September 2007 - Posts

One Giant Leap

On Tuesday we went to see In The Shadow of the Moon - if, like me, you love anything to do with space just go an see it. And go and see it on the biggest screen you can find. As a guy who wasn't even 2 when it all happened and has no recollection of any of the events of the time there is something wonderful about seeing the rockets go up and the lunar module go down to land on a big screen and hear the engines on a nice big audio system.

Of course since this is a documentary its never going to be shown at a mainstream theater, or my favourite big screen The Cinerama (Thank you Paul Allen for saving it) which of course means that its not going to get the audience it really deserves.

All the guys who went to the moon, either landing on it or orbiting it are getting old - most of them are in the 70s - and in this movie they interview as many of them as were able or willing to tell the stories of the Apollo missions. The interviews are interspersed with the great space footage which the credits proudly boast are "100% real NASA footage with no computer graphics involved".

It was a shame, though not a surprise, that Neil Armstrong declined to participate but instead we got the wonderful Micheal Collins - the guy who had to stay up on the command module of Apollo 11 while Neil and Buzz went down. He is funny, charming and totally made the movie for me.

As the credits are rolling at the end several of the astronauts expressed their opinions to those who think the moon landings were faked. I'm a big fan of the "how on earth do you keep thousands of people from telling the truth" argument, especially in a country where people will go on Jerry Springer to tell the world about their third testicle, but my favourite new one was "if we faked it why did we fake it 8 times???"

Anyway - get off your butts and go out and support it even if you have to go to the less desirable theaters and sit in an audience of 8 people.


Hairy Keyboards

I love my original Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro. I got it before some PM at Microsoft went crazy and decided that arrow keys could be moved or the insert/del block could be switched around or even that function keys should be used for other things (see - though interestingly enough it seems that the current 2005 offering undid all of the changes and has gone back to the 1994 layout I love so much).

I try to look after it because I really don't want another keyboard... some of the keys are starting to fade and wear and the wrist rest has some grime that I can never seem to remove but otherwise it works great. Every so often I tip it upside down and shake it - amazed at the stuff that falls out. Other times I wipe the keyboard and keys over with a alcohol wipe to make sure I'm not breeding killer bugs on there. In extreme circumstances I've been known to blow some of that canned compressed air through the gaps.

In the last couple of weeks I've noticed the left shift key is sticking a bit. Occasionally I get capital letters or multi select when I don't want it and a quick tap on the left shift key seems to cure it. I've also noticed the space bar occasionally 'misses'. So while contemplating a bug today I prised up the corner of the shift key and almost passed out. It looked like a barber shop floor under there. The more keys I pulled up the worse it got so I decided to stop everything and have a keyboard spring clean. It took me about an hour but I removed every key, cleaned up underneath and then wiped down every key as I put it back on. Its pretty easy - just watch out for the space bar - there's a couple of small springs under there.

In order to really gross you out I took a picture of what I removed:

Hair from the keyboard... yuck

Feel free to go to Flickr and see the high res version. This is just the stuff I pulled out with my fingers - the rest I blew off with compressed air outside my house. I had no idea I was losing so much hair - you certainly can't see it from my head. There were all manner of hairs in there - a lot of eyebrows by the look of it as well as a good collection from all the dogs that have lived here or stayed her over the years. Thankfully there were none short and/or curly enough to be you know what (that killed everyone's comments didn't it!).

For those folk I chat to in IM or IRC I am sorry to say that this will NOT fix my terrible typing - I can't help it my brain is just faster then my fat fingers.


Windows Live Everything All In One Installer (unless you are on x64 of course)

Today I needed to install Live Writer on my nice new x64 machine so that I can finally upload another Coding4Fun article (Yes I know its been far too long....) so I headed off to the download site and ran the new installer. "Windows live programs can't be installed on this Operating System"...

I'm getting a little annoyed about apps that don't run on x64... heck x86 apps will run just fine on it so unless you have some reason to be fiddling with very low level stuff then it should just work. I'm not the only one who is annoyed. I guess someone has determined that not enough people have x64 machines. Come on Microsoft if you can't do it properly then neither will anyone else.

After a bit of googling I did find a solution on - though this requires you have an x86 machine to run the installer on to get hold of the .msi file. It seems that while all the Live applications run and install on x64 the new combined installer doesn't. Yes indeed the whole shebang is broken because the initial installer didn't to the right thing.

Of course combining all the windows clutter into a single installer means that Microsoft are right up there with all these companies that bundle "crap I don't need" and try to trick me into installing it. Again I'm sure some marketing genius has a pay raise built on 'getting XX% of people to install product YYYYY' and they don't care that none of those people us it or even know they installed it.

But back to LiveWriter... i switched over to my x86 laptop and ran the installer - from the website (that's important) and once it ran it said "It looks like you are offline" and refused to go any further. Well IE thinks I'm online, Live Messenger thinks I'm online, ping thinks I'm online... the only thing I can think is that my laptop is wireless. Looks like this new installer needs a little work guys.

Eventually I fired up the old trusty dell that I retired last month and ran the install there. Copied the MSI over to the x64 box and crossed every part of my body that was crossable. But it still wasn't enough. "Windows live writer requires the installation of the .Net framework". Now what people??? I'm on Vista - it comes with .Net 2.0/3.0 do I really need 1.1 too? So I do an install of .Net 1.1, plus the service pack, plus several windows update fixes. Now the installer runs - but it doesn't complete. It just ends while it is "gathering requirements". So I guess it really doesn't work on x64. This machine is about as clean as you can get - 95% of the software on there is Microsoft core stuff like Office and Visual Studio.

I give up... but wait there is hope... the light at the end of the tunnel from some Live Writer forums where they discuss the workaround that I am using. Apparantly if you run the installer this way you get no prompts but it does actually install. Sure enough there is it in the start menu. Ok thats just most of the morning down the toilet... who do I send the invoice to?

ZMan sticks his head out a plane...

Well its been longer than I promised but here are the photos and some video from my B17 flight that I did in June.

Bad hair dayDowntown Seattle and Puget Sound

Photos on Flickr

B17 landing
B17 landing

B17 nose gunner seat
B17 nose gunner seat

View from the B17
View from the B17

B17 turret view
B17 turret view

Posted 07 September 2007 09:01 AM by zman
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Total Eclipse of my back yard

Just in case you missed it there was a lunar eclipse at the end of August 2007 and the Pacific Northwest was in a perfect place to see it. Well if you were prepared to stay up till 3:30am to see it hit mid eclipse (after that its just a rerun of the first half!).

I've only ever seen a lunar eclipse once in 1996 and I wasn't even expecting it - I went into a Home Depot and it was fairly bright and when I came out the moon was a very odd color - so I decided to stay up and watch this one. The sky was, surprisingly, clear and we had a great view from my back deck. The moon was full and bright enough to be casting shadows and the difference in darkness at the peak was huge. We had a borrowed telescope which helped see the detail, though it was almost too bright to look at when it was full. I can completely relate to people from hundreds or thousands of years ago freaking out when this happened. Can you imagine the power of the guy who worked this out and could start to predict them (and now I think of that I seem to remember it was a plot point in The Spaceman and King Arthur which was a favourite film of mine as a kid (and amazingly I now find seems to be based on a Mark Twain published story from 1889 called A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court)). It got a little chilly but it was very worthwhile staying up to see it. I did learn that the moon moves a long way in 15 minutes if you are trying to track it with the telescope. Maybe one day when I am a millionaire I will buy one of those fancy motorized ones.

Photography was going to be a problem - I'm a big fan of cameras that fit in my pocket which means I stand no chance of getting good pictures unlike some of my friends who need a small car to transport all of their equipment ;-) I probably took about 50 pictures most of which were about as bad as you can imagine. At one point I had the bright idea of pressing my small camera over the telescope eye piece - on the small screen it was hard to see quality so I took lots of pictures, with lots of settings and worked on the theory that I could just show the ones that worked out and just to surprise me - a couple actually look pretty good. Check out the set on flickr.

Yes I took this through the telescope!It begins

Now I have to work out how and when I can see a total solar eclipse - plan your vacations from NASA's solar eclipse page.

When cutting out the middleman costs you more

I like to consider myself a savvy shopper. Most of the time I'm convinced I got a good deal on anything I buy without spending hundreds of hours to save the last 2c.

Regular readers will remember the first great wall of ZMan well 2 years later I finally laid down the first row of bricks for the second, and even greater wall.

Great Wall #2

Last time I found and ordered the bricks from my local Home Depot at a very reasonable $1.33 each plus $50 shipping. After they arrived I noticed that they had actually shipped from a local dealer called Mutual Materials. So this time I figured I would save some money and cut out the middleman. I had bought a few from Home Depot over the weekend to finish the first course at $1.66 so surely they are cheaper if you buy from the local distributor. NO! They are $1.87 each. So after I explained this to the sales guy I kind of expected him to offer to beat or at least match that price but no he simply offered to cancel my order. So I took a trip to home depot and ordered 180 more bricks to finish the wall. While I was there I used one of my super powers - "the ability to read upside down faster than store assistants can read the right way up" - to see that Home Depot pay $1.09 for each brick.

So lets examine this:

Home Depot (HD) pay $1.09 so it must cost Mutual Materials (MM) less than that to make - these don't seem like a loss leader to me. Lets assume a pretty small profit because HD buy 2 gazillion bricks per year and guess that MM make them for $1 each.

My 180 bricks at HD makes HD a profit of $102.60 and MM sees $16.20 profit.

So why when I call MM directly would they not sell directly to me for $1.40 saving me $47, saving themselves paper work and increasing their profit from $16.20 to $72.

I suppose MM could have some no compete agreement with HD since they share the same area but selling the same product for 12% more seems to be a little crazy there.

In other news I bought an office AC unit on sale at Home Depot too which means I may be able to work in the stifling heat that my new computer insists on pumping out. No more grunge AC for me.



Just because you have a kid doesn't mean you can be a dick

[Disclaimer... I love most kids... this rant is for the crazy parents who lose all touch with reality because they discovered how to make a baby]

I live opposite a school. Its really not the inconvenience that some people think it is but one day per year brings out all the idiots who should have been sterilized at birth. The "its my precious babies first day at school" day. I'm not a callous emotionless bastard no matter what you have heard and I understand that its a big day that rates up there with "the first time he made pee-pee in the toilet", "the first day he uttered a grunt that your over tired brain interpreted as daddy" and "the first time you had to bail him out of jail because you spoiled him rotten instead of teaching him right from wrong". I understand that you want to see your child off to school, take thousands of photographs to annoy your friends with and possibly even shed a little tear as the result of 30 seconds of pleasure and/or a split condom turns his back and runs away from you.

But what I don't understand is why the hell you think its OK to park the butt end of your car across my driveway for half an hour... thankfully my drive is big enough to maneuver around you and thankfully I work at home but next year please try to teach your kids how to behave in public.

Idiot Parking

While I'm on the subject one of my favourite sights is when the police pull over a parent for speeding in the school zone often with the kids in the back. If the rest of us have to drive 20mph to protect your babies the least you can do is the same and teach your kids how to behave. Of course as I pass and grin I can already see you explaining to the 6 year old in the back of your polluting SUV (that you drove 6 blocks so that junior doesnt hurt his feet) that the policemen have nothing better to do than stop mummy and that they should be out there catching real criminals.

Thankfully all of my friends with kids are either too smart to engage in these behaviours (or too conceited to think I am talking about them!)

Posted 04 September 2007 01:00 PM by zman
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