Monthly Archives: August 2010

Why I don’t do Facebook

Yes, that’s right – yours truly, an old-skool, dyed-in-the-wool Alpha Geek, does not have a Facebook page. And does not want one.

I am no stranger to the Internet – I’ve been blogging since… well, since before it was called “blogging”. I’ve been on eBay since 1998 (I even wrote a guide to eBay once upon a time) and Craigslist since 2004. I have a Twitter account. I pay my bills and do most of my banking online. With apologies to Yoda, A technophobe I am not.

But I refuse to get a Facebook page. Why is this?

  1. No Time. Yes, I have a life, and a good lady to live it with. I love my life, and defend my most precious resource – my time – jealously. Facebook looks like a time sink to me.
  2. No need for connectivity. I refuse to wrap my life around technology. That’s an odd thing to say, considering that I carry a PDA, a phone and an iPod on my belt… but none of these are internet-connected, nor do I want them to be. None of them are even particularly modern devices. The PDA is a Palm Tungsten T3 – a 2004 vintage machine that works for me (when it dies… I have a spare!) and the iPod is a 2007 80GB Gen5.5 Model (when it dies… I’ll upgrade the hard disk to 240GB) and the phone is basic – no web, no GPS, no touchscreen. But ‘connectivity’ is not something I seek.
  3. No “friends”. Yes, I have friends – a few deep friendships with people I care about – but I don’t feel any need to share the minutiae and trivia of my day-to-day life with them, let alone a large circle of “friends” I haven’t met or don’t care about enough to write or call directly.
  4. MAJOR security concerns. Not a week goes by without some Facebook horror story about some kid being snatched/abused/murdered or some cute woman being stalked (funny how nobody ever stalks the ugly ones – or maybe it does not make for good news coverage). This is not always – or even usually – Facebook’s fault, but someone has to be blamed, and they are an easy target; more often than not it is an unfortunate combination of bad/stupid decisions by kids and/or parents. I am not about to advocate the banning of social networks, but parents need to get a clue and be involved. At the very least, they need to treat policing their child’s online activities as a part of the full-time job that is parenting. That said, it is too easy to inadvertently broadcast private information about yourself if you don’t know what you are doing (according to real-life friends who have Facebook pages).
  5. Who owns my stuff? At some point in time, Facebook may wish to “monetize” (I hate that word) their “content” (I hate that word, too). What is to prevent them from “doing an Amazon” and retrospectively claiming ownership of the information that they have accumulated? Not much… which is why I don’t care to invest my life to Facebook’s tender mercies.
  6. This too shall pass. Remember MySpace? Me neither.
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Anti American

I have a bit of a problem with American Airlines.

It started some years ago, when my Mother was flying from Dallas Fort Worth to London Heathrow. She has difficulty walking, and requires wheelchair assistance. Unfortunately that “assistance” entailed parking her in a room with a bunch of other disabled people, and forgetting about her for hours, during which time she a) starved, and b) nearly missed her flight.

I complained to AA, and they sent me a coupon for $100 off any future flight. When I went to redeem it some years later, they pointed out the small print; it was only valid for twelve months from the date of issue. No, they “couldn’t” renew it – too bad, so sad…

But wait! There’s more! A couple of months ago she was flying from New York to London. The flight was delayed. The passengers were invited to deplane and were given $10 vouchers with which to get themselves something to eat…

Except for the wheelchair passengers. They were left in their seats and offered NOTHING…

…for three hours.

Unsurprisingly, Mother has said that that she will never fly with AA again; I don’t blame her.

I am beginning to detect a pattern here. Apparently American Airlines does not care much for those who have difficulty walking. And there is not much point in complaining either, since the purpose of Customer Service seems to be to tell the customer “NO”.

MiLady and I are flying to London soon. We went with British Airways – even though AA was more than $200 cheaper.

Cos that is how we roll…

…or rather, Fly.

Arrayed in RAID

RAID on a GA-K8NSC-939 – Problem Solved

Last year I got hold of a GA-K8NSC-939 motherboard with a 3000 processor, 1GB RAM and a Radeon X800 Pro Video card. I built a system around it, and so Poseidon was born. After upgrading the memory to 2GB and the processor to a X2 4400, the result was quite a fast machine, in spite of the fact that it cannot run Windows Vista or 7. With one minor drawback – slow Hard Drive speed. Restricted by its SATA-1 ports, Poseidon maxes out at 121MB/Sec.

So I decided to experiment with RAID. I am no stranger to RAID, having run a mirrored drive on Athena, an aging dual-PIII board that has served me well since 2002. For most of that time, Athena ran a two-drive RAID-1 mirror. This means that she had two identical drives that each held all my data. In the eight years she had been running, Athena suffered two separate catastrophic drive failures – and never lost a byte of data. Since the two drives were on different IDE ports, RAID had an extra benefit – Athena could read from both drives simultaneously – resulting in faster load times. And that is what I wanted.

The problem was that no matter how hard I tried, the F10 RAID menu never came up, and there was precious little information out there on the subject.

As a matter of course, I always install the latest BIOS on new boards, and I noticed that the version I had installed – F9G – had only one change, described as “Disable PCI prefetch “, over the previous F8 version. On a hunch, I downgraded to F8.

And the F10 RAID menu magically appeared.

My problem was only half-solved. I had a 400GB drive with good data on it (OS, etc), and another that was blank. The F10 menu didn’t seem to allow me to do what I wanted – to rebuild an array from a single good drive. When setting up an array I answered the “Clear Disks?” question with a resounding “NO”. Then  I was rewarded with a cryptic “select disk inside array” message, but that did not seem to do anything. And I could not build a Mirror array with only one drive.

Again, on a hunch, I built a single-drive STRIPE (Raid 0) array, and it booted right into Windows. Then I bought up nVidia’s RAID manager software and converted the array to a two-drive mirrored array. This rebuilt the array INSIDE WINDOWS, which took almost a whole day for a 400GB drive.

This is not exactly progress; after a drive failure, Athena could rebuild a 240GB IDE drive, within the RAID BIOS in under four hours.

Once again, nVidia has disappointed me; not because of the performance issue, but because they:

  1. Did not document the fact that the RAID BIOS is disabled in build F9g
  2. Did not provide documentation for the blindingly obvious task of converting a single drive into a dual-drive RAID mirror.
  3. Did not apparently allow rebuilding of the array within the BIOS.

Postscript: The RAID array slowed down bootup time and made only a minimal difference to performance; I ended up backing out my changes; thank God for Ghost images.

Ah well, another learning experience.

Proposition 8: The Battle continues

The people have spoken.

Now the judges will tell us what they actually meant.

In the latest turn in a long-running battle on Gay Marriage in California, a Federal Judge has ruled the state ban on Gay Marriage unconstitutional. Naturally Gays were ecstatic at the news, but some of the things that they were saying made me wonder if they were truly thinking at all.

Our courts are supposed to protect our Constitutional rights… Today, they did.” Untrue. The constitution does not mention marriage at all. Zip. Zilch. Nada. And no, “the pursuit of happiness” does not include the right to marry a same-sex adult any more than it applies to three other adults, a child, a Llama or a pile of bricks.

Even the judge was getting in on the act: “…the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples… “. Where does it say that? All this ban says is who may marry and who may not. Here’s another gem from the judge: “Proposition 8 perpetuates the stereotype that gays and lesbians are incapable of forming long-term loving relationships and that gays and lesbians are not good parents.” That’s utter bollocks – or, as Tina Turner might put it, “what’s love got to do with it?” Where does it say that gays and lesbians are not good parents?

Sometimes I wonder whether these folks believe what they see or whether they see what they believe.

This leads to some hard questions:

  • “What is Marriage?” The problem isn’t one of laws, but of definitions. My definition is one adult male, one adult female and zero or more children. Their definition, naturally, is different. But how elastic does that difference have to be? I feel strongly enough about this definition, but I will not go into it any further as I have already covered it here.
  • “Who invented Marriage?” Historically, marriage was God’s invention – or at least the church’s. Marriage is also known in ecclesiastical circles as “Holy Matrimony“. The word “Holy” actually means “set apart, sacred or special”. So where is the oft-misquoted-and-badly-abused “separation of Church and State” when you need it?
  • “If it is a religious thing, why is the State involved at all?” In a word, Taxes. Married couples have historically been penalized when it comes to taxes, though the “marriage penalty” has largely disappeared… though I don’t remember any large-scale legal battles about this…
  • “So who is responsible for it now?” Like Abortion, there is absolutely no reason why the Federal Government has any claim on “policing” marriage. Yet Gay rights activists insist that the Federal Government has to have the last word on the matter, presumably so they can foist their moral standards on everyone else.

This is clearly a States’ rights issue. Each state should be free to do as they will, and people can vote with their feet.

California seemed to think so too. That’s why they did the right thing and took it to a referendum in the 2008 election. The people spoke, and what came out of their mouths is “No, we don’t want Gay Marriage”. And that was when the trouble started.

As I have said before, the real question is not one of Religion but one of legal standing. If two adults of the same gender want to live together, they should be allowed to. If they want to raise children, I won’t stop them – I suspect that a loving gay couple will raise better kids than a feuding heterosexual couple (even though I suspect that there may be some gender confusion in their formative years). As someone who was raised by one parent, I cannot speak for the efficacy of marriage in raising well-balanced kids.

This is not over. There will be an appeal, and most likely a final appeal to the Supreme Court, who will most likely try to re-write the constitution from the bench. And gay marriages will eventually be allowed nationwide; not because it is right, but because the Supreme Court wants us to be like Europe.

But in the meantime, I do wish that those in favor of Gay Marriage would read the constitution before they start taking its name in vain.

Cuisinart – a Tragedy in three parts

Prologue:

Our six-year-old Cuisinart CBT-500 blender started to develop a crack underneath the blade. The solution was simple: buy a new blade assembly.


Act I: 7/10/2010

I went to Cuisinart’s website and ordered a replacement part – $10 + $5 shipping. I received a confirming e-mail as follows:

Thank you for ordering from CuisinartWebstore.com!

Pending the authorization of your credit card, we will ship your item(s) and your credit card will be charged at the time of shipment.

Your order number for the merchandise below is #DXXXXXXX and it is currently being processed. Once we ship your order, you will receive a shipping confirmation email as well.

Your order summary is provided below. We hope you enjoy your purchase!

Sincerely,

CuisinartWebstore.com Customer Service

I do not remember the website or the ordering process saying anything about being “out of stock” or “on backorder” – if it had, I would have taken my business elsewhere. Certainly nothing in the confirmational e-mail gave me that impression.


Act II: 8/2/2010

23 days after the order was originally placed, I received the following e-mail:

Due to an unusually large response, we are temporarily out of stock of the item(s) you ordered.  Additional quantities are on order and we expect them soon.  Your order will receive priority upon receipt in the warehouse, and we expect to be able to ship order within 30 days or sooner.  We are very sorry for the delay and assure you that we are making every effort to expedite your order.


ACT III: 8/3/2010

I called Cuisinart. They apologized but categorically stated that the item had always been out of stock and on backorder – even though nothing in the confirmational e-mail indicated this. The website showed it on backorder; I believe that I would have noticed if it had said that. Availability was in another two weeks – if you are lucky.

I didn’t feel very lucky. Extremely annoyed, I asked them if they would be willing to waive the $5 shipping fee by way of apology for the delay.

They refused.

I cancelled the order.

Epilogue: What we learned

Cuisinart:

  • If something is out of stock, make it clear and obvious on the web page and on the confirmation e-mail. If you don’t know how, check out Amazon and Buy.com.
  • Don’t call your customer a liar. It’s not nice, particularly if said customer is a web developer.
  • If you are going to “apologize”, give it some teeth. A verbal apology isn’t worth the paper it isn’t written on.
  • Annoying a customer to this extend is not worth saving $5.

The rest of us: Cuisinart’s alleged Customer Service – to use a word I loathe – sucks.

Now Reading: Simon de Montfort by Margaret Wade Labarge