a few years.

But that's one of the classic sources of second system syndrome, right? You choose the replacement with all the problems of the previous system in mind, forgetting all the stuff that worked, which you never had to think about.

And the old panniers did have more convenient access: the new ones are these tall bags that you have to fold down and then fasten a buckle over, where the old ones were basically just open baskets. The old ones were also a heck of a lot cheaper.

So that's what I was thinking about as I opened the package Wednesday morning and tried to figure out how to mount them. Did I just spend entirely too much on something that wasn't really going to work for my purposes (mainly just grocery shopping)?

A couple days and a major grocery haul later, I'm no longer worried. Opening and closing them doesn't take any longer, they've got tons of capacity, they're really easy to take on and off, they're firmly attached to the rack, and keep the load closer to the bike, so the load's much more stable and easy to handle when they're filled. And they look way cool. The checkout lady at Busch's even complemented me on them as she helped me shovel my groceries into them tonight.

Next to figure out what to do about my no-longer-waterproof rainjackets....

I've got way too many projects going at once at work, and my strategy for choosing which to work on is terrible. What to do?

Stupid Stupid Cyclist!

Monday night coming home from the grocery store I made Stupid Cyclist Mistake #37: making a left turn across two lanes, I took a gap left for me by a big van in the near lane. Oops--I *know* that's always an awkward position to put yourself in.

I thought I'd checked the far lane, but of course there was a car I hadn't seen. We were both going very slowly and we both braked with space to spare. It was no big deal. But it was embarrassing: I should know to stop and check before crossing a lane that I can't actually see (and from which nobody could see me). Duh.

I also managed to skid my back wheel a bit today when it started raining on my ride to North Campus for a seminar. I didn't hear or feel the skidding itself, just felt the bike fishtail very slightly as I braked. Actually, it was kind of fun, and not as dumb (or dangerous) as the lane-crossing thing. Still, the fact that I was braking that hard suggests I wasn't planning ahead as far as I should have given the freshly wet road.

I didn't make it to the seminar, either, thanks to the combination of the sudden change in weather, some confusion about where the building was, and my having left the trip to the last minute.

Bah.

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