Baby vs. Cat

At 8 months of age, our son’s intelligence is roughly on par with that of our cat, Daisy. He would even, if we let him, happily eat cat food. If you think this is an unfair evaluation of a human baby, consider these other notes:

  • Poop: both baby and cat are unable to deal with their own poop, and require a periodic clean-up operation before their poop spills out onto the floor.
  • Vomit: both puke frequently and, if left unattended, will try to eat their own puke.
  • Food: when hungry, both cat and baby become irritable and noisy, sometimes even swatting at us or chewing on our fingers.
  • Sleep: both require copious amounts of sleep and get angry when their sleep is interrupted, however, neither show any concern for our sleeping habits.
  • Speaking: Benjamin is capable of grunting, squeaking and even squealing noises that express a range of emotions from disdain to sheer joy. Daisy is capable of grunting, purring and even squealing noises that express the same emotions.
  • Listening: scientists have proven that cats are capable of understanding up to 30 words. Benjamin understands no more than 30 words. Cats also have a habit of ignoring what you say to them — especially things like “no.” In the same manor, our baby will hear us say “no” and then proceed with what he was going to do anyway.
  • Locomotion: both cat and baby get around the house on all fours, frequently getting into things they aren’t supposed to. When they find something interesting, both will try to get it in their mouths.

All that said, baby Ben is a delight. He does squeal — with joy — whenever he sees one of us, and now that he’s on a bottle, he’s much more self-sufficient. He’s also growing like a weed, and this week Nicole had to upgrade his car seat to a much larger model. We are truly blessed with a healthy, happy boy.

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Back in Business

post_00185_e-mail_icon.jpgOur server-side I.T. infrastructure is finally back up to nearly where it should be. Mail is now working reliably, and IMAP access has been restored to all its organized goodness. Some of our mail clients aren’t Mail.app now, and its a little annoying that other programs don’t provide easy ways to re-point your special IMAP folders — Thunderbird requires you to edit a Javascript file.

A quick run-down of what we’re running these days, for the interested geeks out there.

Apache + mySQL 5 are hosting the websites http://www.jonandnic.com, and services.jonandnic.com, the latter providing additional services (hence the domain name) for our own use.

WordPress 2.2.2 continues to run http://www.jonandnic.com.
IIS + SQL Server is running old.jonandnic.com, and will continue to do so until the box its running on dies of old age.

Some unnamed IMAP extension is running our mail. It works pretty good but makes a special folder called “mbox” that my iPhone refuses to ignore, and you cannot delete (without destroying all your mail). All other mail clients ignore it by default, so I guess this isn’t that unusual. I wish there were more configuration I could do, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Google Apps remains the back-up MX for mail sent to jonandnic.com

RoundCube makes a decent webmail client, once you find the main.inc.php file and edit it to your liking.

mod_dav, the WebDAV extension for Apache, will provide our Calendar hosting. With PHP iCalendar providing web access.

Our personal e-mail addresses remain the same, and I promise your mail won’t get lost if you write us now! The best part is, now that our hosting is off-site, mail and the website are not affected by local power/Internet outages (which our little town seems to have plenty of.) It also means moving days are a lot less stressful.

Our client machines are evenly split between Macs and PCs, with the former running Mail.app + iCal, while the latter will be using Thunderbird + Sunbird. There’s a little work to be done yet on this side of things — our home media network also suffered a little with all these changes, but I expect to have our digital communications and entertainment utopia back up and running within a couple weeks.

Update: I don’t yet have a solution for sharing Address Book data across 4 computers and an iPhone. Anyone have any suggestions? I’m using Address Book.app’s vCard format…

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised — It'll be Downloaded

[Large Television Network] has announced that they won’t be selling their shows on iTunes any more. This comes fairly hot on the heels of Universal Music announcing that they’ll only be marketing their music “at will” on the iTunes Music Store, which leaves them free to pull all, or any portion, of their music from the store at any time.

Let me explain why these are stupid moves: About 10 years ago, a little program called Napster came out. Suddenly college students all over the world could get music the way they wanted to — electronically, ready to be loaded onto our recently invented MP3 players (OK, I went with MiniDisc, but same difference). Like the mix tape of a decade gone by, this was seen as a major threat to the media industry, and they set about on a campaign to crush piracy by suing 12-year olds, and little old ladies who don’t even own computers.

Then Apple came along, and offered the media industry a way to embrace this new technology and satisfy their customers by providing their media in a medium we actually wanted, while still making money. After much cajoling and convincing, the cumbersome giants, which are the media companies, slowly began to understand that “the Internets” could be used to grow their business, and one-by-one, they started to sell their music through the iTunes Music Store.

Then they got greedy.

Somehow they believe that if they remove the option of legally acquiring digital media, then we’ll all flock back to the stores to buy Compact Discs and DVDs in droves. Unable to admit that they are too stupid and too dated an industry to champion their own successful digital distribution system, and unwilling to share their massive profits with a company that offers such a system, Big Media has decided it would be in their best interests to drive us all back into piracy.

Here’s a hint, big guys: if you don’t offer us a legal way to get your content, their are plenty of Swedish hackers that would be happy to provide your content to the rest of the world for free (well, free except for a few raunchy banner ads).

And here’s a hint to all the large organizations who are frightened that individual consumer’s can now communicate with each other, and share information, and yes, even data: you can’t stop the Internet. You can try to portion it off, sue its citizens into submission, limit how we use what we buy, or keep your content to yourself, delivered only through archaic physical mediums, but sooner or later, you’re going to have to face reality — the new reality:

In this generation, ideas, art and even thought itself flow unstoppably through the ether(net). The power belongs to the user now — not to you. Join the digital party, or get trampled on as you become extinct like the dinosaurs you are.

Update: Apple has now decided to pre-emptively drop NBC. Turns out they were asking for double the money for their shows, and Apple refused to be extorted.

BioShock Rocks!

I’ve long maintained that I’m not much of a gamer. I do own practically every vintage console system made since the early 90s, but for their nostalgic and collectible value — I honestly rarely play them. My favorite games are Red Alert II, Unreal Tournament (the first one) and Commandos (possibly the subject of a whole other post) — all well over 5 years old. I borrowed a Wii right after they came out, to test it out, but don’t own one. And I’m borrowing an XBox 360 right now (thanks Little Jon), mostly to have another HD device to hook up to my TV. But I rarely spend any time or money on games.

bioshock01_2.jpgHowever, since I have a 360, and since BioShock just came out, I had to try it. I do keep tabs on the technology world, and it was hard to miss the hype. Virtually every gaming magazine gave it a 10/10, proclaiming it the best game ever made. How could I not try it out?

FPS is not my favourite genre. The perspective gives me a headache, and I can’t play for very long. The only FPS (if you can call it that, because it bent a lot of game types) I’ve ever played through was Shenmue on the Dreamcast. Usually I play a level or two to get a feel for the graphics and gameplay, and that’s enough to satisfy my curiosity. BioShock hasn’t panned out that way. The game is so engrossing that the only reason I put it down tonite was that the XBox froze up and lost about 20 minutes of progress and I was too ticked off to play back through.

First of all, the graphics are a whole new level. I’m not big on graphics — there’s lots of boring games with beautiful graphics — but these are something else. The game is truly scary, because it feels so real.

And this is one game where the graphics truly serve the game play. There’s so much richness to it — you don’t have just weapons and ammo to manage. You have genetic modifications, called plasmids, you can collect and use very creatively to eliminate your enemies. You have money, Adam and Eve, each of which allow you to obtain additional resources. And you make morality decisions as you play that determine what kind of character you become, and even how the game unfolds (I only harvested one Little Sister, out of curiosity — I’m rescuing the rest!)

Finally, the story-line is really interesting. The game rarely leaves you stranded or grinding or wandering. Its not “on rails” and it doesn’t drag you through, but it doesn’t frustrate you either. It really is like playing through a really fascinating, really scary movie.

If you have a 360, you need to pick up this game — at least to rent. I doubt I’ll be able to finish it, but with my new-found free time, its been a lot of fun to play. Definitely an M for Mature though…

Blogging in the dark

Saturday night there was a big storm and we were both secretly hoping the power would go out so we’d have an excuse to play board games by candlelight. It did go out for about 20 seconds – nothing like tonite’s much less convenient or fun power outage. We’ve fed the boy, done our bathroom stuff and even read by candlelight over the past 2 hours, and the power shows no signs of returning. We heard sirens nearby which likely means some poor shmuck drove into a hydro pole.
Fortunately we have the iPhone to provide us with communication, music and even blogging. Here’s hoping I don’t have to shower in the dark tomorrow morning!

How-to: Deal With Customer Abuse Departments

At the start of July, Nic, Ben, me and my iPhone all headed up to Canada for a visit with the family. Little did we know that the iPhone crossing the border would trigger a bill for nearly $400.
We got that bill just as we were leaving for Canada a couple weekends ago, and fought with AT&T’s customer support department for the better half of that road trip, succeeding only in getting hung-up on twice. I shut the phone’s GPRS features off as we crossed the border this time.

Last week after successfully negotiating a refund from a failed attempt at moving the website, and feeling particularly triumphant, I called AT&T again, determined not to give up until I got our bill corrected.

337735343_5ea0f63d3d.jpgThe issue was that while in Canada we had been billed for GPRS roaming in Alberta. They had a page full of line items from two different cities in Alberta, totaling $200 in charges. We’ve never been to Alberta. The key to winning these battles is to frustrate each level of support until they’re willing to escalate you to the next level. Here’s what each level was like.

Level 1 explained to me that there’s no way for their bills to be wrong, and that I must have been in Alberta. I explained to him that Alberta was nowhere near Ontario, and promised him I’d never been there. He told me that it didn’t matter, as long as I was in Canada, their information didn’t need to be accurate — the bill was still generally right. We repeated this loop about a dozen times before he agreed to escalate me to a resolution specialist.

Level 2 explained that I must have accidentally gone by an Alberta tower while I was in Ontario, and that’s where the billing was coming from. He again assured me that there’s no way for their billing department to make a mistake — even though he agreed that the billing data was coming from a Canadian roaming partner, and he had no way to verify it. He was able to offer me a $25 courtesy credit and allow us a couple extra months to pay our bill. I explained to him that my bank statements could prove that I was in Ontario, thus disproving the accuracy of the bill, and asked if my next call should be to a lawyer. He agreed to elevate me to a manager.

Level 3 was a completely different experience. He did suggest that maybe I’d accidentally come across an Alberta tower while in Ontario, or maybe the tower was mis-named. I pointed out that Alberta is 2000 miles away from Ontario, and that the odds of coming across TWO mis-named towers was pretty slim. Apparently Americans have a very poor understanding of Canadian geography, because he put me on hold, possibly to confirm my distance claims, and then came back more willing to talk. I explained that our bank statements had us making transactions all over Ontario during the time we were supposedly roaming in Alberta, and he agreed that it would have been pretty impossible for me to hop over to Alberta in between transactions to use data services but since he didn’t have access to our bank statements, he couldn’t be sure he could believe me.
Finally, our break came with another manager suggested he compare our voice usage to our data usage. Sure enough, Rogers (AT&T’s Canadian roaming partner) had us making voice calls in Ontario at the exact same time we were supposedly downloading 7MB files over the Internet in Alberta.

When he realised this, he went from apologetic but not sure he could help, to totally on our side. He very quickly had the charges removed, and agreed with me that it IS possible for them to get bad data from a roaming partner. Unfortunately, he could come up with no way to make sure this doesn’t happen again. I suggested I could put my SIM card in a cheap phone without data-enabled, but unfortunately when the SIM enters a country, its up to the roaming partner to track the activity. So I’m not sure what the moral of this story is except this: Don’t give up! Escalate!

Each level of the process has a limited set of ability to help you. Their job is to try to get you to accept that limited help — don’t do it. Stay on the line, and keep asking for a manager, until your problem is resolved.