Sign up for my newsletter to be among the first to learn of upcoming titles!

[tech] continues to have difficulties, my hosting provider, dropped my Web site on the floor last Thursday due to some server configuration issues at their end. This includes both my main author site and the primary feed of this blog at

It took them over two days to restore any service at all. This included some unhelpful emails lecturing me about the server configuration of my site, which they had configured. The initial restore brought my blog up to December, 2011. I opened a second ticket on that Monday, which was not responded to until overnight Tuesday. I am now restored to February, 2012. That means I am still missing hundreds of blog posts, thousands of comments, and months of updates to my Web site.

Given the dilatory response to the initial issues, and the multiple failures to resolve them, I’m going to have to move my hosting services. Which I can’t do until they get the whole thing restored, because I don’t have a local backup of all my WordPress history and am dependent on their performance at this point. Not to mention which I am mentally foggy and somewhat single-threaded from chemotherapy, which means this one more damned thing to deal with, and a damned complex thing at that, at a time when I struggle to maintain my basic responsibilities.

So fundamentally, I’m held hostage until they figure out how to fully restore me. And then I have to figure out how to move years of WordPress archives.


[culture|tech] Living in the bounded future

I’m just a little too young to be of that generation that took the Jetsons’ future seriously. Yet despite having for the most part grown up in the 1970s, I existed on a steady diet of 1950s and 1960s science fiction. I didn’t discover the New Wave until about ten years after the fact. So as much as I love the identity paranoia and dystopian pessimism and ingrown self-referentialism which came to be such a part of our field in those years, those trends didn’t really take hold of me during my formative phases.

No, I still remember optimism. I remember watching the moon landings with my Granddaddy Lake. I remember the unbounded future.

As so many of us have asked over the years: Where the hell are my jetpacks and flying cars, anyway? Instead we got MTV and Coke Zero. Was that really worth it?

Hell, yes.

Living in the bounded future has brought us mobile phones and GPS and fresh fruit in January and automated teller machines and email and the ability to form close friendship networks that extend beyond barriers of geography and class and race and ethnicity and nationality and even language. The bounded future has brought us so many wonderful things from Facebook to neonatal cardiac surgery. The bounded future has made life easier and more interesting.

A First World perspective? Surely this is. On the other hand, I’m a First World person. And one of the neat things about the bounded future is most of its benefits eventually transcend even those barriers. Microlending in Bangaladesh, mobile phone networks in the Amazon, cheap and effective medical tests for pervasive Third World diseases. These are part of the bounded future as well.

For my money, the single coolest thing about living in the future is realtime, interactive mapping on my smartphone. That’s my nomination for most disruptive and beneficial day-to-day technology. Think about what you did once upon a time if you were lost. You could be a block away from your destination, and have no idea. Even with a good map, you could be right where you belonged on a country road somewhere, and have no idea. An analog map can’t tell you where the nearest Mexican restaurant is or the price of gas in the town you’re passing through or how heavy the traffic is on the highway up ahead. Realtime, interactive mapping has made huge and subtle changes in how I think about moving through the world.

What’s your favorite part about living in the bounded future? What do you miss about the unbounded future?

[tech] The memory leak that was bedeviling my Macintosh

As some may recall, prior to replacing my MacBook Pro with my MacBook Air, I was going through a series of increasingly frustrating virtual memory errors on the MacBook Pro. These were difficult to document and almost impossible to replicate on demand, but always involved my morning prep of my blog posts.

Having finally run through the process of excluding one by one each piece of software involved, the culprit was TextWrangler. I’m now editing the blog posts in TextEdit, which is far less satisfactory from a feature/functionality perspective, but does not generate the performance slowdowns and VM errors.

This bums me out, because I like TextWrangler a lot. And I rather dislike TextEdit. So I’m now looking for a TextWrangler replacement. The obvious candidate is BBEdit Pro, but (a) I don’t really want to spend $50 on a text editor and (b) I’m afraid BBEdit Pro might share enough code base with TextWrangler to generate the same VM problem over time. So anyone with thoughts on a good text editor for Mac OS X, please do share them here. Meanwhile, I lump along.

[cancer|tech] Riding the sleep train, looking for my lucky stop

Yesterday was tough, thanks to that 1:30 am wakeup I never could go back to sleep from. So last night I took a Lorazepam at 5:30 and went lights out at 6:00 pm. Woke up about 4:30 this morning with a solid sleep behind me. The timing is, and feels, ridiculous, but it’s quite clearly what my body needed. Otherwise I was on track for another miserable day.

The world wasn’t particularly kind to me yesterday, either. I confirmed that my new MacBook Air got lost somewhere between the Apple shipping department and UPS. The missing package is now being ‘investigated’. Meanwhile, I’m out $2,000 worth of hardware and nothing to show for it. It’s not like Apple’s going to ship me another one until they find out where the first one went. I get to pay the price for their process failure (or, I suppose, possibly warehouse theft). On the plus side, the MacBook Pro seems to be back in more or less working order.

At the same time, the heater guy who came by to do my annual maintenance informed me that the condensor is cracked in my heater, and the unit is too old to get parts for. Suddenly spending all that money on a new computer looks like a real bad idea. I’ll be out another $2-3,000 in the next week or so. The joys of home ownership.

Having had a good night’s sleep last night, I’m hoping for a bombshell-free day to go with it. Maybe all my bad luck got crammed into yesterday.

[tech] Blogging from an undisclosed computer

I’m working on a Windows machine today. Where I have none of my bookmark lists, backfiles, blogging templates, etc. So grr.

Took the MacBook Pro into the Apple store at Pioneer Place yesterday afternoon. That was hard, on chemo I don’t do well in the afternoons. I waited half an hour before I could talk to anyone, well past my appointed time. And frankly, the guy was baffled. He didn’t listen very well to my descriptions of the virtual memory problems, and I don’t think he understood everything I told him. The problems, of course, would not replicate on the bench, despite appearing like clockwork here at home. They did find a battery problem (almost certainly unrelated to the VM issues), and I had an old problem with the case, so they kept the machine for hardware repairs, and supposedly some additional attention from a more experienced Genius Bar genius.

All in all, it was by far the least satisfactory Genius Bar experience I’ve ever had. Essentially, I have a problem which can both render the computer unusable, and lock up the boot cycle so there’s no way to get into it without specialized hardware and software. And the Genius Bar can neither understand the problem nor fix it. So what the heck do I do?

In a sense, I’ll be rescued by the arrival of my MacBook Air early next week. But this computer won’t be useful to me or anyone else (I was going to pass it on to [info]the_child and sell her old one, my MacBook from four years ago, but I can’t give her a computer that goes into VM hell every couple of days). Meanwhile, this chemo weekend I’ll be largely offline, except for maybe a blog post or two from the PC.

[personal|tech] Having issues

My apologies for the relatively light link salad today, as well as the lack of any more substantial post. Chemo brain seems to have infected my MacBook Pro, and I’ve spent most of my blogging time this morning dealing with rebooting to clear a virtual memory issue that seems to be able to persist even through a shut down cycle.

I’ve actually been wrestling with this for a while. It’s a subtle error, and only appears on occasion, so my trip to the Genius Bar a while back was pretty much a waste. But when the error does appear, TextPad stops being able to save, which screws up my blog post build. Restarting TextPad doesn’t help at that point. If I don’t reboot then, eventually I get a system error that the startup disk is out of space for virtual memory. Mind you, this is a disk with 100GB available. At that point, there’s nothing for it but to Force Quit any open applications and reboot. And the Mac’s attempt to save my working state means that sometimes I come back from the reboot with the error still in play. Which requires yet another reboot.

So far, attempted fixes include replacing the hard drive in case of a bad sector, upgrading to Lion in case of an oddball system incompatibility in the previous OS release, and swapping Web browsers, twice. The problem still comes back, on an apparently random basis. This morning’s outbreak was by far the worst yet.

Of course, here’s me in late stage chemo, when I am not at my troubleshooting best. It’s entirely possible this is some obscure form of user error. But I can’t replicate it, and because I can’t replicate it, I can’t even do the requisite troubleshooting to pin down the offending application(s) or Web sites. Meanwhile, I’ve been considering buying a MacBook Air, and I’m now wondering if going to all new hardware will allow me to simply walk away from the issue.

All of which is a very long-winded way of apologizing for the dearth of new content today. I lose enough quality blogging days to chemo brain. It’s frustrating to lose one to tech wonkery.

[culture|tech] Kauai and transportation

I was very much struck by something on Kauai. Here we have a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on which the transportation infrastructure of the continental United States has been fully replicated. The island is chock full of SUVs, pickup trucks, V6 and V8 convertibles, automobiles large and small, serving the 30,000 or so permanent residents and the transient population of several thousand tourists.

Kauai is about 30 miles wide, with half a dozen population centers. More than half the surface area is completely unroaded and unsettled. The longest single point-to-point drive one could possibly make is somewhat less than 100 miles. The total road net can be measured in hundreds of miles, or possibly the very low thousands. The highest speed limit on the island is 50 mph, and the average speed limit is probably well below 30 mph. Also, the traffic gets very congested quite easily at a number of chokepoints.

In other words, limited travel routes, limited destinations and moderate to low travel speeds. And gasoline costs about 150% of West Coast prices, all of it being barged in from elsewhere.

Which would seem to be precisely the use case for electric vehicles. Not to mention making Kauai a terrible place to operate and maintain the high-speed, long-distance vehicles known as the modern automobile.

Kauai would be a perfect laboratory for a seriously ambitious alternative transportation project. At its simplest, a project sponsor could offer a subsidized vehicle swap for extremely efficient automobiles like the Smart car, a move that if widely adopted would likely save a great deal of per-mile transportation costs to the residents, reduce wear and tear on the local roads with a concomitant savings on maintenance and repair for the County of Kauai and the local municipalities, and impact point source pollution on the island, thus improving and preserving the Garden Island’s paradisaical reputation.

More ambitiously, an island-wide electric vehicle infrastructure would be relatively simple to implement, compared to doing the same anywhere in the mainland United States. Or an island-wide hydrogen vehicle infrastructure. Or intelligent guideways for autonomous vehicles. Or something far more radical such as personalized ultralight rail.

Who could do this? The State of Hawaii. The Federal government. The major automakers. Universities with significant transportation research groups. A coalition of all of the above. It seems to me there could be a lot of latent motivation among the local population to participate. Kauai represents about the best set of controlled conditions you could find in the United States for such an effort. Thanks to the limited road distances and constrained travel patterns, the sacrifice of a large-scale transformation of the American automotive tradition would be fairly minimal.

I rather imagine much smarter heads than mine have seen this for years, and quite possibly are working on such a project. I can see all kinds of reasons why this wouldn’t work, would be a bad idea, would cost too much, etc. What I know about the Hawaiian economy and culture could fit easily within an old episode of Hawaii 5-0. Chances are quite strong that I’m full of it here in ways I don’t have the first clue about.

But still, consider the possibilities. Transportation transformation initiatives are proceeding fitfully all over the United States today. Kauai is such a perfect laboratory for trying them out in the real world. Wouldn’t it be interesting to take on those efforts as strongly as possible, in a place where the results would be readily apparent, easily analyzable, and create direct benefits across the board?

[tech] Email issues

I have received sporadic reports that email to my main address has been bouncing. Please use my gmail address if you have that issue and need to reach me, or message me via my blog.

[tech] Email housekeeping note

Over the past two weeks, my spam load has gone up approximately 1000%. As a result, I’ve had to tighten my mail filters considerably simply in order to preserve my own sanity. Where I used to scan my spam trap for legitimate messages from people I don’t normally correspond with, I simply cannot do so any more.

This means that if you are not a regular correspondent of mine and try to reach me by email, there’s a fairly good chance I won’t be aware of it. Please try alternate channels such as Facebook, blog comments or messages via mutual friends.

I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

[personal|tech] iPad 3G, the thank you

There are stories about things. There are things about stories. Sometimes these come together.

Some months ago, I mentioned very casually on Twitter than it was too bad cancer was sucking up all my disposable income, because otherwise I would have bought an iPad. (This was shortly after the initial announcement and well pre-release.) Cancer certainly has eaten my finances these past few years, both in terms of co-pays/out-of-pockets from my insurance carrier and indirect costs such as over-the-counter medicines, furniture, increased heating bills, etc. I wasn’t complaining at the time, just making an observation about the nature of my life.

Marti McKenna and took note of this and organized a whip-round among friends, fans, fellow writers and a few total strangers to raise money to buy me an iPad. After discussions with some of the folks involved, I will not name names here, much as I’d prefer to, but you know who you are. As do I. And you have my deep gratitude.

The importance here isn’t the iPad. That’s a just a thing, however cool it may be. The importance here is the respect, affection and love of the people around me. Unasked for, unlooked for, and delivered with a casual smile and some easy grace. It’s precisely that kind of emotional support that is getting me through cancer. Yes, medical science and some truly dreadful pharmaceuticals are leading the way, but those are just things, too, really.

It’s you guys. All of you. The ones who pledged money to Marti McKenna and . The ones who would have if you’d known or could have. The ones who drop by my blog every day to wish me well and check on me. The ones who pop around once in a while to see if I’m still pink and warm. And especially those who read, read, read. Read me, read my friends, read total strangers, read books, read stories, read on the iPad and the Kindle and the backs of cereal boxes.

You are awesome. You keep me going. My most especial thanks to Marti McKenna and , and to everyone who supported this little project. And my thanks to every one of you. I love you all.

[tech] iPad 3G, week two

So a bit of a summary of my continuing experiences to date with the iPad 3G.

First of all, the AT&T data is a bit wonky. This is unsurprising, as the iPhone service at my house is a bit wonky, especially as AT&T appears to have a lost a tower in my neighborhood sometime in the past few weeks and not yet gotten it back to service. On either device, I can watch the signal drop from 5 bars to ‘Seeking’ and back up to 5 bars without me touching a thing. This does not match my understanding of the behavior of cellular networks, unless the tower is dumping inactive connections to service other users.

That being said, 98% of my usage is at home, where WiFi applies. That has its own issues, as Comcast does something to the network every morning around 5 or 6 am, and occasionally substitutes carrier pigeons for IP packets during the day. I live next door to a small apartment complex, so possibly some script kiddies over there get periodically frisky and flood the data pipes in my neighborhood. Not the fault of the device, in any case.

I have yet to use the iPad 3G as a general reader, as Tobias Buckell has done, but that is coming soon. I’m looking forward to doing so. Unlike Toby, I’ve never found the iPhone a satisfactory e-reader, due to the screen size. I just want a bit more real estate. I’ll review the iPad 3G on that basis when time permits.

At this point, I have two other comments which don’t quite rise to the level of quibbles, but definitely color my view of the iPad 3G as a device so far.

One, the need to tether it to an iTunes installation really limits the market and deployment. Mother of the Child would be the perfect target market for this device, in terms of usability, but her interest in dealing with iTunes sync and maintaining a desktop computer simply to keep an iPad going would be somewhere south of nil. I recognize this is a constraint built into the iPhone/iPad OS, and I presume we’ll see some form of ‘cloud syncing’ in the not-too-distant future, for those that simply don’t want to deal with iTunes locally.

Two, I myself continue confused at fingertip level whether this is a iPhone replacement, a MacBook Pro replacement, or something in between. The last, obviously, when considered logically, but my inner user user hasn’t made up his mind yet. I really like the email interface on the iPad 3G a lot, for example, better than either of the other two devices in some ways. On the other hand, the browser limitations cripple the functionality for me in ways that continue to surprise me.

I stand by what I said before. It will take me a few months to sort out how to live with the iPad 3G, and some of what I discover will doubtless surprise me over time. I continue to be quite pleased with it, and am having a lot of fun.

One last note, I am having a few recurring sync problems similar to what was diagnosed as being a bad USB cable. Given the age and distribution of USB iPhone sync cables around here this may well still be the case. I need to do a little elimination testing, after marking and labeling the cables, before drawing any further conclusions. That in return will require my brain to defog a bit more from the most recent chemotheraphy episode.

For now, iPad 3G win continues.