Category Archives: geeky technical stuff

Will 2011 Be Our Year?

I know it is only late January, but… It isn’t too early to start thinking about Eurovision 2011.  As usual, the contant rule changes (both internationally and here at home) have led to a new shake-down.  For the past few years, the representative singer was selected by some committee, and the public could only choose between four or five songs (also selected by the committee, written, on request, by major local composers).  But this year, the public will also get to vote on the singer. Yeah!  Stuff starts happening soon, with the final selection broadcast on 08 March.  We are hoping to get someone great with a kick-ass song to represent us in Germany.

Meanwhile, Eurovision Times listed the public’s choice of the Worst Eurovision Songs of all times. Several of my sister’s favorites are listed here (specifically numbers 10 and 11).  Actually, I thought that Dancing Lasha Tambai was hysterical and way better than some of the bland pop songs.  Hmmm…

Meanwhile, a new Avodah? Labor party internal explosion, with Barak leaving (along with Vilnai and two others), may be a Really Good Thing. If Yehimovitch can pull things together, we may have a rejuvinated Avodah, getting back to the good ‘ol labor ideals that helped found this nation.

Even geeks get sentimental: IBM puts out this fab video to celebrate 100 years of social and technological innovation.  RISC! System 36!  Punch cards! Fortran! Makes me weep with nostalgia.

Long Time No Blog

Let’s get this party year started! Well, 2011 is not shaping up to be much different from 2010, but most of us perpetually self-deluding types are still convinced that we can get in shape, lose weight, and do all those wonderful things (and stop doing all those bad things) that we meant to do at the start of last year.

But never fear. A new year offers a clean slate and a chance to clean out the closets, purge some emotional baggage, and get things in shape again.  For me, the year kicked off with a flurry of errands, paperwork, and other chores associated with being atzma’i (self-employed).

One of those chores was a lengthy confab with my printer, a lovely local guy who goes by the remarkable name Gantos Gantos. (What were his parents thinking?) Gantos is Christian Arab, but of a Coptic sect closer to Greek Orthodox, so he is a tiny minority inside a tiny minority.  He always starts our meetings with a small pot of Turkish coffee and a few pithy sayings. This week I got:

A woman must be able to totally trust two men in her life: her husband and her accountant.

I love it. Reminds me of what Baruch, my accountant, told me when I became self-employed:

אפשר לישון טוב או לאכול טוב
(You can sleep well or eat well.)

Being the straight-laced American, I choose to sleep well, which means that all my paperwork and tax stuff is immaculately above-board, and I make a lot less money. 😦

Soggy Doggy has a lump: Terri and I went to see the ever stoic Dr. Ofer, because I discovered a lump on my little darling. We are awaiting lab results. (Are they still Lab results even if you have a mixed breed terrier?)   Tonight’s rain had Terri digging in her heels and refusing to go outside; I actually had to carry her across the street before she gave up and plodded along, soggy and dejected.  Poor baby.  Meanwhile, here’s the girl with her monkey:
Terri laughs while cuddling her monkey.

Take the survey!  Please help me out. If you haven’t already taken my survey on computer usage, pul-eeeze do so! I need a ton of data within the next week. I need people from different age groups, backgrounds, locations, etc.  It will only take about ten minutes to do. Please feel free to pass the link on to everyone.

Hardware Wars

Why do these things always come in clumps?  My computer has been making terrible noises, leading me to suspect that the hard drive is on its way out.  But then it started crashing at odd times, giving me the Blue Screen of Death.  The final death was (dafka) when my dad attempted his very first Skype call to me.  The video card died in a rather spectacular manner and I couldn’t even reboot.

So off I trot to my trusty techie guy, who yanks the card, cleans out the accumulated dust, and tests it sans-video card.  Works OK, so I schlep it back home, hook it up, and get those dreaded BIOS error beeps (and no boot-up).  So it’s over to the laptop for some quick research in beep patterns.  Hmmm.  Why would it work there and not here?  Could it be that something got loosened in the car ride?  Let’s yank the top off and take a squint…

I poke and prod around in there a big, wiggle things, check that the SIMs are set properly, wonder why the hell I have a firewire card (and doesn’t that tell you how old my computer is?), cross my fingers, and try to boot.  Oh, lovely.  We have lift-off, but now the keyboard is fried.  Time to root around in the closet for the  spare keyboard…  So there are a cables running all over, and I haven’t fully assembled everything again, but it works.  I feel absurdly pleased with myself, as if I have outwitted some evil mastermind.

A Moooving Factoid

From the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs: (And yes, we have one…)

Israeli cows produce the largest amount and highest quality of milk in the world Israeli cows have the world record in milk yield. Their average milk output is higher than even Dutch and American cows. What’s more, Israeli cows produce 40% less methane gas than that produced by cows in other nations. The lower emission has environmental significance, as methane gas is considered the principle contributor to global warming.

Say What?

Ironic bread: Davidovitch Bakeries is nice enough to print this lovely little nutrition pyramid on their bread label…

For those of you who don’t read Hebrew, the base of the pyramid, above “daily physical exercise,” specifies “products from whole wheat.”  Of course, this is on a package of white bread.  (Don’t be fooled; קמה חיטה כהה is not whole wheat flour, just white flour with about two microns of bran left in!)  So we have to assume that to follow this healthy Mediterranean diet, we can’t eat Davidovitch bread.  Oh, the irony. 

Don’t rely on your spell-checker (yet again): From a mobile phone app site.

Ahmed from Namibia, using a Samsung s8300
August 6, 2009
i was very disappointed with this version 3. when i installed Ht on my s8300 it overwrought my standard google map and now the accuracy is far off. version 3 is absolutely Crap. the older versions were better.

Damn.  Don’t you hate those overwrought apps?

You Can’t Say That in Korean!

Blind editing, anyone?  Every once in a while, a client needs you to tackle a project that is completely off the wall. This is a great client and I’m not too proud to do annoying grunt work, so I spent a wild few weeks editing books (FrameMaker source) in 18 different languages.  Don’t worry, I wasn’t trying to rewrite anything in languages I don’t understand, but I did have to find and remove a few things, fix references to GUI elements that had changed, etc. When the Korean version got completely corrupted and all the fonts turned into question marks, I spent a nerve-wracking day updating tags to the correct fonts.  Product manager across the hall said, “I like it when you are here, because I learn so many new swear words in English!”  Yup.  Nothing like having FrameMaker crash after a sweaty, hair-raising edit session, to make you really stretch your naughty vocabulary.   

More attack cats: Terri and I had two more run-ins with feral kitties this week. One we managed to get past (although Terri got scratched), but the other was so completely psycho that we turned around and made a huge detour to avoid it.  It is astonishing that a little thing like that, probably barely three kilos, could hold off a dog and an adult human.  Scary kitty!  There was no way to assure her that we weren’t going to harm her kittens.

Hot, hot, hot: The heat wave of last week finally broke, but it is still hot and abnormally humid.  If you turn the AC off, the room instantly turns into a sauna.  The heat has also brought out the bugs, so each morning I have to look around the house for all the various gate-crashers who showed up during the night.  So far, we’ve had a few giant spiders (don’t ask me what kind), a scorpion, two lizards, and several giant mutant cockroaches.  Terri has been pretty useless at patrolling the apartment for these critters, but after our run-in with the scorpion, I decided that was a good thing!

Memory and Multitasking

More scary data: We only think that we are good at multitasking!  This article explains the latest data and has a link at the end for a test.  This applies to all of us, and it underscores our worries about the long-term effects of computer use. Very humbling, indeed.

Nice try, USA: The US is now out of the World Cup. Many of us felt that the refs were turning a blind eye to some of the fouls by Guana, while being awfully free with yellow cards for the US.  Hmmm. Linguistic trivia: rather than translate world cup (which would come out something like g’viat olami), Israel uses the French mondial to refer to this event.

The Culture-Technology Convergence

High-tech, low-manners: The recent fascination with Israel’s astonishing aptitude for producing high-tech patents has generated some serious books, including Startup Nation. The Sloan boys even talk about how the “rude” Israeli culture may be one of the factors in this technological creativity. There  has been some discussion lately about how technology may be affecting culture.  For example, it is logical to assume that SMS abuse has led to a generation’s inability to spell.  And certainly we have all been subjected to that oh-so-private conversation being conducted at full volume on a cellphone.

Some say that these gadgets that we take for granted (and can’t live without) come at a high social price. Children are less physically active, more socially isolated, and less able to concentrate. 

The problem is that here in Israel, this is difficult to measure because the underlying culture has always been a bit rough around the edges.  I won’t go so far as to say rude, but it certainly lacking in the niceties that lubricate social interaction in most western cultures. Sometimes it isn’t so much what people say, as how they say it. (Trust me: there is a huge difference between saying, “I don’t agree with that approach” and “You’re wrong and you’re an idiot, and now you’ll probably get all upset, huh?”)

In the connection between technology and manners (or lack thereof), I think that technology is simply making it easier or more acceptable for people to slide into increasingly rude behavior:

  • In a meeting with a potential new client, the CEO showed up late and unprepared. He had not looked at the materials in advance. “No need,” he said, “because we can just put them up on the screen now and look at them.” The meeting room technology made it easy for him to justify his boorish behavior.
  • A friend never announces herself when she calls.  She assumes that my cellphone displays who is calling, so she feels entitled to dive into a conversation with no preamble. Technically, she is correct, yet I still find the lack of basic civility somewhat jarring.
  • Another client has automated a big part of their sales to web-based forms.  They have made it virtually impossible to deal with a real human being.  The online purchasing works well for 90% of their customers, but it is fairly common that someone wants to do something that the automated system does not support (or doesn’t handle very gracefully).  The technology barrier between the customer and the people at the company may be saving them some money in personnel overhead, but is undoubtedly costing them some money in lost sales.
  • A colleague showed up very late for meeting because he had relied on his GPS navigation system, rather than do any homework before leaving his house.  With all the road construction in the area, the directions were faulty.  As a result, four people had the choice of either waiting for him or starting the meeting without him, and then having to repeat all the critical information once he arrived.
  • One project features an engineer who wants us to interact through an online, virtual office.  I find the sound quality terrible and find the interactions more burdensome than helpful. The engineer, however, is so enamoured of the technology that he wants to use it despite it being worse than a plain old telephone call or email message.

Perhaps there is a place for teaching etiquette within the framework of a high-tech world.

A Cargo of Lies

Peaceful flotilla or armed weapons transport? Every new piece of info makes gives lie to the Turkish outrage.  Released footage shows the Israeli Navy hailing the vessel and shows the “peaceful” activists attacking the soldiers with lead pipes and trying to wrest their guns from them. Here’s one piece worth reading from Canada (despite the typo in the photo caption).  Hat tip to Central LS. And here’s more… plus an opinion piece that is interesting (though please don’t ask me why Ynet is selling ad space to Scientology knuckleheads!).

Meanwhile, there were several pro-IDF rallies today at most of the major universities and even some major intersections.  On the flip side, MK Hanin Zoabi (Balad) is under police protection after an uproar in the Knesset, with hotheads calling her a traitor over her participation in the flotilla.  (Balad is an Arab party, BTW.)

Technophobe alert: I ran into three scary cases of the technologically-challenged over the past few days.

  • The first was when I faxed a document to someone. During the phone follow-up, he asked me if I needed the document back, because he could “fax it back to me.” 
  • The second was told to me by a friend who claims that her brother was so clueless that he would periodically confuse the cellphone and TV remote. She would get a call at an odd hour and hear the TV.  (Someone had obligingly programmed in her phone number as a speed dial, and that was the button that her brother would push, while aiming the phone at the TV.)
  • The third occurred during a meeting with a prospective client. They told me that they had met with another contractor who didn’t know what “hi-tech” meant. Had never heard the term. Aaaauuuuggghhh!!!!

Echos of Eurovision: Walking Terri the other night, we pass two young girls strolling along, playing music on a cellphone.  The song? Milan Stanković’s Ovo Je Balkan (Serbia’s entry in Eurovision).

Gorilla Love

Going ape at WritersUA: The conference is small but juicy; lots of interaction in my sessions and lots of good geeky topics. (Wish I could say that all presenters were brilliant, but there have already been a few yawners.) To my surprise, there were 27 people registered for my preconference halfday workshop on writing effecting Help procedures. My main conference session, Cultural Dimensions of software Help Usage, pulled a decent crowd and the gorilla was a hit. (I showed Harvard’s “gorilla on the court” experiment to illustrate the phenomenon of inattentional blindness.)

The weather in Seattle has become slightly more normal for this time of year. However, last Saturday was unbelievably warm and sunny. I took advantage of the day to walk along Alki with my dad. We came across this amazing racing Shelby with a stainless steel body:

To get an idea of how unseasonably warm it has been, check out this ornamental cherry: