The site was up and down intermittently late this weekend for reasons I still haven’t been able to understand. At first I’d get either a timeout or a page that only contained
<html> <head> </head> </html>
Which is about as helpful as a blank sheet of paper. I was able to connect via FTP with no problem and looked over the file structure, but found no problems, so I turned off all WordPress’ plugins and changed the theme back to the default, with no change in status. After replacing the database via phpMyAdmin, I still got nothing, so I contacted the support team and waited. After several hours I got bumped up to tier 2 support, and a man wrote to me in broken English that he couldn’t figure out what was wrong, but restarted HTTP service, and suggested I look on my end. Magically, the site came back up at some point after that. I have no idea what was wrong, but my desire to leave that hosting provider and move to my favored company has gotten ever stronger.
I’ve been using a plugin called WordPress Database Backup, which saves a SQL dump of the database and gives you the choice of emailing it, saving it to the server, or downloading it directly to your computer. I’ve got it emailing to our server weekly, and it’s come in very handy at times like this. I’ve also got three other sites I maintain backing up the same way–just in case. As for site files, I’ve got an Automator script running a weekly file synchronization via Transmit, which keeps everything up to date.
The Mac Pro I got a few weeks ago was having some reliability issues. I was getting about 18 hours of uptime before it would decide to crash and reboot itself, so I dug around the Console and found that the memory was throwing errors constantly. I put some new memory in this evening and we’ll see how well it performs now. I also dug out a second 2TB drive and filled the last drive slot with it, so there’s a total of 5.5 TB of space on board. Let’s see how fast that 2 fills up.
Update: Uptime is 22 hours and counting, and the scheduled sleep/wake cycle is working.
While I was fooling around with that, I wiped the drive on an old iBook I had and set it up with a clean install of OS 9.2.2 so that I can run legacy software if need be; it was a challenge to dust off the cobwebs in my brain to remember how OS X worked with Classic, and it took some research. At some point maybe I’ll dust off the old hardware and do another laptop lineup.
Sadly, all of the laptops in that picture are gone; the Powerbook 100 and the 520 died years ago, the Pismo died after about 10 years of frontline service, and the iBook was sold to help fund a 17″ MacBook Pro.
So the Mac Pro I wrote about yesterday looks like it’s a done deal. Tomorrow I drop off a check and roll out a 44-lb. hunk of aluminum on a hand cart. I spent my short lunch break flattening the drive and installing 10.6 from a thumb drive, and updated that to the latest point release. Then I went to put Mountain Lion on it, but got stymied by its age; it’s too old to support 10.7 in any form, apparently. Which is kind of fucked up, because it was the most powerful machine they sold at that time. There is a workaround to install it, involving a new graphics card and some bootloading trickery, but I think I’ll pass on that for now.
Either way, it’s a better solution than the G5s we’re using now; it has 4 internal drive bays so I can consolidate a handful of external drives into one enclosure. It should be much more stable than the current machine and I’ll bet iTunes is actually functional in 10.6 (the one we’ve been using liked to corrupt its own database like a baby pooping its diapers), which means reliable audio streaming might be a reality again. We were using the G5s as print servers, because everything past 10.7 doesn’t support AppleTalk. This workaround allows us to talk to our ancient LaserWriter 4000N, which doesn’t support IP printing; I’d never thought of using HP JetDirect before.
Right now we have a 1TB and a 2TB drive working as file storage and backup, respectively; I’d like to buy a new 4TB drive and consolidate files spread out all over creation, as well as have some room to put our burgeoning video library.
And, with aluminum prices being what they are, I can gut one of the G5s and make the purchase price back by recycling it.
I received a medium-sized box in the mail this afternoon with a new Rickshaw messenger bag inside. Ever since pressing the “BUY” button last Wednesday I was nervous that I’d ordered the wrong size, especially after my blunder buying a large Timbuk2 messenger bag on eBay (large is huge, what I really wanted was a medium) now that I have a 13″ MacBook Pro for work.
The verdict: I think this is going to be perfect. It’s just big enough for the laptop, a Moleskine or two, my iPad, and the few other things I carry on a daily basis. It looks like it’ll also hold a DSLR lens-down without a problem, and the fit is just snug enough that a camera won’t bounce around in the bottom. I chose waxed black canvas on the outside (for a nice weathered look in the future) and what they call Saffron–a shade darker than primary yellow–on the inside. Because it was 40% off, I splurged on a waterproof liner (hidden between the outer and inner layer), the smaller interior organizer, and a laptop case. I passed outside clips, because I never use those on my Timbuk2 bags, and I hate having lots of dangly nylon straps swinging around everywhere. I like the way they integrated the strap with outer flaps so that the bag doesn’t fold in on itself when filled with weight; everything feels sturdy and solid. The shoulder strap is a little lighter than Timbuk2’s but I like the buckle mechanism better on the Rickshaw.
Plus, it’s custom-made in San Francisco.
At work, I inherited a gaggle of older Canon point-and-shoot cameras from the middle aughts, which are mostly useless for serious work. Recently I read a news item about CHDK and the gears started whirring. CHDK is an open-source project to extend the abilities of older Canon gear by loading new software via firmware update, including RAW support, scripting, motion detection, and manual control. I’d read about it a long time ago when I was still using my Canon G3 regularly, but was sad to find I that camera’s wasn’t supported. A quick scan of the list showed me I’ve got three viable cameras, so I followed the directions, had to use a workaround, and loaded one up. Within minutes I’d shot a RAW image and was editing it within Photoshop. It’s a wee bit clunky, but just to have RAW support and a way to script event triggers opens up some interesting possibilities. I’ve got a vague plan for a large box kite carrying a camera rig for the beach this year; we’ll see if I can pull it off in time.
I used a different utility, called Stick, to format the card and install the latest version of CHDK as bootable firmware, and it works flawlessly in the camera. More experimentation to follow.
My birthday passed with quiet family fanfare, which was just what I wanted this year: dinner with my ladies at Chick-Fil-A. Before you scoff, the sandwiches are good, the shakes are better, and Finn loves the playroom. Jen and I watched as she immediately made friends and crawled through the tubes, laughing. I’m fighting off some kind of sore throat so a quiet evening was just fine with me–we were all in bed by 10PM. Today has been no better so I’ve been drinking gallons of decaf tea with lemon; they have boxes of the stuff stocked at work.
Other than that, it’s been very quiet this week.
Now that I’m working with scientists and data and shit, I tend to be looking at numbers and figures a lot more than I used to. I got to thinking about my own thirteen-year project, this weblog, and how I might be able to mine it for some data. Using a feature of the widget I use to build the post selector at the bottom of the page, I was able to get WordPress to spit out a post count for each month. Using some nimble search-and-replace skills, I got the data formatted, into Excel, and then copied that into Illustrator to build a pretty graph.
As you can see, there’s some serious variation in there. Sidebar posts are included in the count, so it’s a rough outline of activity peaking somewhere in 2006 and averaging about 24 per month. Of interest is the high count of 63 in April of 2006 and the low count of 1 in January 2002 when I lost the file in an FTP hiccup. It’s a lot steadier in the last five years than I thought it would be, though, which is nice.
Next, I’m going to see if I can get figures on each of the post categories. Maybe I can find out the percentage of posts with photos vs. without.
I haven’t updated much here lately, due to the fact that there hasn’t been much time. Last weekend Finn and I made the Christmas pilgrimage to upstate New York, leaving Mama behind to try and catch up on a backlog of work and proposals. The girl and I had a great time, but we were both exhausted upon our return. I think it’s taken up until today for me to get caught up on sleep. The girls were able to deconstruct the christmas tree and haul the carcass out to the curb the other day, so this may mark the first time the county will have hauled it away as opposed to me throwing it next to the garage and dragging it to the dump in March. This weekend is earmarked for grocery shopping, cleaning, catching up on house maintenance, and two playoff games on Sunday.
I read up on some reviews of the new Mac Pro the other day, and an alternative solution to our storage problem presented itself: a Drobo is basically a 5-bay networked carriage for hard drives, which comes in at a much lower price point than a used Mac Pro on Craigslist. I’m ready to ditch the G5 in our basement, which has been balky and only offers two drive bays; Drobo offers Plex and FireFly compatibility so we can share our media to the AppleTV and to my shiny new Christmas present, a Roku3. Sometime in the spring, I’m going to pull the trigger and consolidate everything.
Life with the iPad has been tricky but workable; I’ve left my laptop home for the last week and a half, and there doesn’t seem to be too much I can’t accomplish on the iPad. Reading books is much nicer than the first gen Kindle. Netflix and Amazon Instant Video are slick; the fact that Spotify is now streaming to mobile devices for free is awesome. I’ve got a great VNC client for remoting to client machines, and Mint’s app is a bit oblique but usable. My big beef is with Yahoo for not offering a full-size Flickr app for the iPad, which feels like I’m still looking at tintypes by candlelight. WTF, Yahoo?
The biggest issue I have now is what my new photo workflow should be. I’m not taking a ton of pictures, but I’d like to take and post more as the weather warms up. With my laptop at home, there’s no easy way to edit and post DSLR pictures until I get home unless I do it on a work machine, which I’m trying to avoid.
I’ve had The Bones of What You Believe by CVRCHES and Days Are Gone by Haim on infinite repeat the last three weeks; obviously my tastes are changing again, in the absence of any good new rock or ambient albums.
I found out, quite by accident, that the maker of my current password vault application was purchased by Facebook some time ago and hasn’t been updating it since then. Password vaults are handy for capturing all one thousand online profiles the modern human needs to have in 2014; I say it’s better to have your banking login secure behind 256-bit AES encryption than on a Post-It taped to your monitor. I’ve slowly been searching for a better solution to having all my passwords available on each smart device I’ve got, and having something that can securely share them is key to the future, but now the need is greater.
After seriously considering 1password, I found LastPass, which is basically a browser plugin but which securely keeps passwords in an encrypted bundle and decrypts locally (so you’re not zinging your info all over the web). It has an iOS app available and the “premium” version is an affordable $20/year, which allows sharing between multiple machines and apps. And why is this so important, all of a sudden?
Firstly, I’ve got two laptops now. My trusty MacBook Pro is chugging along, and remains my primary machine for getting things done. Now I’ve got a laptop through WRI, which isn’t decked out as well as this one, but which has my work email and applications installed—something I’d rather keep off my personal machine. Sharing all of the passwords between two work machines is key to happy telecommuting.
Secondly, Santa brought me a shiny iPad Air this Christmas, the idea being to leave my personal laptop here at home instead of lugging it to and from the office every day. As long as I can access my personal email, passwords, VPN, and basic online accounts through the iPad I think I’ll be in fine shape. I’ve already loaded a ton of books on it, and I’ve got most of the apps I need set up.
Leaving my laptop behind will feel like cutting off my left arm, but lugging two laptops back and forth has been less than pleasant. The only thing I can’t figure out is how to get photos from a phone downloaded and posted without going through my work machine. But that’s a small problem.