Blathr Wayne Lorentz

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Showing blathrs with the tag “Tech.”

Try it

Friday, November 24th, 2023 Alive 19,204 days

A curious product listing

In spite of what suggests, Iʼm not sure that these optical disc sleeves are compatible with my iPhone.

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Sunday, November 19th, 2023 Alive 19,199 days

The Sears Tele-Games Codebreaker cartridge

I got a new video game today. Itʼs the Sears Tele-Games version of Atariʼs Codebreaker. Like most Atari and Tele-Games cartridges, its box featured fantastically imaginative art that had virtually nothing to do with the game.

Released in 1978, this was one of the early Atari 2600 games. It was also very unpopular. Codebreaker can be hard. It is visually unappealing. And it requires a weird controller. Half a century later, these factors combine to make it one of the more difficult games to find for sale at a price under $10, my maximum budget for buying Atari games.

While video games today — and todayʼs entertainment in general — are all about thrills and special effects, games of the 1970ʼs were more about thinking. Dopamine release came from exercising oneʼs brain and figuring out a problem, rather than killing things.

Think about the sorts of things that people did for entertainment in the past: Solitaire, cribbage, crossword puzzles, home chemistry sets, playing music, even needlepoint were all mental stimulation involving math and science. You donʼt think playing music is mathematical? Think fractions, baby.

When computers started to be used for recreation, they were perfectly suited for adapting the entertainment of the day into an electronic form. Codebreaker even includes the game Nim, a traditional two-player mathematical game that has been around for over a century. With an Atari in front of the Magnavox you no longer needed the extra player, as you could pit your gray matter against a computer.

The first games for computers involved numeric deduction, and Atariʼs Codebreaker brought that from multi-ton mainframes right into peopleʼs family rooms. It felt like The Jetsons was ready to happen any minute now.

Today, I suspect the number of people in the world playing Codebreaker for entertainment is close to zero. But in spite of all the so-called advances in video games, which mostly seem to involve explosions and killing things, people still love thinking games.

There are still cities like Chicago and New Orleans where you can jump into a game of chess with a stranger on the sidewalk. Or Tampa and Seattle, where itʼs not unusual to see an energetic round of dominos in a coffee shop. Or even recently when I was at sea, I was pestered to be the fourth in a rubber of bridge.

Mental stimulation games donʼt get a lot of attention, but they are alive and well. If they werenʼt, the New York Times wouldnʼt have paid millions to buy Wordle. Itʼs not a very long trip from Codebreaker to Wordle.

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Lock it up

Wednesday, November 15th, 2023 Alive 19,195 days

A crashed iPhone

And then there are days when you unlock your phone, and your phone locks up.

Except for the screenshot function, which for some reason still works.

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“ers 2!”

Sunday, November 5th, 2023 Alive 19,185 days

A display error on

Hereʼs something you donʼt see every day. Among the big technology overlords, Amazon isnʼt perfect, but EC2 outages aside, its flaws are rarely technical. This is one of those blue moon cases of a styling error on

This must be my lucky day. Maybe I should buy a lottery ticket, or something.

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Just MacBook; no “Pro”

Friday, November 3rd, 2023 Alive 19,183 days

If your computer is not able to run the latest version of macOS, and a program you bought through the App Store has a new version, the App Store program will helpfully allow you to download the latest version of that program in question that will run on your version of macOS.

Except that it doesnʼt work.

In the video above, you can see that I would like to update Microsoft Outlook on my Early 2015 MacBook. When I click Update, the App Store offers the sentence fragment “Download an older version of Microsoft Outlook?” But clicking Download does nothing.

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Quality is job 1.01

Friday, November 3rd, 2023 Alive 19,183 days

A text overflow on

Appleʼs support web site could use a little support.

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Suck it, Android

Thursday, November 2nd, 2023 Alive 19,182 days

A software update for a ten-year-old phone.

I know I pick on Apple a bit because of all of the technical flaws in its products. But thatʼs partly because Apple products are the ones I use most often, so Iʼm apt to run across problems with them most often. Itʼs also because Apple has enough money to make sure the sorts of things I run across donʼt happen.

But I also give credit where credit is due, and Apple should be given a laurel and hardy handshake for putting out a new version of iOS for one of my work phones: An iPhone 5🅂.

This is a phone that came out in September of 2013. Thatʼs more than ten years ago. When this phone was purchased, Pope Francis was still figuring out where the bathrooms were in the Vatican. I wonder if he brought one with him to pass the time.

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You have failed successfully

Tuesday, October 31st, 2023 Alive 19,180 days

A successful error message from

Itʼs not great that after making a purchase on Libertyʼs web site that instead of sending me to a thank you page, or an order status page, or even the home page, it throws an error.

Strange that the error code is 200, which in HTTP means everything is okie dokie. “200” decodes to “OK.”

But at least itʼs better than Harrods web site. Over there, I probably wouldnʼt be able to even see the error message, as it would be mostly obscured — drowning in a sea of jQuery-era slide-fade nonsense.

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Pardon me…

Thursday, October 19th, 2023 Alive 19,168 days

An error message from

Sad to see the New York Times web site stumble. But itʼs probably the nicest server error message Iʼve seen.

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Thatʼs unpossible!

Thursday, October 12th, 2023 Alive 19,161 days

An error message from Adobe Stock

But… itʼs the cloud! There can be no errors, because itʼs in the cloud so itʼs all made of magic unicorn fairy dust. Thereʼs even a picture of the cloud right there. Nothing ever goes wrong in the cloud!

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Web sight

Wednesday, October 4th, 2023 Alive 19,153 days

An error message from

I spent most of today planning a method to prevent my companyʼs web sites from going down in certain circumstances.

I feel ya, H.E.B.

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Technology canʼt make us eternally free, because technology isnʼt eternal

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2023 Alive 19,152 days

More and more, it seems that the promises of technology have fallen flat.

When we started building all of this, we really thought we were changing the world for the better. We had these visions that the work we were doing would usher in the Age of the Expanding Man — when people would be free to explore their humanity in new ways, while machines handled the grubby details invisibly behind the scenes. Steely Dan summed it up in the song International Geophysical Year:

On that train of graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
More leisure for artists everywhere

A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
Weʼll be clean when their work is done
Weʼll be eternally free, and eternally young

Clearly, that didnʼt happen.

We wired all the worldʼs computers together thinking that access to infinite knowledge would lift people out of poverty. Mostly, it made the already rich people even richer. Social media was supposed to unite people in peace and understanding. All it did was divide us into angry tribes. We transitioned our movies and music to digital versions thinking that would bring the best the world had to offer to the masses. Instead, most of it was lost; and what remains is controlled by a few giant corporations to be doled out in dribs and drabs, sanitized, censored, and selected by a computer to ensure maximum profit.

Technology canʼt make us eternally free, because technology isnʼt eternal.

People who enjoy old technology continually struggle with degrading discs, leaking capacitors, and the inability to find parts to fix their machines. And while their hassles are readily dismissed as problems of their own choosing — like someone who chooses to drive an antique car — everyone has family photos.

Which, at long last, gets to the point of this screed: The illustration below.

Viktor Knudsen
What should be Stephansdom in Vienna
What should be the Aragonese Castle in Ischia

The first image is a photograph of my grandfather. Itʼs over 120 years old, and looks nearly as good today as it did when it was taken.

The second image is what happens when I try to view a photograph I took with a digital camera 25 years ago. The bits have degraded to the point where itʼs not viewable, even on period-appropriate hardware. Few of the files on the disk show up anymore, and those that do are so full of errors, they canʼt be displayed.

The third image is what happens when I try to view a photograph I took with a digital camera just 10 years ago.

The printed photograph is still viewable 110 years longer than the photos from my Sony digital camera. And while there is a never-ending list of ways that the metadata can get stripped out of a digital photograph, the metadata for the printed photo is written on the back, and will be there for as long as the photo exists.

The folly is that we, as a society, have rushed to build a digital world without thinking about what weʼre doing. There is a persistent mantra of "technology is good" and "digital is better." But thatʼs not always true, in ways great and small.

What Iʼm trying to do in my life is to pick and choose which new technologies are worth integrating into my human world. Thereʼs no reason we canʼt live our lives with a reasonable amount of technology, but mixed with what we already have to enhance our lives, not to overpower our lives.

A light switch works every time. Asking Siri to turn on the lights does not. Therefore, Siri is a novelty, not an enhancement. So Iʼll turn on my lamp with my fingers, and look at my photographs on paper, while other people are free to stay locked in endless software updates and Googling solutions to the tech problems they have chosen for themselves.

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Secret errors

Monday, October 2nd, 2023 Alive 19,151 days

An inscrutable error message from macOS

The whole “unknown error” thing is really getting old. Older than the iPod Shuffle Iʼm trying to sync.

A trillion dollar company that lacks the Q.A. to let you know what went wrong.

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“Harmful if swallowed”

Wednesday, September 27th, 2023 Alive 19,146 days

A screenshot of a grocey list organized by macOS

MacOS Sonoma has a new feature that groups items in grocery lists by aisle, to make navigating the supermarket more efficient. Itʼs an interesting idea that needs a bit of help.

Based on what it put under “Beverages,” I think my computer is trying to kill me.

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Press the white button

Wednesday, September 27th, 2023 Alive 19,146 days

A user interface mess

One thing I really like about the DuckDuckGo browser is its consistency. For example, the way it consistently screws up drawing its own user interface. Almost every day I get an interface element that is black-on-black, or white-on-white.

I look forward to the day I see pomegranate-on-pomegranate.

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How dare you not throw your tech away

Wednesday, September 27th, 2023 Alive 19,146 days

An unhelpful list from Apple

In order to continue, Apple says I have to update all of my Apple devices. Apple also says that a bunch of my devices cannot be updated.

Why not just tell me that I cannot continue because some of my devices are outdated? Why the passive aggression?

I still use my 2013 iPhone 5🅂 today, as we begin to round the corner into 2024. Right now it's playing music in the library. It still syncs fine with iTunes Apple Music Music Finder.

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You should be used to being dateless

Saturday, September 23rd, 2023 Alive 19,142 days

An out-of-bounds date picker

I can mostly understand a date picker that opens up beyond the boundaries of its containing window, if itʼs on a web page. But Reminders is a native macOS program that Apple includes with the operating system. It shouldnʼt open a date picker off the edge of the screen.

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The Soviet bread line of password resets

Monday, September 18th, 2023 Alive 19,137 days

Apple says to cool your jets

You cannot be in a hurry to reset an iTunes password. Itʼs simply not an option.

Two-factor authentication is so last Thursday. The new hotness in account security is leveraging temporal annoyance.

When you try to reset an iTunes password, not only do you have to wait an unknown amount of time to complete the process, you have to wait an entire extra day first to find out how long the process will take.

In my case, 24 hours after I got this message, I received an e-mail stating that it would take seven days before I would be allowed to reset my password. So eight days in total in order to regain access to all of my music from iTunes Japan.

It makes sense that scammers arenʼt going to be that patient. Their business model relies on the ability to flip and abuse an account nearly instantly, before the owner even knows something is happening. Eight days isnʼt going to fly on the dark web.

And to be fair, thereʼs no song in my iTunes Japan account that is so urgently needed that I have to listen to it right at this very moment, so I find all of this slow-motion hoop-jumping to be a curiosity. I expect there are other people who consider it an outrage.

But, true to its word, exactly seven days after I received the e-mail from Apple telling me Iʼd have to wait a week to change my password, another e-mail arrived with a link allowing me to do so. It took 192 hours, but at least the process just worked.™

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Space wars

Saturday, September 16th, 2023 Alive 19,135 days

Conflicting views of space

One Finder window says I have 54GB available. Another Finder window says I have 168GB available.

Itʼs no wonder that Finder has been reviled by Macintosh users since the 1980ʼs.

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Think of the computers!

Friday, September 15th, 2023 Alive 19,134 days

A screenshot from inside an iTunes music library

Appleʼs iTunes software has a habit of upgrading the music in a person's computer every once in a while, without telling them.

But if you're the sort of person who occasionally looks through one's file system, you see it in action, because anomalies arise when automation is allowed to make changes to something as arbitrary as music.

In the screenshot above, you can see the directory that stores a copy of the Tori Amos album American Doll Posse.

Of note is the song “Fat Slut,” which has been upgraded to “Fat S__t.”

The music isn't different. Mrs. Amos still shrieks, “Fat Slut!” into the microphone. But Apple has thoughtfully sanitized the song's file name to protect the sensitive circuits in its modern computers that might become offended by the term.

Nobody tell Fat Agnus.

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Insert snarky title here

Sunday, September 10th, 2023 Alive 19,129 days

A worrisome financial transaction

I donʼt know that Iʼve ever allowed a bit of placeholder text leak into production, but we all make mistakes.

Still, youʼd think that Apple Pay would have a regex or something somewhere to prevent this sort of thing.

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Time flies

Thursday, September 7th, 2023 Alive 19,126 days

A lie from Wrike

I only clicked on the link to Wrikeʼs silly onboarding video because it promised it would only be one minute long. It was even in bold, so it must be true.

But like campaign promises and frequent flyer miles, this turned out to be a lie. The video is actually almost four minutes long.

I guess I should have expected this from the same company that only recently stopped sending out alerts with text randomly changing from Pacific Daylight to Pacific Standard time, and bogarts the web browserʼs ⇧⌘N shortcut for its own purposes.

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Peak nerd

Saturday, September 2nd, 2023 Alive 19,121 days

It took me a while, but I finally managed to buy each of the original cartridges released with the Atari 2600 in 1977.

The sticking point was Star Ship. It took almost a year for one to show up on fleaBay for under $50.00. My budget was $5.00. So when one finally appeared, I was all over that Buy It Now button.

To mark the occasion, I put them in a stack on the dining room table, and took photos which I then turned into i-device wallpapers. They look pretty good on my iPhone. I haven't tried them on an iPad yet, but I made them with plenty of space around so that they'll work in both portrait and landscape on an iPad.

iPhone X screenshot of Atari cartridges pile
iPhone X screenshot of Atari cartridges in a helix

You may notice that the screenshot with the cartridges arranged in a helix has squiggles where the time should be. This is because on weekends, I don't want to know what time it is, and iOS doesn't allow one to remove the clock, so changing it to a language I can't read is almost as good.

It's also not possible to remove the date bar, but I can replace it with the weather, which is less awful than seeing the cold, bony hand of time scratching across the top of the screen.

The original wallpaper files I created are here:

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Friday, September 1st, 2023 Alive 19,120 days

This is what happens when you don't validate untrusted input

So, if I set up an iCloud e-mail address, all of the e-mail that everyone around the world sends without an address will come to me? That doesnʼt sound like fun at all.

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Can't even spell googol right

Monday, August 28th, 2023 Alive 19,116 days

A screenshot of a borked Google Analytics page.

I always feel bad when a new company tries to make a big splash on the internet, and then has a hard time of it. I know how it is trying to do ambitious things with a small team and little funding.

In this case, it's a scrappy little startup called “Google,” and its product is called “Google Analytics.” As you can see, the web site is a disaster. Hopefully it gets some money and people to work things out.

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But I donʼt have Venmo

Monday, August 28th, 2023 Alive 19,116 days

A truncated e-mail notification

It looks like my meth dealer now does electronic billing.

Also, heʼs going to send me a bill tomorrow morning.

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Hopefully itʼs insured

Saturday, August 26th, 2023 Alive 19,114 days

Screenshot of an error at

Looks like some web developer at State Farm is having a bad day. Maybe I should call him a tow truck.

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Youʼll never blink

Friday, August 25th, 2023 Alive 19,113 days

A truncated instruction

All of the “in” devices are slowly blinking this season.

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Nes. Yo.

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2023 Alive 19,110 days

A confusing message from Adobe

Adobe canʼt decide if Acrobat is up to date, or not. I finally had to uninstall the whole suite in order to get it to start making sense of itself.

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Tuesday, August 22nd, 2023 Alive 19,110 days

An incorrect string

Somehow, I donʼt think this is right.

The tech industry would benefit from ditching “Move fast and break things” and segueing into “Attention to detail is a sign of quality.”

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Smoke ʼem if ya got ʼem

Thursday, August 17th, 2023 Alive 19,105 days

A macOS operarting system update in progress

The companyʼs InfoSec team insists that itʼs super important that I update my computerʼs operating system as soon as possible.

So, I guess this is what Iʼm doing at work for the next few hours.

† “Information Security”

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Thatʼs 11:16PM

Wednesday, August 16th, 2023 Alive 19,104 days

Something that didnʼt need to be a region-wide alert

Do you want to get people to disable emergency alerts on their cell phones? Because this is how you get people to disable emergency alerts on their cell phones.

But at least the police destroyed some innocent guyʼs entire house with a tank making the arrest.

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Thatʼs the combination to my luggage!

Wednesday, July 5th, 2023 Alive 19,062 days

Ever have one of those days when the I.T. department asks you for the password to one of its own machines?

And you have to tell the I.T. department that the super-duper high security password it assigned to a production machine is Password123?

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So, what good is it?

Saturday, June 24th, 2023 Alive 19,051 days

A Udamonic Scamp3 starting up

This weekendʼs project: Teaching myself FORTH on a Udamonic Scamp3 single-board computer.

My first introduction to FORTH was around 1984 with H.E.S.ʼ 64 FORTH, which everyone just called “Sixty-Forth” because itʼs easier to say and made us feel clever. I didnʼt get very far with it because the H.E.S. FORTH came on a cartridge, and I had no means of storing my completed programs. Not even a datasette. By the time I got my first 1541 disk drive, I had moved on to other things.

But I have an affinity for old programming languages, so when I ran across the Scamp on the internet, I ordered one right away. I didnʼt receive it right away, though. It was shipped from Australia via a start-up called Sendle, so the computer I ordered in March arrived at the end of June. Iʼm amazed that it works, considering it was packed in little more than a thin layer of bubble wrap, and mailed in a basic envelope, which had been torn open along the way.

By design, both 64 Forth and FlashForth on the Scamp are FORTH supersets. Programs being only semi-portable between platforms is considered a feature, not a bug, in FORTH. Still, all FORTHs conform to the same programming paradigms and seem to have 95% compatibility with one another. Much like computers in the 1970ʼs, when youʼd buy a generic book of BASIC programs at Brentanoʼs and then it was up to you to customize the code to fit your machine.

The default editing screen from 64 Forth on the Commodore 64
The default editing screen from FlashForth on the Udamonic Scamp3

Interestingly, the H.E.S. variation of FORTH seems more capable than the FlashForth that the Scamp runs. 64 Forth has over 500 words in its vocabulary, and comes with a split-screen I.D.E. method of interaction. The Scamp superset of FlashForth has just 425 words, and is designed for very bare-bones TTY output. No fancy ANSI windows here.

On the other hand, the Scamp can be powered off and when it's plugged in again you can pick up right where you left off. With any Commodore 64 FORTH, once you restart, you have to rebuild or reload all of the words you have previously defined. So while FlashForth isn't flashy, it's certainly more useful to use for a long-term project.

So what will I do with a 55-year-old programming language in 2023? Iʼm going to learn. Iʼm going to explore. Iʼm going to expand my ways of thinking and understand how things were done in the past so that I can do things better in the future.

Whenever I get a new piece of kit, Iʼm automatically challenged with ”What good is it?” I shouldnʼt have to answer that. Intellectual curiosity should be rewarded and saluted. Not everything is a start-up. Not everything is a business. Not everything has to make money. 50 years ago, nobody would have asked someone who does woodworking in his spare time, “How are you going to monetize that?” The notion would have been ludicrous. And, not surprisingly, the sort of people who donʼt understand intellectual curiosity are also the same group of people who spend their free time laying on a couch binge watching the latest zombiethon on the trendy streaming service of the day.

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Abraham Lincoln spins the hits!

Thursday, June 8th, 2023 Alive 19,035 days

Hereʼs my latest million-dollar idea.

Combine the power of audio deepfakes with the radio distribution capabilities of the internet to allow radio listeners to pick their own disc jockeys.

It came to me when I was pondering Appleʼs new assistive technology to allow people to respond to messages by typing the response, but delivering it in their own voice. Apple calls it “Personal Voice,” and itʼs coming to iPhones better than the one I have.

By combining Appleʼs Personal voice with the voice-tracking software already in use by radio stations, listeners could get not only the music they want, but also the presenters they prefer.

So instead of having to suffer through the affectations and vocal fry of the latest too-cool-for-school D.J. on Sirius XMU, with the push of a button, you could have Sluggo from First Wave telling you about Björkʼs new tour. Or, instead of the inaudible never-thee-care mumbling of a KCNV/Las Vegas classical announcer, you could have the clarity and diction of David Attenborough explaining the historical significance of Tchaikovskyʼs Dances of the Hay Maidens.

Iʼll leave it up to the radio companies and the announcers unions to decide how semi-synthetic D.J.ʼs get compensated.

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Dumb terminals

Wednesday, May 31st, 2023 Alive 19,027 days

I am both impressed and disappointed with macOS.

I set up a new user account so that I could telnet in to a macOS box to perform certain tasks that can only be done via telnet, and with a CLI.

Not surprisingly, in 2023, macOS doesn't come with terminal definitions for a TRS-80 Model 100. It's a 40-year-old machine, so it makes sense that I would have to build my own. Which I did.

But as I was doing so, I noticed that macOS still comes with terminal definitions for far older, and more obscure computers than the one I'm connecting to it with.

  • Altos machines
  • Amigas
  • Apple Lisas (natch)
  • 85 types of AT&T terminals
  • C. Itoh (I didn't even know C. Itoh made computers)
  • Commodore B-128s
  • HeathKits
  • I.B.M. computers running Aixterm in Japanese
  • Microbees
  • Minitels
  • Dozens of NCR terminals
  • Several types of Kaypros
  • Four types of Zenith machines

Granted, these terminal definitions are just part of the stock set that is packed in with many Unixes. But I still find it surprising that after a half-century, these files continue to proliferate, and still exist, even though the number of people who would use them is basically zero.

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Click on all of the things!

Wednesday, May 10th, 2023 Alive 19,006 days

A counter-intuitive dialog

Can you figure out how to close this error message dialog box? No, itʼs not by clicking on the red circled × that looks exactly like a close window control. You do it by clicking on the ellipses.

Good job, Microsoft.

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Go figure

Monday, April 10th, 2023 Alive 18,976 days

An anonymized stick figure on Apple Maps

Among tech companies, Apple has a reputation for being the tightest with protecting peopleʼs privacy. Apparently, that extends to stick people on road signs.

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How will I know that Iʼve searched?

Wednesday, April 5th, 2023 Alive 18,971 days search results

As a society, have we reached the point yet where web developers can finally stop putting “Results” at the top of search results?


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Even worse — Itʼs on Verizon

Friday, March 31st, 2023 Alive 18,966 days

An outdated Samsung thinking everything is just fine

Today, Apple released a software update for my iPhone 6, which came out in September of 2014. That means this latest software update is for a phone that came out 100 months ago.

I also pulled out my Samsung Galaxy S7 to see if it had a software update. Nope. It stopped getting software updates in January of 2021. That means it only got software updates for 57 months — about half as long as the iPhone.

Sounds like a good reason to avoid Samsung phones.

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Performance anxiety

Wednesday, March 29th, 2023 Alive 18,964 days

Me: “Oh, cool, my new work computer has a battery that lasts all day!”

Adobe Creative Cloud: “Hold my beer…”

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Friday, March 24th, 2023 Alive 18,959 days

A screenshot of Little Snitch

One of Appleʼs edge servers is called “Croissant.”

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Wait till you see what they did with your address

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2023 Alive 18,929 days

I told Pizza Hut I do not want text message updates about my pie.

Forty-four minutes later…

Thanks for completely ignoring my choice, Pizza Hut!

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Monday, February 20th, 2023 Alive 18,927 days

The activity light on an active TRS-80 Model 100 Backpack drive

The SD card floppy drive emulator I use on my TRS-80 has its activity light facing the wrong direction. So I drilled a hole in the case, and voila!

I wonder how many other tech problems can be solved with power tools.

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Theyʼre working on it

Wednesday, February 15th, 2023 Alive 18,922 days

An error message from Citibank

A mystery error on a bank web site. Thatʼs OK. Itʼs not like people trust banks with their money or anything.

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The CSS is 404, too

Monday, February 13th, 2023 Alive 18,920 days

A 404 message from Netflix

A web siteʼs 404 page is often the most neglected page of the site. Netflix wonʼt even waste CSS on it.

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Math = hard

Saturday, February 11th, 2023 Alive 18,918 days

A mistake at

Citibankʼs web site says my browser is not supported. It wants a minimum of Safari 15.2.

Iʼm using 16.3.

Is it too much to expect a bank to know how to count?

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Itʼs not even Shabbat

Thursday, February 2nd, 2023 Alive 18,909 days

An error message from B&H Photo and Video

Well, hereʼs something you almost never see: an error message from the B&H web site.

B&H takes its web presence very seriously, and is among the planetʼs biggest targets for criminals. But somehow the boffins on 9th Avenue manage to keep the fraudsters at bay, while maintaining a web site that is fast, complex, and fairly easy to use.

This error message didnʼt last long. Only a few seconds. Perhaps today is a good day to buy a lottery ticket.

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Squee the mechanic

Friday, January 27th, 2023 Alive 18,903 days

An error message from Carnival Cruise Line

You want to be mad because Carnivalʼs web site is needlessly complex. But who can be cross with a towel animal?

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A thorough review, Iʼm sure

Tuesday, January 24th, 2023 Alive 18,900 days

An error message from MediaTemple/GoDaddy

Yes. The error was doing business with MediaTemple/GoDaddy.

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Itʼs a major award!

Monday, January 23rd, 2023 Alive 18,899 days

What happens when you gamify education

It seems that I can do things.

Today I received an e-mail telling me that my Windows Server training has earned me a major award. Maybe not major. Minor. OK, itʼs a PNG.

Collecting these badges is the way nerds boast to one another these days. Kind of like the way certain birds will collect shiny objects to attract a mate.

According to the company that taught the class, I am now thoroughly stilled in the following:

  • Azure
  • Deploying And Configuring Azure VMs
  • Facilitating Hybrid Management
  • File Servers And Storage Management In Windows Server
  • Hyper-Virtualization in Windows Server
  • Implement Identity Services in Windows Server
  • Implementing a Hybrid Infrastructure
  • Implementing Identity In Hybrid Scenarios
  • Microsoft
  • Network Infrastructure Services In Windows Server
  • PowerShell
  • Windows Admin Center
  • Windows Server
  • Windows Server Administration
  • Marine welding and light submarine repair

I may have made up that last one.

A New Horizons certificate award declaration
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Donʼt sweat the details

Friday, January 20th, 2023 Alive 18,896 days

Silicon Valley tech companies gotta Silicon Valley. Amirite?

Apple has a new version of its HomePod device available. Much like most of its previous devices, itʼs built for people who live in the greater San Francisco area, where the weather is largely placid, boring and uneventful. In other words — entirely unlike most of the rest of the planet.

The web page about the new HomePod includes this footnote about its temperature and humidity sensors:

Temperature and humidity sensing is optimized for indoor, domestic settings, when ambient temperatures are around 15°C to 30°C and relative humidity is around 30% to 70%.

Well, 15°C is 59 degrees. How often do people let it get down to 59 degrees in their homes? All the time.

There is no shortage of basements in places like Green Bay, Minneapolis, and the entire nation of Canada where people have a basement that has been kitted out as a family room, or a den, or a home office and that remains unheated most of the year. One of Appleʼs scenarios for using the HomePod temperature sensor is that it can be paired with other HomeKit gear to automatically turn on a heater if it gets too cold. Great. Except that if your chosen temperature for activating the heat in your unused basement or attic rec room is below 59°, Apple admits itʼs not going to be reliable.

On the hot side, OK, itʼs unusual to have an indoor temperature above 86°. But Iʼve had it in my house many times when the humidity was low and I lived in the desert. Many days in the spring and fall when Iʼd have the windows wide open enjoying the warm breeze and low humidity, the indoor temperature would get to 86°. If the cat was sleeping, that was fine. Sheʼd eventually wake up and start complaining, and Iʼd have to close the windows and bring the temperature down to 80-ish for her. But thatʼs to be expected, since she wears a fur coat. If I didnʼt have the cat, Iʼd probably have the temperature higher. And Iʼm not alone. Thereʼs a reason millions of people retire to hot places.

The humidity range is oddly narrow, too. Iʼm sure that 30% humidity is bone-crackingly dry in Cupertino. In Nevada, itʼs a bit clammy. When I lived there, the outdoor humidity reported by the National Weather Service was regularly in the single digits. And both of my indoor humidity sensors almost always showed readings well below 30%. Both of them appeared to have the same sensor under the hood, since they both stopped reporting humidity at 10%. These werenʼt expensive high-tech scientific humidity sensors. One I bought at the Apple Store for about $100. The other came from the supermarket, and cost about ten bucks. But it was perfectly happy reporting humidity far lower than what Apple considers reliable for its equipment.

Living in the Bay Area, Apple employees canʼt possible envision indoor humidity above 70%, but guess what — thatʼs a perfectly ordinary occurrence in most of the southern United States, including Florida, New Orleans, and Houston — the fourth-largest city in the nation. According to my HomeKit-connected humidity sensor, the humidity inside my house has been over 80% five times in the last two months.

All of this continues a pattern at Apple of designing products that only work well in the very specific, very ordinary weather conditions of Silicon Valley. Things like iPod headphone cords that get brittle in a Chicago winter, and iPhones that shut themselves off in temperatures that are common for millions of people who live in desert environments.

Apple has the money, the resources, and the people to do better. Why it chooses not to remains unclear.

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Nothing is new

Thursday, January 19th, 2023 Alive 18,895 days

An advertisement for an augmented reality headset in the January, 1989 issue of Portable 100

Google Glass? Apple realityOS? Noobs all around.

Reflection Technology was doing augmented reality 35 years ago.

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The blue screen of lost sales

Wednesday, January 11th, 2023 Alive 18,887 days

Microsoft locking Microsoft out of Microsoft

Iʼve had bad days. But at least Iʼve never been a Microsoft employee that got locked out of Microsoftʼs system while demonstrating how great Microsoftʼs products are to a group of 50 potential customers.

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Well, thatʼs a problem

Sunday, January 1st, 2023 Alive 18,877 days

Unparsed custom HTML at Netflix

It must be interesting to work for a company big enough to invent its own HTML entities.

It must also be interesting when your boss lets you know that you didnʼt escape them, or parse them, or whatever and theyʼre showing on the public web site.

I presume that &NFi; is supposed to be parsed as <i>, and &NFi_; as </i>.

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♫ Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer ♫

Friday, December 23rd, 2022 Alive 18,868 days

MicroChess on a KIM Uno hooked up to a MacBook Pro

I almost beat a computer at chess today. Almost.

I've been playing chess against computers for four decades now, and have never beaten one. Not even once. Not even on “novice” levels. If a chess board had pieces more worthless and expendable than pawns, I would be one of those pieces.

But I keep playing. Atari 2600 Video Chess? Kicked my ass. Sargon Ⅱ on a Commodore 64? Took my lunch money and gave me a wedgie. Battle Chess on an IBM XT? Bought me flowers, took me to dinner, brought me home, kissed my hand and then didn't call me the next day.

Tonight I did something I have never done before: I managed to “check” a computer opponent.

The opponent was MicroChess on a KIM Uno, the modern-day incarnation of the old MOS KIM-1 machine.

The KIM did eventually beat me, but for once it wasn't the sort of Gulf War shock-and-awe defeat I'm used to.

I got the KIM because I nurse a fascination with the early days of computing, and because I found out that one can be built for under $20. That's another of my fascinations: Ultra-cheap computers.

My KIM Uno, happily letting me know that white pawn 0F moved from space 13 to space 33. I later housed it in a cardboard box

The KIM Uno is a good way to get a taste of what it was like to compute in 1976. But it's not a faithful reproduction. It's more like a tribute than a recreation. The KIM software runs on a miniature single board computer, and has been modified in ways that make a lot of concessions to the limitations of the Arduino side of its split personality.

There are a lot of web sites on the internet that talk about the Uno, but it's clear that the people who blog about this machine put the parts together, poked in about six instructions of 6502 assembly, and then moved on to other things. If they had stuck with the KIM Uno, there would be an extensive library of modern software available for it the way there is for other new models of old computers.

One sure sign that nobody has ever used a KIM Uno for anything other than a minor plaything is that nowhere on any of the web pages flogging it do the writers mention battery life. I surmise that none of them used it long enough for that to be a concern.

The Kim Uno's primary problem is that it lack expandability. One of the greatest assets of the original KIM-1 was that it could be expanded in many ways. You could add memory. Add storage devices. Add circuits and relays and printers and terminals and pretty much anything the hobbyist could imagine. The KIM Uno leans on the Arduino's built-in serial port, and that's about its only connectivity. But even that serial port is fixed at a speed and parameters that make it incompatible with a number of era-appropriate terminals.

There is an expansion port of sorts on the KIM Uno, but it isn't documented. There's a single picture on the internet of the KIM Uno driving a small OLED display, but no information about how to do that. And worse, the KIM Uno machine driving the display isn't even running the KIM-1 ROMs. It's being used to emulate a COSMAC ELF.

To summarize: unlike the KIM-1, the only thing the KIM Uno is good for is to play chess. But on the other hand, the KIM-1 cost the equivalent of $1,300 today dollars, while the KIM Uno can be had for less than $12 in parts. But with that reduction in price comes a reduction in possibilities. And the whole reason people got into computers in the 1970ʼs was because at the time, we thought the possibilities of technology were endless.

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Friday, December 16th, 2022 Alive 18,861 days

A lie from GoDaddy

At first, I thought it was bad when GoDaddy told me I would be unable to chat with someone in its Customer Service department for 2⅔ hours.

The actual wait time ended up being 19 hours.

Iʼll write that again so you donʼt think it was a typo: The actual wait time ended up being 19 hours.

I didnʼt choose GoDaddy for this project, Iʼm just fixing something for someone else. But I now have an idea why everyone Iʼve ever spoken with in the tech world says to avoid GoDaddy at all costs.

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Maybe it tastes like cheese?

Wednesday, December 14th, 2022 Alive 18,859 days

Odd H.E.B. search results

Tech people know that search is hard. But itʼs not this hard.

A search for “Cheddar cheese” at H.E.B. shouldnʼt show me mascara.

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404, yʼall

Monday, December 12th, 2022 Alive 18,857 days

An error message from the Legacy of Texas web site.

Legacy of Texas is the online store of the Texas State Historical Association.

Apparently, itʼs all hat and no cattle.

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Gotta <p>

Tuesday, December 6th, 2022 Alive 18,851 days

Some exposed HTML on the Dyson web site

Oh, the hazards of storing HTML in a database. You never know whoʼs going to SELECT it and squirt it on the screen unparsed.

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Benin to shop

Monday, December 5th, 2022 Alive 18,850 days

The Fortnum and Mason account settings system

It seems strange to me that when filling in your personal information on the Fortnum and Mason web site that the default telephone country code is +229. Thatʼs Benin, all the way in Africa.

It would make sense for the default country code to be +44, since itʼs a British department store. Or maybe the country codes could be sorted numerically, so itʼs easier to find the one youʼre looking for. Or perhaps use the country code of the customers who generate the most revenue for the store, whatever number that may be.

But I doubt that the people of Benin buy more F&M stuff than any other country.

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And the price hasnʼt changed, either

Friday, December 2nd, 2022 Alive 18,847 days

A screenshot of the film Trading Places

In the 1983 movie Trading Places, Don Ameche can be seen reading a Wall Street Journal. The back page has an ad for the Apple ][ and Apple /// with the line “The first problem they solve is what to give for Christmas.”

Thatʼs just as true today, 39 years later, as it was then.

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Number Five is alive

Thursday, December 1st, 2022 Alive 18,846 days

A robot wandering around Houston Methodist Hospital

There seem to be an awful lot of robots around these days.

Iʼm not sure if itʼs a Houston thing, or a big city thing, or just the state of the world in which we live today. But there are an awful lot of robots around. In the hospitals, in the malls, in supermarkets, and even running around on public sidewalks.

Many of them have cone heads. I wonder what would happen if I started putting Santa hats on them as I pass by.

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Say what?

Wednesday, November 30th, 2022 Alive 18,845 days

News anchor on WGN-TV: ”Thank you, Terry Savage.”

The HomePod across my living room: *bing* Hi there!”

I guess my HomePodʼs name is Terry Savage.

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Saturday, November 26th, 2022 Alive 18,841 days

Mr: “Hey, Siri, add pretzels to my groceries list.”

Siri: “Who is speaking?”

Me: “Wayne”

Siri: “Sure. Here's home music picked just for you.”

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Friday, November 25th, 2022 Alive 18,840 days

It's called a “tech stack” because of how easily it falls over.

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Restart the restart

Friday, November 25th, 2022 Alive 18,840 days

An error message from BetterTouchTool

You know your software is flaky when the command menu includes an option to restart the program when it starts misbehaving.

You know your software is really flaky when you build an entirely different program to fix whatever it is that happens that prevents the main program from restarting itself.

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Whatʼs a DVD?

Tuesday, November 15th, 2022 Alive 18,830 days

An error message on the Netflix web site

Netflix is one of the largest media companies on the planet. If it canʼt keep its web site from eating itself, what chance do I have?

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Fluff and fold

Sunday, November 6th, 2022 Alive 18,821 days

The header from the Potter Country Storeʼs web site

While I appreciate the Potter Country Store being creative with its web site, I donʼt think a laundry basket is quite the right icon for a virtual shopping cart.

Unless they use laundry baskets to do their shopping in Schulenburg, Texas. You never know. People in Pennsylvania call shopping carts “buggies.”

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Itʼs the only way to be sure

Thursday, November 3rd, 2022 Alive 18,818 days

A screenshot of macOS offering an upgrade to macOS 13/Ventura

Upgrading macOS on a headless Mac is an iffy proposition. The last time I did this, I ended up nuking the whole machine and restoring from a backup.

If it works, Iʼll go across the street and buy a lottery ticket.

30 minutes later…

The macOS installer locked up before even starting.
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She just wants to help

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2022 Alive 18,817 days

Annie ignores the computerʼs “Rub out” button, and does it herself

Itʼs O.K., Annie. I have a button to do that.

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Yes, I mean no

Saturday, October 29th, 2022 Alive 18,813 days

The new checkmark control in Appleʼs Stocks program

Hereʼs an odd design choice. In macOS 13/Ventura, the Stocks program allows you to add a stock youʼre viewing to your watch list. To do that, you press the + button. To remove a stock from your watch list you press the checkmark button.

In my lifetime, a checkmark has always meant something along the lines of “yes” or “confirm” or something else affirmative. Using a check to remove something — an inherently negative action — is counterintuitive to me.

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Hold my place

Friday, October 28th, 2022 Alive 18,812 days

iPadOS 16 canʼt find an icon

iPadOS 16 may not be quite ready for prime time. At least not the part of it that only shows an icon placeholder graphic when you try to do math with it.

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Try a Clié

Thursday, October 27th, 2022 Alive 18,811 days

The University of Houston/Downtown web site

I know that Iʼm not perfect. I know that while I think my web sites work on every device, thereʼs probably a configuration out there on which they fall over. But the University of Houston/Downtown really has no excuse for this.

How is it possible for an organization to put out a public web site in 2022 that doesnʼt work on mobile phones? Itʼs bad enough that this page from UH/D is cut off on the right side, but there is no way to even scroll to the right to see whatʼs missing! And this is on a recent iPhone, not some obscure open source homebrew kit.

I preview every single web page I build for desktop, tablet, and two mobile phones. Every one. Sometimes dozens each week.

The University of Houston/Downtown brags that itʼs the second-largest university in Americaʼs fourth-largest city. Surely, someone on campus must have a smart phone to test with.

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How about “An unknown error occurred?”

Wednesday, October 26th, 2022 Alive 18,810 days

iOS gives an inscrutable error message

Thanks, iOS 16. Can you be a little more vague?

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Apple Maps FTW

Wednesday, October 26th, 2022 Alive 18,810 days

Store hours at CVS

The sign outside this CVS says the pharmacy opens at 7:00am. I showed up at 8:00am, because thatʼs when Apple Maps says the pharmacy opens. Guess which one is right?

Holy shit, itʼs Apple Maps!

I walked into the store at 7:57am, sat in a chair by the pharmacy, and the metal security shutters rolled up at exactly 8:00am. Score one for the massive tech company.

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Just call

Tuesday, October 25th, 2022 Alive 18,809 days

Conflicting information from Apple Maps

The Marberger Farm Antique Show is permanently closed, according to Apple Maps. Itʼs also open for business, according to Apple Maps.

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The ants got it

Tuesday, October 25th, 2022 Alive 18,809 days

macOS Software Update showing the emergency backup operating system icon

When something goes wrong and macOS canʼt find the correct icon for an operating system update, it uses a paper plate with “mac OS” written on it.

Now you know.

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Koop your money

Monday, October 17th, 2022 Alive 18,801 days

Amazon Music playing the wrong song

Another day, another technology that fails to live up to its billing. This is a familiar one:, and its Amazon Music service.

Today I tried to play the album Koop Islands by the band Koop. Except that I canʼt.

Whenever I press the play button on one of the album's songs, Amazon Music plays something other than the song I requested.

I clicked on Koopʼs song Come to Me and it played the song In the Morning by Natural Self.

I clicked on Koopʼs song Koop Island Blues and Amazon Music played the song Ode to Billie Joe by Nicola Conte.

If Amazon canʼt handle something as simple as playing music, maybe I shouldnʼt let it store my credit card information.

Amazon Music playing the wrong song again.
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Is it Svørjfunbsn already?

Monday, October 17th, 2022 Alive 18,801 days

A confused iPhone lock screen

Today is Monday, October 17. My iPhone wants to tell me that in several languages, all at once.

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Not Sony; the other M2

Saturday, October 15th, 2022 Alive 18,799 days

Progress bar from Handbrake

If youʼre able to rip a DVD at over 800 frames per second on a laptop, you may have an M2 MacBook Pro.

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“I shouldnʼtʼa done that”

Friday, October 14th, 2022 Alive 18,798 days

A tribute to actor Robbie Coltrane in the CARROT³ app

One of the problems with getting my news from newspapers is that occasionally, I get the news from the weather app.

“No good sitting worrying about it. Whatʼs coming will come, and we’ll meet it when it does.” — Hagrid
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Thursday, October 13th, 2022 Alive 18,797 days

Duckduckgo showing results for India, even though I searched for America

I guess that by “America,” Duckduckgo thinks I mean “India.”

Some day I hope to live in a world where search engines search for what I ask, and not for what they feel like showing me.

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Not yours. Canʼt has.

Tuesday, October 11th, 2022 Alive 18,795 days

Amazon Music stating that music that it can no longer play some music that it used to play

Streaming media is one of the many areas of technology that has failed to live up to its hype.

Streaming services use vague marketing words promising “unlimited” this and “endless” that. But the seldom-acknowledged fact is that if you rely on streaming music services, the music you love could just disappear tomorrow with no notice, or recourse. Thanks for the money, donʼt let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

Just like how newspapers publish lists of whatʼs going to disappear from Netflix at the end of the month, streaming music also gains and loses music and artists regularly.

The screenshot above is Amazon Music telling me that it no longer has any songs by Comsat Angels. It knows Comsat Angels. It used to have Comsat Angels music. But not today. If you love Comsat Angels and give money to Amazon Music, youʼre out of luck.

Streaming music is the same thing as renting music. You donʼt own it. It can be taken away from you at any time.

Itʼs similar to when Microsoft abandoned its e-book store and millions of people lost the millions of books they thought they owned. A digital librarian sneaked into their homes in the middle of the night, emptied their shelves, and left behind a note reading, “Didnʼt you read page 640 of the EULA? You only rented these books. Sucker.”

This is all fine if all you care about is whatever is trendy over the last 48 hours. But people connect to books, movies, and especially music emotionally. Thatʼs why people create music. And to have those emotions yanked away from you is going to be hard on people once they realize that the things they once loved have disappeared and they didnʼt know it was going to happen.

As for the Comsat Angels, Iʼll hit the local record stores to find what Iʼm looking for. Then Iʼll own it. For real and forever.

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Mass hysteria

Monday, October 10th, 2022 Alive 18,794 days

A series of e-mails from Walgreens that I ignored until someone was at my front door

I spend too much time pointing out the shortcomings of modern technology. Thereʼs a reason that Tech and Fail are among my most populated blathr tags.

Today, however, Iʼd like to point out what, on the surface, looks like a tech success story. But at a deeper level is the success of a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer to adapt to changes in society in order to — literally — deliver better than a tech company did.

It started a couple of days ago, when I ordered something medical from In general, I donʼt buy anything that goes on or in a living being from Amazon. Between counterfeits, people selling used items as new, and a constantly-growing list of other reasons, relying on Amazon just isnʼt safe anymore. When your company canʼt even prevent selling bogus copies of books, you have a problem.

In this case, however, I ordered from Amazon because the medical thing I needed was not available from any of the CVS or Walgreens stores that I can reach, and purchasing from Walmart meant waiting two to three weeks for delivery. Walmart used to be safer than Amazon, but has recently decided to trod the same road to unreliability by embracing unknown, unverified, and dubious independent sellers.

What Amazon delivered was clearly not suitable. Instead of being in branded packaging, the item was in a Zip-Loc bag. Legitimate medical items arenʼt packaged in consumer baggies. Legitimate medical items are also not labeled by hand in ball-point pen. And they also donʼt spill their contents during shipping, unless they are seriously mishandled. The box that the item arrived in was in fine shape, and the medical item sufficiently padded.

Exasperated, I went to the CVS web site to see if perhaps the item was back in stock my local store. The CVS web site would not function. So I tried Walgreens. Except, this time instead of specifying a store that I can get to easily by train, I let the Walgreens web site pick one. And it did a splendid job.

The item I needed was in stock at a Walgreens in an area I would never think to travel to. So I put two in my cart, selected “Same day delivery” and went back to reading my New York Times.

Before I could finish the International section, there was a guy dropping a paper bag on my doorstep.

I checked my e-mail and found that the time from when I placed my order online until Walgreens notified me that my order was ready to be delivered was four minutes. Four minutes. It was picked up minutes after that, and delivered to me straight away.

The total time from when I placed the order to when I received my Walgreens order was 22 minutes. For an item that I couldn't get at a drug store near me, and that Amazon sent a counterfeit of.

Yes, I had to pay $3.99 for the delivery. But the item was a dollar cheaper at Walgreens than at Amazon, and I ordered two of them. So the cost difference was $1.99. More importantly — I got what I paid for.

Walgreens is better than Amazon. Man bites dog. The sky is green. Everything the tech bubble has been preaching about the death of brick-and-mortar is wrong.

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Monday, October 10th, 2022 Alive 18,794 days

A screenshot of the Microsoft Azure price calculator

The header graphic for Microsoft's Azure pricing calculator reads “HELLO.”

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Curiouser and curiouser

Monday, October 10th, 2022 Alive 18,794 days

An error message triggered by asking Microsoft to stop selling my personal information

Funny how Microsoft has no problem at all automatically opting me in to sharing my personal information with its “partners” within four seconds of me creating an account. But if I try to opt-out, it suddenly canʼt cope.

If a simple toggle of a button can bring Microsoft to its knees, why would I trust it with anything at all? Is this the power, resiliency, and scaleability of the masterful Azure “cloud” its always talking about?

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You get a sticker! And you get a sticker!

Monday, October 10th, 2022 Alive 18,794 days

Ooh! Teacher gave me a sticker!

It used to be said that learning is its own reward. Now itʼs all about the stickers.

The company that taught me the fundamentals of managing Microsoft Azure servers has sent me a sticker to confirm that I understand the fundamentals of managing Microsoft Azure servers. Well, not a real sticker. A virtual sticker. So it doesnʼt really stick to anything except this web page.

Iʼm not sure that making education a game is a good idea, especially for adult continuing education, where weʼre all supposed to be adults and taking these classes to improve ourselves. It seems to me that “gamifying” education only adds incentive for people to game the system. Like back in the 1980ʼs when we used to trick the Scan-Tron machines into marking every answer correct using a sewing needle. Good times.

At least I have a series of ones and zeroes that I can show a potential employer so they know that I understand (according to the certificate):

  • Availability
  • Azure
  • Compliance
  • Fundamentals
  • Management
  • Microsoft
  • Monitoring
  • Security
  • Services
  • Solutions
  • Understand Azure Concepts

Also, it states that I have been trained in “and Cost Management.” Perhaps someone at New Horizons should take a class in proofreading before publication.

Totally un-forgeable credentials
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♫ Life on Mars ♫

Monday, October 10th, 2022 Alive 18,794 days

Badge? I donʼt need no stinkinʼ badge.

Today the New Horizon online professional education organization sent me an e-mail telling me I could claim my badge. So, here it is.

What does this badge do? Not much. Itʼs supposed to be a verification that I took New Horizonʼs online classes, and document that I have awesome Python skills. Chicks dig documented Python skills like:

  • Deal with Exceptions
  • Declare and Perform Operations on Data and Data Structures
  • Define Use Functions
  • Manage Files and Directories
  • Programming
  • Python
  • Write Conditional Statements and Loops
If itʼs on the internet, it must be true

Hopefully no employer takes these little PNG files as verification of anything. But considering the way personnel departments are so overworked, understaffed, or even outsourced these days, for my next employer, I present this totally legitimate certification from Mars Academy that I am an accomplished terraformer and hyperspace navigator, grade: “Superawesome.”

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Your call is very important to us…

Monday, October 3rd, 2022 Alive 18,787 days

“This call is being recorded for quality assurance.”

Really? Me, too. Same reason.

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Saturday, October 1st, 2022 Alive 18,785 days

H.E.B. notifying me that my groceries will arrive in 17 minutes

When H.E.B. says the grocery delivery person is 17 minutes away, thatʼs how I know he's standing outside my door unloading his cart. It's always exactly 17 minutes. I get the text message, look for the cat acting up, and can see the shadow of the delivery person outside my door.

Consistency is a good thing. And “consistently wrong” is a type of consistency, right?

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Marching on

Friday, September 30th, 2022 Alive 18,784 days

An x-ray backlight cabinet in a doctorʼs office

Since x-rays are all digital now, it looks like the old x-ray backlight cabinets are being repurposed as message boards.

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Break a leg!

Friday, September 30th, 2022 Alive 18,784 days

An error message from Houston Methodist Hospital's Epic system

Houston Methodist Hospital has eighty-brazillion dollars and ninty-brazillion employees. If it canʼt keep its webview from breaking a leg, what am I supposed to do?

Also, someone should fix that grammar. It's probably Epicʼs default, but that doesnʼt make it right.

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Thanks for nothing

Thursday, September 29th, 2022 Alive 18,783 days

Apple Maps showing me that the local American Express office is permanently closed

Dear Apple Maps,

Please stop showing me places that are “permanently closed.” I know the pandemic ruined everything. Youʼre not helping me find whatʼs left.

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Warm fuzzy logic

Wednesday, September 28th, 2022 Alive 18,782 days

A high temperature warning from my iPhone

It's nice that iOS 16 lets people know the phone is too hot when it does things. It used to do things, but not tell you.

When I lived in the desert, just having an iPhone in your pocket or on a table could sometimes cause the phone to turn itself off. If you were lucky, you'd see something very quickly appear on the screen about “Entering thermal shutdown” or some such. A minute later, you were out in the desert without a working phone.

Apple, and most tech companies, build their products for the environment where Apple, and most tech companies, are located — San Francisco. When I talk to tech people who work at these companies, sometimes they simply cannot wrap their brains around weather conditions that are commonplace elsewhere.

Another example is iPhone wired headphones. Theyʼre made with plastic that gets brittle in the cold. Of course, when youʼre bundled up against the cold is when you need your headphones the most. That was how I learned about Bluetooth headphones, and got a set of Sony headphones for use with my SonyEricsson M600c when commuting on the CTA in the middle of the night during Chicago winters. Apple wouldnʼt make its own wireless headphones until over a decade later.

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Still better than “John Rambo”

Tuesday, September 27th, 2022 Alive 18,781 days

Max Ice mode engaged on a KitchenAid refrigerator

“Max Ice” is my 80ʼs action hero stage name.

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Nerd alert!

Sunday, September 25th, 2022 Alive 18,779 days

My newly relabeled Harmony cartridge, hard at fun in my Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade

Today I decided to make a Sears-accurate label for my Harmony cart.

If you're not a retro video game nerd, some of those words may not make sense. To elucidate:

  • A Harmony Cartridge is a device that can be plugged into an 1970's-era Atari 2600 video game machine. Data files can then be loaded onto an SD card, and the SD card inserted into the Harmony cartridge so that you can play many different video games without having to swap cartridges all the time.
  • In the 1970's, Sears licensed the Atari 2600 and put out its own version, calling it the Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade. This is the machine that I own.
  • Sears also licensed Atari's video games for the machine, and sold them under its own Sears Tele-Games brand
  • Sears was notorious for changing the names of Atari games. Sometimes because the name that Atari chose for its 2600 game was the same as one that Sears used for an earlier video game machine. Sometimes just because. Sears was this massive company that built America's tallest building and had its own ZIP Code, so renaming a bunch of video games was no big deal.

The Harmony cart comes with a label that doesn't look like an Atari label, or a Sears label, so it kind of ruins the look of the machine. In fact, there's no label on the end at all. That's because that's where you jam the microSD card into the cart so you can play your games.

I found some fonts on the intarwebs and decided to teach myself a bit of Affinity Photo. The result is pretty good. It's far from perfect, mostly because I couldn't find a font that really matches the Sears font. Which makes sense, since Sears was a big enough company to have its own font artists.

On the left is a Sears Speedway II cartridge that my wife bought for me at the Charleston Antiques Market. In the middle is my invented label printed on plain paper. On the right is the new glossy label in situ.

Bauhaus appears to be the closest font, and there are hundreds of Bauhaus-inspired fonts available for free download on the internet. Sadly, most of them are corrupt, incomplete, or worse. It seems that the people who run free font web sites just copy files from one another, and don't bother to verify that the font actually works.

For the green text, I found a generic seven-segment-display-inspired font that's almost correct, except for the middle pointy bit of the capital M.

I printed out the label on glossy photo paper, which looks nice, but isn't truly accurate. To be accurate, it would be on matte label stock, sun faded, smeared with peanut butter, and have the corner peeled up a bit.

On the left is a Sears Speedway II cartridge. On the right is the new glossy end label on my Harmony cart.

Since Sears was in the habit of renaming so many games, I decided to change the name of my Harmony cart to "Super Multi-Cart." The name just popped into my head.

Because the microSD card sticks out of the end of the Harmony cart a bit, the label doesn't lay flat. I haven't decided how to address this. My options are:

  1. Use an X-Acto knife to cut a tiny square from the label for the SD card to poke through.
  2. Shave the plastic off of the end of the microSD card so it doesn't stick out so far. I'll have to look into if this can be done without ruining the electronics inside.

If you're into this sort of thing, here are the Affinity Photo label files I made, so you can print your own, or improve upon what I've done:

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Kern this

Saturday, September 24th, 2022 Alive 18,778 days

Ordinary human being: “What's the longest day of the year?”

Webdev: “In which font?”

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I have plenty of credentials

Thursday, September 22nd, 2022 Alive 18,776 days

A FortiClient error message with bad grammar

“Insufficient” means “not enough,” it doesnʼt mean wrong. “Incorrect” is closer to what FortiClient is trying to say. This is why tech companies should hire a proofreader for anything that leaves the building, even if only on a contract basis. It makes you look amateur, and in the case of this security app — insecure.

Also, if you use “credential(s),” rather than just counting the number of credentials and using the correct word, thatʼs just lazy.

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Ask what you mean

Thursday, September 22nd, 2022 Alive 18,776 days

Microsoft Teams asking how the call quality was

The call quality was awful. The organizer wasn't prepared, peopleʼs dogs kept barking, and I ran out of coffee. One star.

Oh, you mean how was the connection quality? Why didnʼt you ask that, Microsoft Teams?

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Still better than “Remington Steele”

Tuesday, September 20th, 2022 Alive 18,774 days

“Cache Update” is my 80ʼs action hero stage name.

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Still better than %NaN%

Saturday, September 17th, 2022 Alive 18,771 days

Bad data during iOS 16 setup

I guess someone on the iOS 16 team at Apple didnʼt check for NULL before shoving the date data into the string formatter. The lesson is, of course, that while you never trust external data, sometimes you can't trust internal data, either.

Still, Apple is the single largest company on the planet right now. If it canʼt do software, what chance do I have?

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Program it again, SAM

Thursday, September 15th, 2022 Alive 18,769 days

Creative Computing, May-June, 1978, page 28

SAM76 was one of many computer languages that came out in the 1970ʼs that promised to be the “next big thing,” but failed to gain traction.

It looks a bit like AP/L, with its tight syntax, but was meant for text manipulation like Lisp.

I haven't found a SAM76 interpreter to play with in 2022, so here's an example of what a SAM76 program would look like, from the May-June, 1978 issue of Creative Computing that would take a number from the terminal input, and uses recursion to print out the factorial of that number.


I'm no SAM76 expert, but I think there's a typo in this listing. I think the !%ii… is actually supposed to be !%is… to retrieve an “input string” from the terminal. But I'm happy to be proven wrong.

As you may have guessed from the ten slashes, this language is all about nesting commands. Amusingly, it doesn't matter how many slashes you close your expressions with, as long as it's enough. So just keep banging that slash key!

SAM76 is a great example of smart people dealing with the scarcity of their time. This is a language that has been optimized for teletypes, punch cards, and paper tape. The % isn't a command prompt, it's a command. (More specifically, a “warning character.”) The “mu” and “pt” and such are shortened, almost tokenized, keywords.

Sadly, there is no SAM76 entry on Wikipedia, and almost no information on the internet about it, so it will soon be erased from the public memory by search engines (*cough*Google*cough*) that choose to only show things currently trending in popular culture. Shakespeare, youʼre next.

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Agree, and be ignored

Thursday, September 15th, 2022 Alive 18,769 days

Screenshot of the ITV News app

The ITV News app does not allow you to reject cookies. Not even optional ones. The only choice you have is to agree to its folksy question “You ok [sic] with our use of cookies?”

Another screenshot from the FAILed ITV News app

But, wait — it gets worse. Even if you accept the cookies, all that happens is the over-friendly “Agreed!” button gets greyed out. You never actually get to proceed to the ITV News app.

As the Brits say, it's “not fit for purpose.”

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You did this to yourself

Wednesday, September 14th, 2022 Alive 18,768 days

Screenshot of Microsoft Word

…Now select “Hyperlink” … No, the other “Hyperlink” … No, the one with the control decoration indicating … No, the other one … No, just mouse over “Hyperlink” … No, the other one …

This is why Iʼm reluctant to help people through their Microsoft woes.

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Word to your motherboard

Tuesday, September 13th, 2022 Alive 18,767 days

Microsoft Outlook is telling me that there is a problem with Microsoft Word. I guess itʼs well-intentioned, but snitches get stitches.

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Delivery headache

Tuesday, September 13th, 2022 Alive 18,767 days

I tried to track my PillPack delivery. I got this error message.

I guess this is what happens when I rely on the same company that sells me plastic adhesive googlie eyes 👀 👀 👀 to deliver my prescriptions.

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Do what?

Monday, September 12th, 2022 Alive 18,766 days

This menu is beyond inscrutable.

There's a big push in large healthcare companies to make things easier for patients. It sounds dumb to have to state that, but there has not always been the institutional will to care for patients on their level. But a lot of studies and computer models have shown that something as simple as repeating instructions to a patient can improve the outcomes of treatment in a percentage of people. With so many people in the world now, even a small change can mean enormous savings in money for hospitals, insurance companies, and the patients, themselves.

Unfortunately, we're still at the beginning of the process of bringing the healthcare institutions down to the level of the people they are supposed to serve. The use of regular language and easy methods is spreading, but remains uneven.

To wit: The image above, which is the first question asked when trying to book an imaging appointment with Houston Methodist Hospital.

This is an online form for patients, not doctors. When a regular person phones Methodist to make an imaging appointment, it suggests you use this form to make the appointment online.

I am not a doctor. How am I supposed to know if I need an “MRI 1.5T Wide Bore with Contrast,” or an “MRI 3T without Contrast,”, or a “Fluoroscopy,” or something else? It turns out the type of appointment I need isn't even listed in the options.

As someone who builds healthcare web sites for a living, I understand the technical reasons why this is the way it is. But I also understand that it doesn't have to be this way.

There are people in healthcare who care quite a lot about making things easier, and therefore better, for patients. That caring and understanding rarely pervades and entire organization. But it has to.

What we see here is, in my semi-expert opinion, a breakdown in the chain of caring. Something got outsourced to an external company that doesn't have to care. Someone didn't get trained in the importance of making things easier for the patients, and let this awful thing see the light of day. Some web developer somewhere doesn't have the authority, confidence, or will to question what's been handed to him to produce. He's just there to push buttons and cash a check.

Every person at every level of a healthcare organization not only had to be told to care, but trained to care. Even, and especially, the directors and C-levels. The upper levels are told about how much money can be saved by making healthcare more accessible to ordinary people. But they aren't trained in what that actually looks like, so they are not able to spot mistakes as they're happening, so they can have the people under them correct the problems before they persist and spread. Allowing people to say “That's the way we've always done it” is evidence of a sclerotic organization.

Similarly, and as alluded to above, with the continual outsourcing of functions, you also end up outsourcing caring. Someone pasting together AJAX snippets from StackOverflow in an SalesForce application on the other side of the planet doesn't care that the web site is useless to 90% of users. They've done their job, and that's all their staffing company cares about. It's important to understand that lack of detail and care makes your healthcare company look bad, and it hurts your bottom line by making your treatments less effective, and making your doctors work more.

Everyone in a healthcare organization has to not only care about the patients, but be trained in this. Not just the hands-on people like doctors and nurses and patient liaisons. Everyone. The people who process forms. The people in accounting. And, yes, the I.T. people. Every single person in a healthcare organization affects patients in some way.

To its credit, of the dozens healthcare organizations I've interacted with in dozens of states, Methodist is among the better and more advanced with regard to how it treats its patients. But the process is incomplete.

Healthcare companies talk a lot about caring. But unless there is an ethos of responsibility to the patient that includes every single person in that organization, it's all just marketing.

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I understand that you understand

Friday, September 9th, 2022 Alive 18,763 days chatbot in action

I'm not sure where the chatbot picked up the phrase “Thank you for understanding here.” But, inspired by its gratefulness, I think Iʼll understand “over there” next.

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Seattle, we have a problem

Friday, September 9th, 2022 Alive 18,763 days

An error message

With half a trillion dollars to work with, this still happens to So, what chance do I have?

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Sunday, September 4th, 2022 Alive 18,758 days

Picture of a PlayStation Portable booting up.

I was digging the Halloween decorations out of the basement today, when I came across my old PSP gear. Joy!

Sonyʼs PlayStation Portable wasn't the first portable video game system I ever owned. I had the original Atari Lynx back in the 80ʼs. But the PSP brings back warm memories of a time in my life when I was more full of hope, and the world seemed to be filled with endless possibilities

I was in Japan in February of 2005, a couple of months after the PSPʼs launch, but two months before it became available in the rest of the world. My wife and I were riding on a subway in Tokyo when an OL (“office lady” — the female version of “salaryman”) sat down next to where I was standing. She pulled out a PSP and started playing ルミネス (“Lumines” in English). I was absolutely enthralled. I immediately said to Darcie, “Thatʼs what I'm bringing home from Japan.”

A game of ルミネス starting.

We were staying at the Keio Plaza Hotel, so as soon as it opened the next morning, I ran down the street to Yodobashi Camera searching for a PSP.

Yodobashi Camera is like the old Crazy Eddie electronics department store, except taking up a dozen floors of a skyscraper. If it runs on electricity, it's probably at Yodobashi. Anything from a Hello Kitty waffle maker to a household earthquake detector. From a refrigerator to a radiation monitor that you hang around your neck. From a transistor radio to the latest computer gear. If there was a PSP in Tokyo, I was sure I'd find it here.

Except that I didnʼt. Yodobashi was too much for me. Too many levels. Too much stuff. Precisely zero signs printed in English. I was over my head. Finally, I had to ask for help. A young man in an ill-fitting suit and an eager grin decided to take a chance with me.

A picture I took of Yodobashi Camera in 2016.

My Japanese is bad. Real bad. When weʼre in Japan, my wife is in her element. She handles the shopgirls, and drags me around like a wide-eyed toddler. But I was on my own this time.

I tried to communicate very clearly and plainly, “Video games?” Blank stare. I broke out my best non-regional radio voice and enunciated as clearly as I could: “Play-stay-shun Port-a-bull.” Nervous smile.

Finally, I resorted to pantomime. I held my hands out in front of me in loose vertical fists, and pumped my thumbs up and down like I was pressing buttons.

“Aaaaah! Peesp-o!”

With an expression of exuberant relief and a flourish of forearms and pointing palms, he guided me to a half-height white cabinet, bent over, slid back the glass door and popped up with a glossy white box.


With a hasty bow, he took off like jackrabbit down the warren of Panasonic boom boxes, Sony Cliés, and Sanyo voice recorders. His job was done, and he was happy to be done with me, and out of there.

That's why to this day, my wife and I call our video game machines “Peesps.”

Part of the opening video from the video game 首都高バトル.
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A meaningless milestone

Friday, September 2nd, 2022 Alive 18,756 days

Netflix says today marks one year since I've had Netflix. Which is not true. I've had Netflix for 24 years. But Netflix doesn't have a way to put an account on hold when you go on vacation, or move. Instead, you have to cancel your account, then sign up again when you come back home or arrive in your new place.

Amazingly, and much to its credit, when you sign up again, your Netflix queue is restored, and you're right where you left off. So I guess it's only ½ a fail.

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What did I just tell you?

Wednesday, August 31st, 2022 Alive 18,754 days

Every time I use Microsoft Windows, I manage to find another way it simply doesn't make sense to me.

In this example, I have instructed Microsoft Outlook to “Save All Attachments” from a particular e-mail message. Instead of saving all of the attachments, it pops up a modal window asking which attachments Iʼd like to save. Well, Iʼd like to save them all. Which is why I clicked on “Save All Attachments” and not “Save some, but I'm not sure which ones I might want, so why don't you stop me in the middle of my work instead of doing what I've instructed you to do.”

There would be no shame in Microsoft adding a “Save Some Attachments…” item to its already ample menu structure.

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Atlantic City can't get a break

Friday, August 19th, 2022 Alive 18,742 days

Looking for a fine collection of photos depicting Mozambique, Italy, Japan, and the Middle East? Just search Adobe Stock for “Atlantic City, New Jersey.”

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Touched by an angle

Friday, August 19th, 2022 Alive 18,742 days

Best use of these screens I've seen yet.

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Does not inspire confidence

Thursday, August 18th, 2022 Alive 18,741 days

Fidelity has 4½ trillion dollars ($4,500,000,000,000.00). If it canʼt make a web site work, what chance do I have?

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Coffee underachiever

Sunday, August 14th, 2022 Alive 18,737 days

A repair guy working on the super-duper high-tech coffee robot machine. Which is almost always broken.

The Costa Coffee machine at Whole Foods is broken. Again. I've been to this particular Whole Foods in Midtown Houston nine times. The coffee machine has only been online and functional once.

It's either bad timing for me, or a bad machine from Costa. Either way, it's bad news for Whole Foods.

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Sunday, August 14th, 2022 Alive 18,737 days

Picture of a Chinese city in the Apple Maps entry for Midland, Texas

Crowdsourcing used to be all the rage in the tech industry. It was a way to get content for your project for free. Use your automation system to ask enough people for content, and some small percentage will happy oblige. The problem with crowdsourcing is quality control.

If you let anyone contribute anything, anyone will contribute anything. I once built a crowdsourced system for people to share photographs of landmarks. A significant percentage of the photos contributed were people standing in front of a camera holding up their resumes, presumably hoping that someone searching for a photo of the Berlin Wall might magically hire them to write code in India.

In the example above, we see the result of two levels of folly. Getty Images allows anyone to upload photographs to its system in order to sell those pictures to other people. That's the crowdsourcing. Then Apple outsourced photography for Apple Maps to a bunch of entities, including Wikipedia, TripAdvisor, and also Getty Images.

The result is a photo of a city in China among the photographs that are supposed to depict the West Texas city of Midland.

Never trust content you don't control.

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Whoops right back at'cha

Friday, August 12th, 2022 Alive 18,735 days

An error message starting with the header “Whoops!”

When your three-billion-dollar companyʼs error messages start with “Whoops!,” it does not inspire confidence in your three-billion-dollar company.

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Cleanup in aisle 500

Thursday, August 11th, 2022 Alive 18,734 days

An H.E.B. error message

H.E.B. has over 100,000 employees. Someone should get out and push.

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Iʼve fallen, and I canʼt get up

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive 18,733 days

H.E.B. JSON payload

I sure hope Iʼve never broken a web site so badly that it starts squirting JSON all over the intarwebs.

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Performing stability

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive 18,733 days

A list of meaningless status updates from eero

Vagueness is not a virtue. I can only imaging that the git commit history for Amazonʼs eero team looks like “Update,” “Update,” “Update,” “Update,” “Update.”

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Youʼre next

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive 18,733 days

A floor-cleaning robot at Houston Hobby Airport

The tech nerd part of me that should think, ”Oh, cool! Hobby Airport has industrial-grade floor cleaning robots!” is outweighed by the human being in me who thinks, “Well, there's one more job that some person with low skills got kicked out of.”

Not everyone in the world has the mental or physical capability to do a mid-level or high-level job. But they still need a job, and deserve the dignity that comes with employment. In the 80ʼs the justification for turning jobs over to robots was that the newly unemployed could be re-trained to fix or run the robots. But in my experience, that's only rarely true.

The more I interact with people of all social strata, the more I realize that mopping floors in an airport is a really good job for some people. One they can be good at, and proud of. That will allow them to provide for themselves, and maybe even another person or two. Iʼm not currently convinced that we should automate the humanity out of society.

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No wonder boarding is so slow

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive 18,733 days

A signboard at Midway Airport

Southwest Airlines encourages people to download its app for a “contactless day of travel.” You know what else is contactless? The way it was done up to now.

There's nothing about using an app that is more contactless than using a home-printed ticket, or even the old-style paper tickets. Both are read by a contactless scanner. It's not like the gate agent is going to lick your face because youʼre not using an app.

There are more disadvantages to using an app for your boarding pass than using a piece of paper:

  • Ask any janitor — people drop their phones in toilets all the time.
  • Restrooms, bars, restaurants, payment kiosks — there are a thousand ways to lose your phone in an airport.
  • Phones run out of battery.
  • Phone apps crash.
  • Phone apps malfunction.
  • Internet connectivity is required, but not guaranteed.
  • Internet connectivity in airports is notoriously slow and unreliable.
  • People run out of data on their mobile plans while waiting for their planes.
  • Screens time out and turn off just when someone gets to the gate agent. It happens constantly.

My observation waiting in line behind people using app-based boarding passes is that the paper passes scan more quickly, and more reliably than the phone-based equivalents.

The only reason to use an app-based boarding pass is if you enjoy forking over even more of your personal information to an airline so that it can sell that information to other people.

I am a paying passenger. I am not your recurring revenue stream.

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Still more productive than an agile standup

Sunday, August 7th, 2022 Alive 18,730 days

Ycombinator error

Hacker News is broken. Silicon Valley productivity up 63%.

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Laissez les bons temps spamer

Friday, August 5th, 2022 Alive 18,728 days

E-mail unsubscribe confirmation. Maybe.

This e-mail from the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority reads “You unsubscribed.” It also says “You will receive an email update when new information becomes available.”

So, am I unsubscribed, or am I going to receive e-mail updates?

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The <blink> tag lives!

Friday, August 5th, 2022 Alive 18,728 days

Me: “Man, remember how V.C.R.'s used to blink 12:00 all the time after the power went out? That was awful.”

My KitchenAid microwave oven: “Hold my beer...”

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Watching a storm >$

Sunday, July 31st, 2022 Alive 18,723 days

An error message from the National Weather Serviceʼs web site

The National Weather Service has a budget of $1.2 billion. If it canʼt keep a web site from drowning, what chance do I have?

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Sunday, July 31st, 2022 Alive 18,723 days

The Sears Tele-Games version of Atariʼs Flag Capture, which was known as simply Capture

People forget how primitive video games were in the early years. For a very long time, the only way to start a game was to press the Restart button on the console. It would be years before anyone dreamed up the idea of starting or restarting a game by pressing a button on the controller thatʼs right there in the playerʼs hand. Itʼs so elementary that people today take for granted that itʼs always been that way.

In the early years of video games, there was no such thing as sitting back and relaxing while playing a game, unless it was something with no end, like the free draw mode in Surround. You had to reach out and touch the console every few minutes when the game ended.

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Smells like a white linnen sheet flapping in the breeze atop a grassy hill

Saturday, July 30th, 2022 Alive 18,722 days

My debit card, after a million tumbles in the dryer

I lost my debit card a month ago. I found it today, wedged under one of the fins in the dryer. That means it not only went through the washing machine, it went through about 30 dryer cycles.

The card still works. The chip is fine, and the mag stripe works OK on newer machines.

Do that with your fancy device with Apple Pay, or whatever Google is calling its wallet this week, and you know what happens? You walk home.

I see people on the internet all the time claiming that plastic cards and cash are things of the past, and no longer needed. Thatʼs only true if you never go anywhere interesting, never eat anywhere unusual, and never do laundry.

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Connection over sneakernet

Saturday, July 30th, 2022 Alive 18,722 days

The Chase United Guide to benefits

Iʼm supposed to have super-duper awesome benefits with United Airlines because I have a Chase credit card. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to see what those benefits are. Naturally, the link on the Chase web site was broken. It just looped though a login screen over and over.

Since Iʼm a paying customer, I moaned about it to Chaseʼs customer service.

I ended up booking my ticket on another airline, and forgot all about it until I got this in the the mail today. I guess someone at Chase figured it would be faster to mail me a book about the benefits than to fix the link.

I guess this ends up being a story about good customer service, because not only do I have the book, but I just checked, and the link is fixed, too.

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Can't get there from here

Friday, July 29th, 2022 Alive 18,721 days

Me: “Hey, Siri, stop the music.”

Siri: “Sorry, Wayne. I'm unable to stop.”

Really? It's only R.E.M. It's not like you can dance to it.

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Tools of the trade

Friday, July 29th, 2022 Alive 18,721 days

Scrappy tech startup in 1972:

Two guys in the basement of a college science building, working all night with tubes, relays, and transistors.

Scrappy tech startup in 1982:

Two guys in a garage, working all night wire-wrapping circuits.

Scrappy tech startup in 1992:

Two guys in a college dorm, working all night optimizing cross-platform compiler routines.

Scrappy tech startup in 2002:

Two guys in an anonymous strip mall, trying to cram their big idea through a 56 kilobit ASDL connection.

Scrappy tech startup in 2012:

Two guys in loft over a Thai restaurant in a hip arts district, cobbling together other people's JavaScript modules on local government grant money.

Scrappy tech startup in 2022:

Two guys on the 43rd floor of a bank building, bluffing their way through a PowerPoint in front of a bunch of V.C.'s.

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The stack, she has overflowed

Friday, July 29th, 2022 Alive 18,721 days

Screenshot of Stackoverflow error message 'The service is unavailable.'

Stackoverflow is broken. Silicon Valley grinds to a halt.

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Speak directly into the horn

Saturday, July 23rd, 2022 Alive 18,715 days

Me (to the HomePod three feet in front of me): “Hey, Siri, is it going to rain today?”

A different HomePod (three rooms away): “-mumble- -mumble- -mumble- -something- -mumble-

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They should call it ToiletTime

Sunday, July 17th, 2022 Alive 18,709 days

Screen time screenshot

Today, Siri informed me that I use my phone an average of 19 hours and 22 minutes per day. Either Siri is wrong, or I really need to eat more fiber.

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Tubes for noobs

Saturday, July 16th, 2022 Alive 18,708 days

Photograph of my TV

I finally got around to fixing up the over-the-air antenna hooked up to my TV. I re-scanned and found 121 channels.

Not all of the channels are great. But that's no different than the DirecTV service I have in my apartment, for which I am obligated to pay $80 a month. Except that the majority of the dross over the air is shopping channels and infomercials, while DirecTV seems to be 90% pornography, sports, and also shopping.

The important thing is that with the over-the-air antenna, I get The! Movies! Network!, and MeTV+. I've also discovered a channel that is mostly British and Australian DIY and lifestyle shows, like Escape to the Country, of which Darcie and have long been fans. Going to have to rev that $20 ATSC DVR into high gear for a while.

Here's a table of what I found, mostly for my own reference, and subject to change with a shift in the wind.

If you're viewing this on a mobile phone, you won't be able to see the table until you hold your phone horizontally. That's because tables look like absolute pants on phones.

Display channel Station ID Network Primary language Content
2-3KPRC-TV/HoustonH&IHeroes and IconsEnglishVariety
3-2KBTX-TV/BryanKBTX-CWThe CWEnglishVariety
13-3KTRK-TV/HoustonKTRK-D3This TVEnglishVariety
14-1KETH-TV/HoustonTBN HDTrinity Broadcasting NetworkEnglishReligion
14-2KETH-TV/HoustoninspireTBN InspireEnglishReligion
20-1KTXH/HoustonKTXH DTMyNetworkTVEnglishVariety
20-4KTXH/HoustonBUZZRBuzzrEnglishGame shows
21-1KVQT-LD/HoustonNewsmx2Newsmax TVEnglishSpecialty
21-2KVQT-LD/HoustonRetroRetro TVEnglishVariety
21-4KVQT-LD/HoustonClassicClassic Reruns TVEnglishVariety
21-5KVQT-LD/HoustonCristoCristo TVSpanishReligion
21-7KVQT-LD/HoustonLife-VVidaVision NetworkSpanishReligion
21-9KVQT-LD/HoustonBiz-TVBiz TelevisionEnglishTalk shows
21-10KVQT-LD/HoustonNowMTVNowMedia TVEnglish and SpanishVariety
21-11KVQT-LD/HoustonACEAmerican Classic EntertainmentEnglishVariety
21-13KVQT-LD/HoustonMBCMillennium Broadcasting ChannelEnglishAfrican
22-2KLTJ/GalvestonKLTJ-ESDaystar EspañolSpanishReligion
26-1KRIV/HoustonKRIV DTFoxEnglishVariety
26-3KRIV/HoustonFOX WXFox WeatherEnglishWeather
27-2KQHO-LD/HoustonS.E.TSaigon Broadcasting Television NetworkVietnameseVariety
27-3KQHO-LD/HoustonFodd&FUFood and Fun TVVietnameseVariety
27-8KQHO-LD/HoustontheVGlobal Mall TVVietnameseShopping
27-9KQHO-LD/HoustonAWMAWM TVVietnameseVariety
27-10KQHO-LD/HoustonPeace and Happiness TelevisionVietnameseLifestyle
28-3KUGB-CD/HoustonKUGB-CDShop LCEnglishShopping
28-4KUGB-CD/HoustonKUGB-CDMagnificent Movies NetworkEnglishMovies
28-7KUGB-CD/HoustonKUGB-CDClassic Reruns TVEnglishVariety
32-4KEHO-LD/HoustonKEHO-LDMagnificent Movies NetworkEnglishMovies
32-6KEHO-LD/HoustonKEHO-LDShop LCEnglishShopping
34-1KUVM-CD/HoustonKUVM-CDLATVSpanish and EnglishVariety
34-3KUVM-CD/HoustonKUVM-CDMagnificent Movies NetworkEnglishMovies
34-5KUVM-CD/HoustonKUVM-CDMagnificent Movies NetworkEnglishMovies
39-1KIAH/HoustonKIAH-DTThe CWEnglishVariety
39-5KIAH/HoustonCourtTVCourt TVEnglishLifestyle
45-3KXLN-DT/RosenbergMysteryIon MysteryEnglishLifestyle
45-4KXLN-DT/RosenbergNTDNew Tang Dynasty TelevisionChineseVariety
46-1KBPX-LD/HoustonNuestraNuestra VisiónSpanishMovies
46-3KBPX-LD/HoustonNuduNu DuMont TelevisionEnglishVariety
46-5KBPX-LD/HoustonGEBGEB NetworkEnglishReligion
47-4KTMD/GalvestonCOZICozi TVEnglishVariety
49-1KPXB-TV/ConroeIONIon TelevisionEnglishVariety
49-3KPXB-TV/ConroeCourtTVCourt TVEnglishLifestyle
49-4KPXB-TV/ConroeDefy TVDefy TVEnglishVariety
49-8KPXB-TV/ConroeHSNHome Shopping NetworkEnglishShopping
51-3KYAZ/KatyAztecaAzteca AméricaSpanishVariety
51-4KYAZ/KatyStoryStory TelevisionEnglishHistory
55-3KTBU/ConroeNacionNación TVSpanishReligion
57-3KUBE-TV/BaytownSBNSonLife Broadcasting NetworkEnglishReligion
57-6KUBE-TV/BaytownMi Raza TVMi Raza TVSpanishInfomercials
57-8KUBE-TV/BaytownJTVJewelry TelevisionEnglishShopping
57-10KUBE-TV/BaytownAChurchThree Angels Broadcast NetworkSpanishReligion
61-1KZJL/HoustonEstrella TVSpanishVariety
61-2KZJL/HoustonKZJL-2Estrella NewsSpanishNews
61-3KZJL/HoustonEstrella DeportesSpanishSports
61-4KZJL/HoustonShopLCShop LCEnglishShopping
67-4KZJL/HoustonHSNHome Shopping NetworkEnglishShopping
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Support hosed

Saturday, July 16th, 2022 Alive 18,708 days

Citibank telling me to get stuffed

Today I learned from tech support at Citibank that Safari is not supported for “security reasons.” She recommended that I use the vastly less-secure Google Chrome browser, instead.

Good job, Citibank.

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United in failure

Saturday, July 16th, 2022 Alive 18,708 days

United Airlines not working

I sure wish I could book a flight on United Airlines. But for three days in two different browsers on two different computers, all I get when I search is this screen, which never changes.

Maybe American Airlines wants my money.

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Food for thought

Friday, July 15th, 2022 Alive 18,707 days

An H.E.B. error message

HEB made $31,000,000,000 last year. If it can't make a web site work, what chance do I have?

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High flyers

Sunday, July 10th, 2022 Alive 18,702 days

A flock of birds captured in an aerial photo on Apple Maps

Sometimes if I canʼt sleep, I like to scroll through Apple Maps and see what can be seen. On this particular night, I found a flock of birds near NASA. They look like egrets or something similar to me.

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Double clutch

Wednesday, July 6th, 2022 Alive 18,698 days

A ficticious shipping option

Scraping web sites to build a list of city names is kinda sorta OK for social media, but itʼs not a great idea when youʼre running an e-commerce site.

I wonder what would happen if I actually ordered something from this Chinese electronics site and had it shipped to “Clutch City.” Is the ZIP Code enough to get it to the right area, and then give some mail sorter along the way a bit of a chuckle?

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Friday, July 1st, 2022 Alive 18,693 days

macOS Montgomery installing very slowly

My headless M1 Mac Mini crashed hard, so I had to hook up a monitor and re-install macOS Monterrey, which after 30 minutes helpfully tells me, “About a minute remaining.”

And by “About a minute” it meant a little under three hours.

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A side of mystery

Friday, June 10th, 2022 Alive 18,672 days

Bad formatting on the Dominoʼs web site

Dominoʼs Pizza made four billion dollars in 2020. It should have enough people working on its web site to make sure the CAPTCHA doesn't overflow its container.

It also shouldnʼt use Google's reCAPTCHA service, but thatʼs a different bucket of plastic monkeys.

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Sick site

Friday, June 3rd, 2022 Alive 18,665 days

An error message from Houston Methodist Hospital

This is what happens when you try to let Houston Methodist know about an error on its web site.

Thatʼs one way to reduce customer service costs by 100%.

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Still better than “John McClane”

Wednesday, June 1st, 2022 Alive 18,663 days

Max Cool mode engaged on a KitchenAid refrigerator

“Max Cool” is my 80ʼs action hero stage name.

And I guess “Door Alarm” is my trusty sidekick.

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Well, add something!

Friday, May 27th, 2022 Alive 18,658 days

Bad string handling in the app

It seems that my choices are to:

  • Add a credit or debit card
  • Add a credit or debit card
  • Add a personal checking account
  • or add a personal checking account

Maybe Iʼll enter my personal financial information later, when Amazon.comʼs system is a little more stable.

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One ringy dingy…

Tuesday, May 24th, 2022 Alive 18,655 days

A woebegone payphone

I found a pay phone!

Using a pay phone requires three things that are increasingly scarce:

  1. A public payphone
  2. Coins
  3. Knowing the number of someone to call

There are still lots of payphones in the world, but theyʼre generally not on the streets where they can be easily noticed. Coins are so scarce that even banks have a hard time getting them. And while it used to be the case that most people knew a dozen or two phone numbers by heart, today they use a gadget to remember for them.

I understand why these things happen, but it seems like there should still be some kind of “infrastructure of last resort” for emergencies, misfortune, and those on the margins of society. New technology is great, but it still breaks too easily for us to rely on it enough in many situations.

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Time to get a different rain jacket

Monday, May 23rd, 2022 Alive 18,654 days

A picture of the outside of the 8th District police station in New Orleans, because you canʼt go inside a police station and expect to be able to take pictures anymore

The Eighth District police station in New Orleans has an unusual feature. Iʼve seen lots of police stations with gift shops and museums before. But inside the gift shop in this police station is a vending machine that spits out swag.

I slid my credit card through the reader, punched a button, and out popped a New Orleans Police Department ball cap. Very cool.

I think that many people donʼt know that the New Orleans P.D. sells hats, shirts, tote bags, and other branded items. At least it seems like the people who live in the Eighth District donʼt.

Early the next morning, I went to a bodega near Esplanade to get a newspaper. It was raining, so I wore my rain jacket, which is kinda-sorta safety yellow, and my new N.O.P.D. hat. There were some locals sitting around drinking coffee and shooting the breeze. The store was out of newspapers, so I asked if anyone knew where I could get one because none of the stores near my hotel had any.

“Near my hotel” let them know I was a tourist. But until then, they said they thought I was a cop. When I told them I got the hat out of a vending machine at the police station, they were not happy.

I can understand why they were upset. If I can unintentionally make people think Iʼm a police officer, imagine what someone could accomplish if they were actually trying.

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🎵Slow down🎵

Monday, May 16th, 2022 Alive 18,647 days

An Amazon Music error message

Part of the Amazon Music screen says “purchased.” Another part says I canʼt download the music I paid for.

Trying again in 15 minutes didnʼt change anything. Nor did trying again in 30 minutes, or 45. An hour after my purchase I got on the blower with Amazon customer service, and was told to wait 24 hours to download the music I paid for.

Thatʼs OK for me, because I'm patient. I was able to download the music when I tried a couple of days later. But isnʼt the whole point of Amazon Music that people are supposed to have immediate, unlimited access to their music?

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Saturday, May 7th, 2022 Alive 18,638 days

A error message

Citibank is the third-largest bank in the United States. It has almost two trillion dollars. Itʼs been around for 210 years.

And yet, it still canʼt make a web site that works. So what chance do I have?

Also, with two trillion dollars, youʼd think it could hire people who can write complete sentences.

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Saturday, May 7th, 2022 Alive 18,638 days

A error message

I think that the word “unexpected” is pretty high on the list of words you donʼt want to hear from your bank. It ranks right up there with “insolvent.”

Fortunately, Citibank is only the third-largest bank in America. Itʼs not like its web site is used for anything important.

If Citibank canʼt keep its web site from going all pear-shaped, what chance do I have?

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Donʼt worry, theyʼll get their money

Friday, April 15th, 2022 Alive 18,616 days

An error message on the Nevada Department of Taxation web site

Itʼs one thing for Facebook to have a hiccup every now and again. Nothing important ever happened on Facebook.

But when the Nevada Department of Taxationʼs web site upchucks on tax day, itʼs cause for concern.

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Keep your hands out of your pockets

Wednesday, April 13th, 2022 Alive 18,614 days

My iPhone telling me it helpfully called 911 on my behalf

Reason number 4,096 not to absent-mindedly push buttons on your iPhone while itʼs in your pocket.

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Button pusher

Tuesday, April 12th, 2022 Alive 18,613 days

A glitched iPhone screen

You know youʼre far away from home, when the seven Home buttons that control your lights and things go away on your iPhone.

It would be less disturbing for there to be a message like “Canʼt connect to your home right now,” rather than just making them disappear.

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Package deal

Saturday, April 9th, 2022 Alive 18,610 days

Abandoned packages from

Three packages for three different people dumped in a corner is actually not the worst delivery experience Iʼve seen lately.

At least these were inside a building, and not just dumped on a sidewalk outside a skyscraper in the middle of Americaʼs fourth-largest city.

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I thought they were working from home

Friday, March 4th, 2022 Alive 18,574 days telling me itʼs too busy to take my money

Thereʼs a big backup at the floating bridge toll booth, so there are no employees available to take my order right now.

If canʼt keep its web site running, what chance do I have?

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Nice unlabeled action button

Saturday, February 12th, 2022 Alive 18,554 days

An error on the self-service point-of-sale machine at Shake Shack

The self-service ordering gizmo at Shake Shack canʼt cope with my hot dog order. Which I find a bit ironic, considering that Shake Shack started out as a hot dog stand.

This is what I get for using a computer to replace a personʼs job. Thereʼs a perfectly good human being ten feet away who can take my order if I wait 90 seconds, and my bag will never be out of sync.

Remember when technology was going to make our lives better?

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All the news that ℔Ωℹ︎ℌℑ℁℀… NO CARRIER

Wednesday, February 9th, 2022 Alive 18,551 days

An error message on one of the Houston Chronicle's web sites

One of my newspapers didnʼt come today. So I tried to let the Houston Chronicle know it has a problem. Naturally, since the conglomerate that ate Houstonʼs paper of record doesnʼt have customer service people on the weekend, I have to fill out a report online. And, naturally, the web site doesnʼt work.

Even if I had to wait on hold for a while to speak to someone about it, a human being could solve the problem immediately. Instead, I have to remember to call the newspaperʼs customer service people during the week to get credit for the missed delivery.

Remember when computers were going to make our lives better?

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Monday, November 1st, 2021 Alive 18,451 days

The tech world in 2021:

  • Meta wants to be the new Google
  • Google wants to be the new Microsoft
  • Microsoft wants to be the new Oracle
  • Oracle wants to be the new IBM


  • Apple wants to be the new Sony
  • wants to be the new Sears

Nothing is new.

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Do Not Localize

Monday, November 1st, 2021 Alive 18,451 days

Botched localization in macOS

If Apple can't get localization right, what chance to the rest of us have?

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So, can I ride for free?

Saturday, October 30th, 2021 Alive 18,449 days

A broken Metro ticket machine

When it comes to transit hardware malfunctions, I guess itʼs better that the ticket machine fails than the train.

Although, I think I havenʼt seen a parity error in 30 years.

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Youʼre not my mom

Friday, October 29th, 2021 Alive 18,448 days

An iPhone telling me that Iʼm unsteady

I think this is Siriʼs passive-aggressive way of telling me Iʼm drunk.

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What did you do to your keys?

Thursday, October 28th, 2021 Alive 18,447 days

My new computer on the left, and my old computer on thr right

I got a new computer today. Itʼs hard to believe that Iʼve been using my old computer for (math… math… math…) eleven years.

That wee machine has been with me through a dozen homes and another dozen countries, from Turkey to Japan to exotic Canada. Iʼd miss it, if the new one wasnʼt so much better.

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Needs to perk up

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021 Alive 18,439 days

The Costa Coffee machine at Whole Foods being repaired again

If you ever want to know what the inside of an automatic barista machine looks like, just head to Whole Foods in Midtown Houston. Thereʼs a good chance itʼs inner mechanism is open and available for you to examine.

Iʼm not sure how many times Iʼve been to this Whole Foods store — maybe a dozen times — and the coffee machine has never been working.

Every time I go, thereʼs a repairman busy tinkering with it. Which seems like quite a coincidence. Either Costa Coffee has an employee whose job is to repair this one machine full-time, or thereʼs something about me going to Whole Foods that causes the machine to kill itself.

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Sour Apple

Monday, October 18th, 2021 Alive 18,437 days

An error message from Apple

If the single largest technology company on the planet canʼt keep its web site from upchucking, what chance do I have?

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Dead tree edition

Monday, September 20th, 2021 Alive 18,409 days

An error message from The New York Times

If the largest newspaper in America canʼt keep its web site running, what chance do I have?

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Upper railing

Sunday, September 19th, 2021 Alive 18,408 days

An error message from The New York Times

The New York Times has “lost” this web page. I guess thatʼs not surprising, since it also lost my newspaper today.

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Just… wow

Thursday, September 2nd, 2021 Alive 18,391 days

A screenshot of the NJ Family Care web site

I think I have found the worst government web site on the planet: New Jersey Family Care.

Its many technical faults aside, it looks like something a kid whipped up in Geocities in the 1990ʼs, not something dealing with healthcare. And certainly not something that taxpayer dollars paid for.

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Stock poorly

Friday, August 13th, 2021 Alive 18,371 days

An error message from Stockwell

My apartment building has a Stockwell vending machine in the basement.

Unlike the vending machines of yore, this one is just an open cabinet with a camera that watches what you take off the shelves and uses magic A.I. fairies to send you a bill. That is, if it works. Which it doesnʼt.

I canʼt even get the Stockwell app to acknowledge that the Stockwell machine in my building exists.

I guess Iʼll spend my snack money at the convenience store across the street, instead. Where I can pay by cash, or credit card, or Apple Pay, or even food stamps if I had them. And if something goes wrong, there are intermittently friendly people to help me out, and not some Silicon Valley robot barking, “object has no attribute.”

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Ignorance is bliss

Wednesday, August 11th, 2021 Alive 18,369 days

An ominous message from iOS

This is what happens when you move from a state with a COVID notification app to a state that lacks a COVID notification app.

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Gettinʼ nothinʼ but static from Channel Z

Tuesday, August 10th, 2021 Alive 18,368 days

An error message from Netflix

Iʼm not happy that Netflix is borked. But at least the error message is creative.

But if Netflix canʼt keep its system running, what chance do I have?

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Signs of the times

Sunday, August 8th, 2021 Alive 18,366 days

Every electronic road sign in Nevada: “Keep Vegas open, get your shots now!”

Every electronic road sign in Arizona: “6.8 million doses administered so far. Get yours!”

Every electronic road sign in New Mexico: “Protect your family. Get your free COVID vaccine.”

Every electronic road sign in Texas: “Buckle up for safety!”

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Does it rock?

Saturday, August 7th, 2021 Alive 18,365 days

Sabbath mode on a KitchenAid oven

It turns out my new oven has a Sabbath mode. It also turns out to do the opposite of what I assumed it would.

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Thursday, August 5th, 2021 Alive 18,363 days

A malfunctioning gas pump

I have no idea how much I paid for gas. I think the credit price for Plus is “Burp.”

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On, Dasher

Thursday, August 5th, 2021 Alive 18,363 days

An error message from DoorDash

Not only did DoorDash eat itself, it canʼt even show a legible error message.

Itʼs like the DoubleFail Twins of delivery apps.

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No longer trying

Saturday, July 31st, 2021 Alive 18,358 days

A screenshot of a failed discussion with an Apple Card chatbot

When the Apple Card launched, it had the most amazing customer service.

Two years later, itʼs a smoldering pile of garbage.

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Friday, July 30th, 2021 Alive 18,357 days

An error message from Capital One

If I canʼt trust Capital One to run a web site, how can I trust it with my money?

Capital One failing at web development
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Errors all the way down

Tuesday, July 20th, 2021 Alive 18,347 days

An error message about Microsoft Error Reporting

Microsoft Office is so poorly programmed that even Microsoftʼs error reporting daemon crashes.

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This never happens at The Dime

Saturday, July 17th, 2021 Alive 18,344 days

An error message from Citibank

Citibank is broken today. But thatʼs OK. Itʼs not like 50 million people rely on Citibank for anything important.

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Cheaper than Google Cloud, more relianle than Microsoft Azure

Thursday, July 15th, 2021 Alive 18,342 days

Every ten years it seems like the tech world bring in a new batch of people who never bothered to study how things worked in previous decades, and thus end up not only reinventing the wheel, but hyping it up like itʼs the first time anyone ever thought of whatever it is theyʼre all excited about.

Timesharing → Thin clients → Web apps

Hypercard → Web sites

Brittanica → Encarta → Wikipedia

Q-Link → IRC → Second Life → Virtual reality

Rabbitjackʼs Casino → BetMGM

An ad for MicroNET in the February, 1980 issue of Byte magazine

Also not new: Cloud computing. Check out the highlights from this 1979 advertisement for MicroNET:

  • MicroNET allows the personal computer user access to… large computers, software and disc storage
  • You can use our powerful processors
  • Operating time [is] billed in minutes to your VISA or MasterCharge card
  • You can even sell software via MicroNET.

MicroNET was a way for CompuServe to allow people to use spare capacity on its big iron computers. People could upload their personal projects, conduct business, and even develop software using the might of dozens of machines thousands of times more powerful than what they could afford in their own homes. Maintenance, backups, power supply, networking, and other infrastructure details were abstracted away from the end user so the user could concentrate on the task at hand.

Sound familiar, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and a thousand other virtual machine companies?

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Monday, June 28th, 2021 Alive 18,325 days

A failed attempt at communication from Microsoft

If Microsoft canʼt handle internationalization, what chance do the rest of us have?

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Loaded question

Sunday, June 27th, 2021 Alive 18,324 days

The New York Times app, with its pants around its ankles

The New York Times app sure knows how to load ads.

Too bad it doesnʼt know how to load the news that I pay for.

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♫ Weʼre the Bank of America… Whoa-oh! ♫

Monday, June 7th, 2021 Alive 18,304 days

An error message from Bank of America

With 200,000 employees, if Bank of America canʼt keep its web site from failing, what chance do I have?

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So swipe the other way

Friday, June 4th, 2021 Alive 18,301 days

A malfunctioning iPhone screen

I swiped up to unlock, and instead the screen sort-of half swiped left. The lock icon, the unlock instructions, the wallpaper, and a dark overlay moved left, revealing another copy of the wallpaper underneath. Meanwhile, the time, the music panel, and the quick keys stayed put.

Fortunately, all was solved ten seconds later when the phone shit itself and rebooted.

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Friday, June 4th, 2021 Alive 18,301 days

An Atari BASIC Programming cartridge

I got a new Atari cart yesterday. Itʼs BASIC Programming.

While the word “BASIC” in the title is properly capitalized because it is an initialism for Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, the title would also work in sentence case as “Basic Programming,” because this is truly basic programming.

Lots of modern-day reviewers on the internet who are more interested in outrage clicks than thoughtful conversation deride this program as a farce or even a toy. I have the unpopular view that BASIC Programming is really quite good, both as a technical achievement and as a cultural change agent. It achieves a number of important goals:

  • Provided ordinary people with an introduction to programming
  • Provides a subset of the BASIC programming language
  • Has the ability to play musical notes
  • Has the ability to display rudimentary graphics

This is all elementary school stuff today. But when this cartridge came out in 1979, it was absolutely revolutionary. For $50, an Atari owner could get a taste of what it was like to actually program a computer. And while computers were starting to occasionally appear in well-to-do homes, they were still staggeringly uncommon, and cost about the same as a new car.

Joysticks and buttons in arcades gave wider society its first opportunity to command an electronic machine to do things. BASIC Programming gave Atari owners the ability to give an electronic machine sequences of commands, and to act on them. Moving a dot around a screen with a joystick had been done long ago through various electromechanical methods. But this was the first chance for ordinary people to actually command a machine to do more than just react to stimulus.

BASIC Programming in all its elementary beauty

BASIC Programming has a limited feature set, but itʼs still an integrated development environment, not fundamentally different from what computer programmers use today. One significant difference is that BASIC Programming managed to present a fully functional I.D.E. in a minuscule 2K of memory. Thatʼs about one sixth of the words in this article.

By comparison, the current version of Microsoftʼs I.D.E. starts at 274,000 times the size of BASIC Programming, and increases rapidly from there, depending on what language you write in.

Atariʼs BASIC Programming crosses the same ocean as Microsoftʼs VS Code, but does it with a styrofoam pool noodle instead of the Queen Mary.

In addition, BASIC Programming is user-friendly in one specific way that few computers are today. Like me, it had Sister Maria for third grade Arithmetic class, where she preached, “Anything divided by zero is zero.” Try to divide something by zero in Atariʼs basic BASIC, and it politely gives you zero. Unlike modern computer systems that fall on the floor, curl up in a ball, and start quietly sobbing to themselves when asked the same question.

The one popular modern-day gripe I agree with is that the input method is cumbersome. Itʼs a pair of keypads, one plugged into each joystick port, and then locked together. I understand why it was done this way, but that doesnʼt make it easy to use.

The left BASIC Programming keypad overlay, the manilla envelope the overlays come in, and the right keypad overlay

Still, the single keypad pair is pulling more than its weight, even for the era. It is used for:

  • The entire common English-language alphabet:
    A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
  • The numbers:
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
  • A space character
  • Punctuation ., ,, ʼ, and
  • A set of basic BASIC keywords
    • Clear
    • Else
    • Goto
    • Hit
    • Hor1
    • Hor2
    • If
    • Key
    • Mod
    • Note
    • Print
    • Then
    • Ver1
    • Ver2
  • Mathematical and assignment operators +, -, ×, ÷, , <, (, >, ), and =
  • Cursor controls Backward and Forward
  • A Newline character
  • IDE controls for:
    • Erase
    • Graphics
    • Halt
    • Output
    • Program
    • Run
    • Stack
    • Status
    • Step
    • Variables

Just looking at the command set, thereʼs a lot of interesting points.

  • It has an else command. There are modern-day computer languages that donʼt even have this feature.
  • It has a goto command. Only recently has goto come in from the cold, and is slowly being embraced by a new generation of programmers decades after being banished to the Gulag of Oldthink.
  • Its keyboard has Control, Meta, Super, and Hyper modifiers, just like keyboards of today. On a modern-day keyboard you may know these as Control, Command, Option, and Hyper. On the Atari keypad, theyʼre color coded White, Red, Blue, and Green.
  • It has a function to slow down the execution of programs so that the programmer can understand whatʼs happening.

    Imagine being someone in 1979, who has lived his entire life with paper and pencils — someone who has never seen a computer in person before — coming to the realization that the simple little program he punched in on his Atari is running so fast that he canʼt keep up with it. This was an epiphanal moment. An awakening. A sense that the cyber-commander art work on the box wasnʼt just fantasy, but an expression of the type of power being brought to ordinary people in their dens.

In addition, when you run a program, the systemʼs cursor moves through the program during execution, allowing you to follow along with whatʼs happening. This kind of functionality is an add-on in modern systems.

On a personal note, I love the idea that it has a Halt command. It brings a lot of nostalgic feelings to my tummy. Back when computers were commanded to run and then halt because of their military origins. A time when you couldnʼt start a computer without a key. When computers had mechanical odometers behind a panel so that the IBM service guy from New Paltz could write down for how many hours you used the machine, to let Big Blueʼs billing department know.

BASIC Programming in all its constrained ugliness

Yesterday was a quiet Saturday, so I sat down with BASIC Programming and approached it with my programmerʼs analytical mind, and without the biases of modern-day development. My conclusion is that this is really quite fun.

I started by typing in all six of the programs I could find on the internet. Unlike the days of typing in program from the backs of magazines, these all worked the first time, with moving dots and pinging sounds. Then I started to experiment on my own.

The dialect of BASIC that this cartridge uses is very much of its era. Variable assignment is done with , instead of =, just like in 1960ʼs and 1970ʼs computing languages like AP/L. Goto is your friend, not your enemy. And the notion of whitespace for readability goes right out the window. This will be a show-stopper for anyone used to cruising Appleʼs internal codebase.

Iʼm not musical in any way, so naturally I enjoyed stringing along rudimentary bloops and bleeps into nonsensical songs. For an afternoon, I was the e e cummings of synthpop, but I was also doing something: I was creating. This was an a-ha moment, and I felt a rainbow connection to dads of the 1970ʼs, sitting cross-legged in wood-paneled living rooms, scales drifting lazily from their eyes as the future was revealed.

If you appreciate programming elegance, the value of simplicity, or simply dig code golf, this is your course. You are forced to think about what youʼre doing. To make choices, evaluate tradeoffs, and make do with what you have. Itʼs a lot of the brain stimulus that gets some people into programming as a profession in the first place

There are a number of people who enjoy making tiny programs. Some so small that they fit into a PC-DOS boot sector. I think a few of those people might thrive within the constraints of this environment.

The biggest limitation of BASIC Programming is memory. You can only cram a few dozen symbols into the machine. Thatʼs to be expected, since the entire console only has 128 bytes of memory. Thatʼs the reality of 1979. But today, people are able to program Atari cartridges that work with comparatively massive amounts of information. One guy even sells Atari carts that are full-motion videos of popular movies. I suspect one of those clever people could find a way to make a version of this that works around the memory limitation.

The second-biggest problem is the Frankensteinian keyboard. As an input device, it was never intended for long-form content. But the cognitive overhead of shifting modes, double-checking the screen, and the constant hunt-and-peck involved make it hard to concentrate on the program, and not on the controller. Perhaps thatʼs another throwback to 1970ʼs computing, though.

Iʼm old enough to be one of those programmers who wrote their programs out on paper first (graph paper, if you were lucky), then typed it into a shared computer, and hoped that it did what was intended. Maybe if I spent more time thinking about the code beforehand, rather than writing it on-the-fly as is common today, coding in BASIC Programming wouldnʼt be so arduous.

BASIC Programming in all its abject simplicity

Still, I think that with a bit of time, it would be possible to come up with a harness that links a standard Human Interface Design keyboard with the pair of Atari joystick ports to emulate the keypad. In my mind, it would take some kind of Arduino or Raspberry Pi device with a dozen I/O pins. Voltage might be an issue, but nothing insurmountable to todayʼs hobbiest.

In fact, using this method, one could actually load BASIC Programming programs stored in a host system through the Arduino-powered keypad interface. You could write a program in Microsoft VS Code, or Panicʼs Nova, and when you push to git, or the version management system of your choice, it could also be sent wirelessly to the Arduino, which then relays the keypresses into the Atari 2600.

Now I know what Iʼm going to do when I retire.

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Any second now

Tuesday, May 25th, 2021 Alive 18,291 days

A progress notice from iPadOS

And by “0 seconds,” iPadOS means “Several minutes.”

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Too bad CentOS is dead

Tuesday, May 25th, 2021 Alive 18,291 days

An advertisement inside Ubuntu

Just when I thought that Linux was the last operating system without built-in advertising, along comes Ubuntu.

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Records still work fine

Wednesday, May 19th, 2021 Alive 18,285 days

An error message from Apple Music

If the single largest company on the planet canʼt keep its services from fudging their Huggies, what chance do I have?

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Left, right, left, right

Sunday, May 16th, 2021 Alive 18,282 days

I went for a walk today. And like a basset hound with a thyroid condition, I can use all the walkies I can get.

On the way home, my watch pinged me with “It looks like you went outside for a walk. Congratulations!” I pushed the wrong buttons trying to take a screenshot, and the message went away. If a smart watch is a jerk to you in a crosswalk and nobody sees it, can you still rant about it?

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Dent Arthur Dent

Friday, May 14th, 2021 Alive 18,280 days

A delivery notification for Zaphod Beeblebrox

Today I learned that delivery apps donʼt care what name you put in them. I think Iʼll be Ford Prefect tomorrow.

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Good for me, not for thee

Friday, May 14th, 2021 Alive 18,280 days

Apple spamming my iPhone

iOS Apps are not allowed to use push messaging for advertising. Unless itʼs an Apple app. Then itʼs perfectly fine.

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Heʼs right

Thursday, May 13th, 2021 Alive 18,279 days

An error message from CARROT³

Today I got hazed by my weather app.

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Saturday, May 8th, 2021 Alive 18,274 days

What if Apple didnʼt release a new iPhone this year? What harm would be done? Why not skip a year of inconsequential changes, and bring us a bigger change in 2023?

Does the world really need another iPhone? Maybe the iPhone designers deserve a rest.

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More like “10/5”

Sunday, May 2nd, 2021 Alive 18,268 days

Contradictory information from DirectNIC

DirectNIC is using a definition of “24/7” with which I was previously unfamiliar.

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Halmark is a spammer

Friday, April 30th, 2021 Alive 18,266 days

A screenshot of my opting out of Hallmarkʼs spam campaign, which it chose to ignore

Hallmark took my e-mail address “for [my] receipt.” I even took a screenshot just in case it lied. Which it did.

I now get spam from Hallmark at the unique e-mail address I set up for this Hallmark order.

Hallmark cannot be trusted.

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No one left to trust

Thursday, April 29th, 2021 Alive 18,265 days

Digital Ocean being a creeper

Today I learned that Digital Ocean watches your help searches and uses them for unsolicited marketing.

This is both very creepy, and a serious privacy issue.

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Wednesday, April 28th, 2021 Alive 18,264 days

Siri still shits herself if you ask to change the volume and you have more than one HomePod.

But thank God the latest iOS update has 30 new bearded lady emojis. Carnival sideshows everywhere are weeping with joy.

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Nerd rage

Sunday, April 25th, 2021 Alive 18,261 days

Hacker News: “This device is so poorly secured, anyone can hack it. This is an outrage!”

Also Hacker news: “This device so secure, I canʼt hack it. This is an outrage!”

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He is from Delaware

Saturday, April 24th, 2021 Alive 18,260 days

Me: “Hey, #Siri, put Hamburger Helper on my groceries list.”

Siri: “Who is speaking?”

Me: “Joe Biden.”

Siri: “OK, Iʼve added it to your groceries list.”

I sure hope the president likes Hamburger Helper.

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Still possible today

Friday, April 23rd, 2021 Alive 18,259 days

A clipping from the September, 1986 issue of Byte magazine.

Tech news from Japan in September, 1986:

But one nearby noodle shop, confronted with competition from its neighbor, may have had the last word when it decided to give itself a “new media” edge. It decided to take advantage of rapidly dropping prices by buying a FAX (facsimile) machine; now I can send in my order for traditional Japanese soba or udon noodles directly from my home FAX machine!

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Negative experience

Thursday, April 22nd, 2021 Alive 18,258 days

Iʼm getting tired of all the lazy developers talking about how great Electron is.

I guess they donʼt have to use Microsoftʼs Azure Storage Explorer, which crashes on a weekly basis, taking down the entire machine and all of their work because itʼs built in Electron, and is not a real program.

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Sunday, April 18th, 2021 Alive 18,254 days

The 2GB/Sydney logo

More proof that Apple is trapped in the Silicon Valley bubble:

Me: “Hey, Siri, play 2GB [two-gee-bee] radio.”

Siri: “Now playing two gigabytes eight hundred seventy three...”

Itʼs only the biggest radio station in the largest city on the continent of Australia.

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What did you do now?

Monday, April 5th, 2021 Alive 18,241 days

An unpleasant message from Harrods

Harrods thinks Iʼm suspicious. I guess Iʼll spend my money over at Liberty, instead.

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Theyʼre right here at

Monday, March 22nd, 2021 Alive 18,227 days

A mysterious object

Not only does Appleʼs Find My app not know where my AirPods are, it doesnʼt even know what to call them.

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72 minutes into the future

Monday, March 15th, 2021 Alive 18,220 days

Microsoft Outlook being stupid

According to Microsoft Outlook, I replied to this message 72 minutes before I received it.

Itʼs not a Daylight Savings Time issue, or it would be just 60 minutes different.

Also, it would be nice if Microsoft Office would pick one date format and stick with it.

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An electrical Ouroboros

Sunday, March 14th, 2021 Alive 18,219 days

A power bank plugged into itself

What happens when you try to charge a USB power bank from itself? Letʼs find out.

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So stop shopping at Walmart

Friday, March 12th, 2021 Alive 18,217 days

An error message from WalMart

In spite of all their fancy JavaScript, and invasive telemetry, I donʼt think online stores really have any idea how much money they lose every day by making their shopping process so complicated that the web site breaks.

Simplifying the stack would save development costs, management costs, and increase sales.

But nobody in tech gets promoted for making things less complicated.

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Pixels arenʼt free

Thursday, March 11th, 2021 Alive 18,216 days

An error message from WalMart

Vague error messages cost less, and Walmart passes that savings on to you!

Assuming you can eventually get to the check-out portion of the web site.

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Sunday, February 21st, 2021 Alive 18,198 days

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by tech companies fucking with you.

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Why is this acceptable?

Sunday, February 14th, 2021 Alive 18,191 days

An error message from an Apple HomePod

A piece of expensive high-tech equipment didnʼt work right in 2021? Shocking!

The error message makes no sense? Thatʼs impossible!

Oh well, Iʼll just look up error number -6753 in the imaginary manual that didnʼt come with the HomePod, and also doesnʼt exist online, or anywhere else.

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127 characters ought be enough for anyone

Friday, February 12th, 2021 Alive 18,189 days

A borked Walmart product listing

Somewhere, a Walmart web developer and his database manager are learning about UTF-8 and utfmb8.

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Saturday, February 6th, 2021 Alive 18,183 days

Me: “Hey, Siri, turn on the foyer lamp.”

Siri: “Playing all songs.”

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A ton of Newtons

Friday, January 29th, 2021 Alive 18,175 days

The New York Times web site incorrectly locating Newton, New Jersey in Kansas

This is what happens when your mapping database doesnʼt have coordinates for a town. It puts the town in Kansas.

In this case, the New York Times map jammed Newton, New Jersey in the middle of Kansas. It probably thinks other towns are there, too.

Never trust any data. Always check for NULL and improbable values.

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Wednesday, January 27th, 2021 Alive 18,173 days

Today I learned that Appleʼs HomePod canʼt play the music you own, stored on your own Mac, in your own home, even with so-called “Home Sharing” enabled.

After 10 years of “Rip, Mix, Burn” can you imagine someone telling Steve Jobs, “We have this new music gadget, but you canʼt play any of the music you own on it.” Only rental music.

Someone would be fired before he even finished that sentence.

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Wednesday, January 27th, 2021 Alive 18,173 days

Me: “Hey, Siri, turn it down.”

HomePod: “Sorry. There as a problem adjusting volume.”

This is what we used to call “Not ready for Prime Time.”

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Wednesday, January 27th, 2021 Alive 18,173 days

Analytics from my HomePod

Today I learned that not only does my HomePod run Apple TVOS, its firmware has a “Bogus Field Not Actually Ever Used,” and a “Bogus Measure Not Actually Ever Used.”

The use of “bogus” confirms the “Designed in California” label.

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Tuesday, January 26th, 2021 Alive 18,172 days

Rubbed keys on a MacBook Air

Using a MacBook Air as your main machine for almost 10 years really gives you a sense of which letters you type most often.

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Busted bars

Thursday, January 21st, 2021 Alive 18,167 days

DoorDashʼs web site asking the impossible

Sure wish I could order Dairy Queen through DoorDash, like the web site says I can.

But DoorDashʼs web site insists that I pick a size for a box of Buster Bars, which only come in one size.

I wonder how many other sales Dairy Queen has lost because of DoorDash.

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Broken apple

Saturday, January 16th, 2021 Alive 18,162 days

An error message from Appleʼs web site

It looks like I broke Apple again.

Can someone turn Apple off, then turn it on again?

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Shout out to Sony

Saturday, January 9th, 2021 Alive 18,155 days

The Art of Noise album Paranoimia

In 1986, the idea of a television that fit in your hand was so futuristic and dystopian that The Art of Noise used it in the art for an album cover.

Today, we have supercomputers in our pockets and on our wrists that can access video in real-time from any country on the planet.

What happened that itʼs not considered scary anymore?

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Saturday, December 19th, 2020 Alive 18,134 days

Amazon Fresh failing at search

“Search is hard,” the tech bubble constantly says.

Itʼs not this hard.

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Saturday, December 5th, 2020 Alive 18,120 days

A screenshot of Appleʼs Home app

How does Appleʼs Home app not have a Christmas tree icon?

That seems like a pretty basic thing for a remote-controlled light switch.

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It is The Onion

Monday, November 30th, 2020 Alive 18,115 days

A screenshot from The Onion's web site

Well, hereʼs a new DGPR fail. Not only can I not decline to be tracked by The Onion, I canʼt even accept to be tracked because the Accept button doesnʼt work.

Maybe this is some kind of subtle humor.

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Well, it was made by monkeys

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020 Alive 18,110 days

A screenshot of MailChimpʼs broken survey

Kinda hard to fill out MailChimpʼs usability survey when the survey is unusable on mobile.

Thereʼs no way to submit the answers.

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Sunday, November 15th, 2020 Alive 18,100 days

An error message from Facebook

Facebook claims to have the “smartest people in the room” working for it.

If Facebook canʼt keep its web site working, what chance do I have?

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Monday, November 9th, 2020 Alive 18,094 days

Diptyqueʼs 404 page

After enduring four pop-ups, I click on “Gifts” and get a 404 error. Good job, Diptyque. It looks like the marketing department runs the web site, not IT.

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Sunday, November 8th, 2020 Alive 18,093 days

A screenshot of a bunch of pop-ups obscuring a web site

I wonder what kind off things Made In New Mexico sells. I guess Iʼll never know since the products are hidden behind six pop-ups.

So I bought elsewhere.

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Youʼre not?

Sunday, November 8th, 2020 Alive 18,093 days

A ScreenTime screenshot

The election makes me look like a screen junkie.

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Thursday, November 5th, 2020 Alive 18,090 days

A Whole Foods error message

If canʼt keep Whole Foods running, what chance do I have?

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Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020 Alive 18,088 days

An error message from eBay

If fleaBay canʼt keep its web site up, what chance do I have?

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Monday, November 2nd, 2020 Alive 18,087 days

An error message from eBay

There is simply no way to opt-out of #spam from fleaBay.

If it canʼt handle something as simple as e-mail subscriptions, why would I trust it with money?

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I know you are, but what am I?

Friday, October 2nd, 2020 Alive 18,056 days

Me: “Hey, Siri put ‘Cut lawn’ on my ‘Outside’ list.”

Siri: “You donʼt have an ‘Outside’ list. Do you want me to create one?”

Me: “Yes.”

Siri: “You donʼt have an ‘Outside’ list. Do you want me to create one?”

Me: “Yes.”

Siri: “You donʼt have an ‘Outside’ list. Do you want me to create one?”

Me: “Yes.”

Iʼm tired of tech bullshit that never works. Iʼm going back to lists on paper. It Just Works™

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Friday, October 2nd, 2020 Alive 18,056 days

Me: “Hey, Siri, put ‘toothpaste’ on my ‘Shopping’ list.”

Siri: “Youʼll have to unlock your iPhone first.”

If I was near my iPhone, Iʼd just put toothpaste on the list myself.

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But Tim Cooks needs a third boat

Sunday, September 13th, 2020 Alive 18,037 days

iPhone spam from Apple

It is against Appleʼs App Store rules to use notifications for advertising.

Apparently, Apple has exempted itself from those rules.

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When everything is an emergency, nothing is an emergency

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020 Alive 18,025 days

An EAS alert from Clark County, Nevada

How to get people to turn off the emergency alert feature on their phones in two easy steps:

  1. Use the EAS system to tell people to get COVID tests.
  2. There is no step two.
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OK, Pal

Wednesday, August 12th, 2020 Alive 18,005 days

An error message from PayPal

If PayPal canʼt handle running a web site, how can I trust it with my money?

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Sunday, July 12th, 2020 Alive 17,974 days

Imagine a world in which using the internet more actually improved a personʼs grammar.

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A small request

Sunday, June 28th, 2020 Alive 17,960 days

An impossibly small font in Apple Maps

Why do so many Apple programs use five-pixel-tall fonts? Who thinks these are a good idea? Even back in Commodore 64 days, we knew that nobody could read a five pixel font.

You donʼt have to be visually impaired, elderly, or even drunk for these to be completely unreadable on a computer screen.

For all the puffery that comes out of Apple about accessibility and inclusiveness, this has to stop.

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Information overload

Thursday, June 18th, 2020 Alive 17,950 days

Overlapping information in Appleʼs Mail program

Two mistakes on the same iOS Mail screen.

If only Apple had a trillion or so dollars to put into quality control.

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Wording be hard

Saturday, June 6th, 2020 Alive 17,938 days

Bad grammar from macOS Safari

Itʼs “downloads from,” not “downloads on.”

Youʼre a trillion-dollar company, not a startup, Apple. You donʼt get a pass on basic grammar.

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Your slip is showing

Thursday, May 14th, 2020 Alive 17,915 days

A Grace Digital web page leaking JavaScript all over the place

Looks like someone at Grace Digital applied strip_tags() in a location where marketing wanted to track some people with JavaScript.

You donʼt need JavaScript to keep track of your customers.

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Monday, April 20th, 2020 Alive 17,891 days

Error messages from both Chase and Citibank

If both Chase and Citibankʼs web sites can be borked at the same time, what chance do I have?

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Sending a message

Monday, February 24th, 2020 Alive 17,835 days

A malformed progress box in iTunes

If Apple canʼt make its programs work, what chance do I… oh, wait. Itʼs iTunes. This is probably an improvement.

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You belong in a museum

Saturday, February 22nd, 2020 Alive 17,833 days

An electronics museum exhibit at the Clark County Public Library

My local library sometimes has little museum exhibits in it. Today I noticed some new artifacts on display, including an Atari 2600 of the sort I played just last week.

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Thursday, February 20th, 2020 Alive 17,831 days

The iOS spell checked flagging the spelling of “Van Buren”

The iOS spell checker doesnʼt know the name of the eighth president of the United States.

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Lowered genius bar

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020 Alive 17,794 days

I happened to be in an Apple Store when an iPhone training session was going on.

The “Genius” told his audience that 1080p means “A thousand pixels per square inch,” and that 4K means “four times as many!”

Ummm… no.

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Should have listened to the Fiat GPS

Monday, October 21st, 2019 Alive 17,709 days

A dirt road across the Nevada desert

Dear Apple Maps,

This is not State Highway 87.

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The Times needs a dictionary

Sunday, September 22nd, 2019 Alive 17,680 days

Notification spam from the New York Times

Nice notification spam, New York Times.

I only have “Breaking News” selected in my notification settings, which the app says is supposed to be “Urgent and important stories.” By definition, the Opinion page is not breaking news.

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Saturday, September 14th, 2019 Alive 17,672 days

An error message on the Chewy web site

I hate to buy cat food from, but I donʼt have much of a choice since Chewyʼs web site has been borked for half an hour now.

If Chewy canʼt keep a web site running, what chance do I have?

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Sunday, September 1st, 2019 Alive 17,659 days

It turns out that Tide Dry Cleaners canʼt handle the Apple Card via Apple Pay.

The card terminal says “Approved,” but the POS system rejects it immediately after.

The physical card works OK. And other cards work fine via Apple Pay. Itʼs just the Apple Card that is giving it fits.

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It can taste titanium?

Sunday, August 25th, 2019 Alive 17,652 days

Today I learned that Albertsons supermarkets wonʼt accept the Apple Card via Apple Pay.

Using other cards via Apple Pay works fine, but Albertsonsʼ POS system throws an error with the Apple Card. “This type of card is not accepted.”

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Is cash legible?

Saturday, August 24th, 2019 Alive 17,651 days

An error message from the parking machine at McCarren International Airport

It turns out that the parking payment machines at the Las Vegas airport canʼt handle Apple Cards at all.

Thereʼs no NFC option, and the physical card is rejected with an “Illegible card” error.

❖ ❖ ❖

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019 Alive 17,648 days

An error message from the New York Times app

The New York Timesʼ 500 page is 404.

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I was fooled

Sunday, July 21st, 2019 Alive 17,617 days

A perfectly ordinary pine tree

Nope, thatʼs not a cell tower. Itʼs totally a tree. In the middle of the desert. 200 miles from the next nearest tree. Totally believable.

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There are alternatives

Monday, June 17th, 2019 Alive 17,583 days

Notification spam from Adobe

Live now: Adobe sends me spam from a product that I pay for!

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Friday, June 14th, 2019 Alive 17,580 days

A botched login screen from iRobot

iRobot is so laser-focused on customer acquisition that its web site gives me two ways to create an account, and zero ways to log in to the account I already have.

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Sunday, February 24th, 2019 Alive 17,470 days

The reds of the Valley of Fire, as it actually often appears to the human eye, which is hard for people who live in humid places to understand

When I load photos of Valley of Fire into programs like Lightroom, they automatically crank the color down 15 notches because the programmers at Adobe in Seattle canʼt conceive of a place that isnʼt as humid and grey as where they live.

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Monday, February 18th, 2019 Alive 17,464 days

The Wikipedia entry for “Teletype”

How much knowledge has been lost thanks to the “information age?”

The entry for “Teletype” in Wikipedia is just 2 paragraphs.

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For just a dollar a day…

Friday, February 15th, 2019 Alive 17,461 days

An error message from the Citibank web site

We only gave Citibank $326,000,000,000.00 in taxpayer money for its bailout. Maybe if we all chip in a little more, Citi can fix its web site.

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A stand-up gal

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019 Alive 17,459 days

A bad search

I searched for “easel.”

One of these things is not like the others.

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Nerd hard

Saturday, February 9th, 2019 Alive 17,455 days

Hard drives winking

Itʼs backup day, which means a stack of USB drives USB driving.

It reminds me of when I ran a node of ARB BBS with a bunch of Commodore 1541ʼs winking and grunting through the night.

Drove my father nuts.

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Friday, February 8th, 2019 Alive 17,454 days

I just found a USB memory stick in the dryer.

This is why old computers were better. Nobody ever accidentally left a floppy disk in their pants pocket.

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Sunday, February 3rd, 2019 Alive 17,449 days

Google marking Superb Owl Sunday

I donʼt often have nice things to say about Google, but Iʼd like to thank Big G for playing along today.

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Saturday, January 19th, 2019 Alive 17,434 days

A commanding finger

I guess I should just be glad that nobody uses the “finger” command anymore.

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Saturday, January 12th, 2019 Alive 17,427 days

A fragile communications link

The nearest cell phone service is seven miles away. But the motel has wifi, which also has to travel the same distance. And every time the wind blows, it goes out.

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Wednesday, January 9th, 2019 Alive 17,424 days

E-mail “progress”

The more e-mail I get, the less inclined I am to check my e-mail. Funny how that works.

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Tuesday, January 8th, 2019 Alive 17,423 days

A dire warning

“Random crashes without meaningful explanation” sounds like pretty much every bit of technology these days.

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Robotic leverage

Sunday, January 6th, 2019 Alive 17,421 days

A self-driving car on The Strip

Always get behind the self-driving cars. Computers know which lane is the fastest.

Self-driving cars in Nevada have special license plates that start with “AU.”

A sample autonomous license plate from the Nevada DMV web site. For some reason it shows “AD,” when it should read “AU.”
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Saturday, January 5th, 2019 Alive 17,420 days

My telephone identifying the neighborʼs cat as a dog

I guess if I never take pictures of dogs, my phone has no reference point to work from.

Perhaps it thinks “Dog = ugly cat.”

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Friday, December 28th, 2018 Alive 17,412 days

Today I learned that the program that started Apollo 11's rockets was called burn_baby_burn. Glad to see I'm not the only one banging out mirthful function names.

Source code

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Friday, December 21st, 2018 Alive 17,405 days

A malfunctioning SiriusXM radio

Iʼm not sure whatʼs happening here. But I am sure itʼs not supposed to happen.

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Tuesday, December 11th, 2018 Alive 17,395 days

Ever have one of those days when you think, “Wow, my web sites are really fast today!” and then you realize you spent the last hour tinkering on localhost?

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Saturday, December 8th, 2018 Alive 17,392 days

An error message from Google

Itʼs always nice to be reminded that Googleʼs G Suite for business really isnʼt enterprise-grade.

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Saturday, December 8th, 2018 Alive 17,392 days

A Christmas greeting from

I received this e-mail from my registrar in Austria. You can tell itʼs not an American company, because itʼs not afraid to say “Christmas.”

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Saturday, November 24th, 2018 Alive 17,378 days

Remember when we could balance our finances without a computer?

You know — before technology made everything "easier?"

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Friday, November 23rd, 2018 Alive 17,377 days

An administative login screen on the Smashing Pumpkins web site

This is what happens when you try to view the privacy policy and terms of service on the Smashing Pumpkins web store.

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Wednesday, November 21st, 2018 Alive 17,375 days

An error message caused by the Nevada Secretary of Stateʼs web site

The good news is it isnʼt just banks that constantly have borked web sites.

The bad news is that the Nevada Secretary of State is farkled now.

I hope everyone didnʼt go home for the long weekend already.

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Sunday, November 18th, 2018 Alive 17,372 days

An error message on the Library of Congress web page

If the Library of Congress — the federally-funded keeper of all the nationʼs facts and secrets — canʼt keep its web site running, what chance do I have?

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Saturday, November 10th, 2018 Alive 17,364 days

AT&T telling me to wait

“Give us a moment” has been spinning in my browser for three hours.

I guess AT&Tʼs web site is connected through the ever-reliable AT&T network.

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Saturday, November 10th, 2018 Alive 17,364 days

An error message from Synchrony Bank

Is Synchrony Bank canʼt keep its web site from eating itself, what chance do I have?

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Sunday, November 4th, 2018 Alive 17,358 days

An iPhone, and an iPhone X

For some reason I broke out Darcieʼs original 2007 iPhone. Works fine, except web browsing is a mess. So much smaller, thicker, and heavier than a current phone, but it just feels good to hold. Nice and solid. And it has places to grip it that arenʼt the screen.

Iʼm not a big fan of all-glass phones.

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Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018 Alive 17,346 days

Today I learned that the IT guy who wouldnʼt allow Macs or iPhones on the corporate network at a former employer because “Macs are stupid” is now free to peddle his “Windows rulz!” bullshit full time in the unemployment line because he refused to take Macintosh/Unix networking classes.

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Wednesday, October 17th, 2018 Alive 17,340 days

Restoring erased media

My main media drive ate itself away, wiping out 4TB of movies, music, and TV shows. So I spent most of the last week pulling my hair out trying to reconstruct the files and metadata.

Tonight I remembered that I make monthly backups. My brain hates me.

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Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018 Alive 17,326 days

An error message from Uber

Every time I try to give Uber a chance, I end up taking a Lyft.

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Monday, September 24th, 2018 Alive 17,317 days

A six-pixel-tall font in Apple News

I love Apple News on the iPhone, but on macOS, it uses a six-pixel-tall font. And most headlines are just ten pixels tall, with no way to scale them.

Itʼs unusable by anyone past puberty.

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Monday, September 24th, 2018 Alive 17,317 days

macOS Mojave installation screen

I guess if itʼs called “Mojave,” Iʼm kinda obligated to try it out.

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Wednesday, September 12th, 2018 Alive 17,305 days

A screenshot of htop

New machine at work. 12 cores. No waiting.

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Sunday, August 26th, 2018 Alive 17,288 days

A functional function

This is what happens when youʼre debugging a web site and The Smiths comes on the radio.

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Saturday, August 25th, 2018 Alive 17,287 days

Darcie: Have you been using my phone?

Me: Why?

Darcie: All my ads have changed.

Me: I Googled “astronaut diapers.”

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Saturday, August 25th, 2018 Alive 17,287 days

A photo of a cockroach as a featured image in a hotel listing

My first thought was to blame the webdev for using unvetted user-uploaded photos when no other pictures of the property were available. Then I realized I should blame the people who run the motel for the condition it is in.

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Saturday, August 25th, 2018 Alive 17,287 days

A cat at a computer

He probably just reset all of my passwords to Garfield quotes again.

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Friday, August 24th, 2018 Alive 17,286 days

A request for help from the vacuum cleaner

While I appreciate the vacuum cleaner putting in extra effort while I’m at work, the nearest cliff is like a half a mile away.

Itʼs going to have to find its own ride home.

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Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018 Alive 17,284 days

A big task for a small machine

If anyoneʼs looking for a doctor online and the maps donʼt match up with the addresses… yeah, thatʼs my fault. Render faster, ya pile of crap!

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Sunday, August 12th, 2018 Alive 17,274 days

My Facebook feed this morning:

  • An important service alert from a transit agency in some other city.
  • An obviously fake friend request from someone who thinks a Sharpie is an eyebrow pencil.
  • A promoted post from some company Iʼve never heard of pushing something I donʼt care about.
  • “People You May Know” who are all people I donʼt know.
  • Someone elseʼs memory of an event 5 years ago I wasnʼt at and donʼt care about.
  • A post from a “neighborhood” group on the other side of town.
  • A “Suggested Post” about something I donʼt care about.
  • A post in a language that I donʼt speak, but thatʼs OK because I do follow the Yomiuri Giants.
  • A post from the state parks people about a state park 400 miles away.
  • An image caption repost of a repost of a repost of a repost from someone who thinks that lifeʼs problems can be solved by re-posting other peopleʼs refrigerator magnet thoughts.
  • An ad for a coffee chain in another city with no locations within 700 miles.
  • A “Breaking News” weather alert about a dust storm last week.
  • A news item that a local TV station posted three months ago.
  • A photograph of someone I donʼt know who is friends with someone who is friends with someone who might know this person
  • A photo from an actual Facebook friend, but itʼs of his tween daughter in a leotard. Ummm…
  • An ad for a coffee chain in another country.
  • One of those “URGENT! URGENT!1!11!! Please help us find out dog!” re-posts from someone 2,500 miles away.
  • A re-post of a image caption thatʼs been around since the 1990ʼs.

Good job, Facebook. Glad to see the $70 billion spent on “user engagement AI” is working out for you.

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Friday, August 10th, 2018 Alive 17,272 days

An ad running during the annual Black Hat convention

This is why four weeks a year it is not a good idea to take your phone to The Strip. I keep mine off at work while these hacker conferences are going on.

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Thursday, July 26th, 2018 Alive 17,257 days

The macOS calculator

Today I learned that macOS has a programmerʼs calculator built-in. And has since 1992. Doh!

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Monday, July 23rd, 2018 Alive 17,254 days

Installing a Mapnik tile server

It turns out that the IT department wonʼt notice you installing your own Mapnik tile server on localhost if itʼs too busy freaking out about your terminal emulator that transforms an HDMI connection into a bad 3270 display, complete with burn-in, flickering, and horizontal hold issues.

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Sunday, July 22nd, 2018 Alive 17,253 days

A successful XMODEM transmission

We have achieved XMODEM on the TRS-80. Weekend project complete.

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Saturday, July 21st, 2018 Alive 17,252 days

A slow transmission

Itʼs been a long time since I transferred a file at 300 baud. I think thatʼs how I got fat as a kid. Nothing to do for 12 minutes but see whatʼs in the fridge.

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Sunday, July 15th, 2018 Alive 17,246 days

In April of 1982, I waited an agonizing three weeks for the UPS guy to deliver a 1541 drive that could hold 170K of data.

Tonight, Amazon brought me a drive that holds 25,000 times more data… in 90 minutes… at midnight.

So maybe not everything is more terrible today than it used to be.

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Tuesday, July 10th, 2018 Alive 17,241 days

I wonder how many times someoneʼs said aloud, “Hey, Siri, *buuuuuuuuuuuurp!*

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Saturday, July 7th, 2018 Alive 17,238 days

A non-responsive Cox Internet web site

When your internet providerʼs web site is borked…

Naturally, the bill payment section works. But only the bill payment section.

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Wednesday, June 20th, 2018 Alive 17,221 days

Saw this while reading some Google documentation today:

Values equal to or greater than 1 will be ignored, and a value of 0 will completely shut your piehole.

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Five bars are not enough

Friday, June 8th, 2018 Alive 17,209 days

A failed telephone call

Smartphones are great at being “smart.” Theyʼre not always very good at the whole “phone” part.

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Definitely number two

Thursday, April 14th, 2016 Alive 16,424 days


The nice lady at the maid café wrote “ウイーナ♡” on the cheki we took of ourselves.

According to Google Translate, that's Japanese for “Weena.” I guess that means one of the following:

  1. She thinks Iʼm a winner.
  2. She thinks Iʼm a wiener.
  3. Google Translate is bad at translation.
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Be careful where you stick that thing

Friday, April 2nd, 2010 Alive 14,220 days

A clip from Rendering Fake Soft Shadows with Smoothies by the M.I.T. Laboratory for Computer Science video, found on the thumb drive

I found a thumb drive today.

It was laying on the pavers beneath a park bench outside of the weird little multi-level shoulda-been-a-strip-mall downtown. I suspect at one time this was a pretty hopping little corner of Bellevue. But thereʼs a bunch of empty storefronts in it now, probably from the real estate recession. Hopefully it comes back to life some day.

Iʼm not going to introduce a random USB drive found on a random slice of concrete under a random bench in a random city on a randomly nice day to my computer. At least not my main computer. But I do have my wifeʼs old banger Linux machine that I can re-image from ROM to pave over anything that might crawl out of this drive. The drive is, after all, lime green.

A slide from a Microsoft GameFest 2008 PowerPoint on the found thumb drive

Looking at the files on the drive reveals… code. Not nuclear missile launch codes, but computer code for what looks like a video game. I learned ray tracing in C back in college, so I recognize a good chunk of whatʼs going on; but clearly C has evolved quite a bit since the days when I used to have to reserve time on a machine in the university computer lab in order to compile my homework. What I can figure out is this:

  • Itʼs a childrenʼs game called iPlayDough.
  • It seems to be about building objects, and having those objects interact with other objects using real-world physics.
  • The game was written for Microsoft Windows using CryENGINE 2, and versions were under development for OS X and for iPhones.
  • The game was written on a Windows machine using Microsoft Visual Studio Code.
  • This thumb drive was lost by someone named Aleks.

I surmise that Aleks lost this thumb drive late last year, as the newest timestamp is October 9, 2009. Aleks seems to be involved in the gameʼs graphics. His TODO list is brief:

  • Edit with vertex normals
  • Render with face normals
  • Smooth tool

Aleks has been to a number of graphics-related tech conferences around the West Coast, and keeps videos, audio recordings, and slideshows from those conferences on the thumb drive next to his game code for reference.

A slide from the March, 2004 Valve presentation Half-Life 2/Valve Source Shading found on the thumb drive

Iʼm not sure how I would track down Aleks to return this drive to him. I thought about giving it to the police department. When I was a little kid I turned in a wallet I found to the local cops, and they reunited it with the owner, who rewarded me with five bucks (which was pretty lame, since the wallet had a couple of hundred in it). But Bellevue tells me that unless the item has a minimum value of $50, itʼs not interested.

I suppose I could just knock on the doors of the various game companies in town. But there are a lot of game companies in Bellevue, and I donʼt want to turn the drive over to a competitor. So I guess itʼs better to just let this drive remain “lost” forever. The drive was probably a backup of files from his desktop machine, so no harm done. Itʼs not like people build code on a thumb drive.

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Wednesday, April 12th, 1989 Alive 6,560 days

The cover of the June, 1989 issue of Commodore Magazine

For the second time in two years, Iʼm in a computer magazine.

Not on the cover this time, and itʼs only for scoring an honorable mention in a contest, not as part of an editorial spread, but itʼs something.

Back in February, I saw a note on the ARB BBS down in South Amboy that Commodore Magazine was having a computer painting contest that actually included art made on a Commodore 64. These days, when people talk about computer graphics, itʼs all about the Amiga. But this contest actually took entries from us 64 people. Itʼs probably the last one that will. I wonder if this is how VIC-20 people felt in 1983.

Since I had luck getting my art published in Run magazine last year, I chose a picture from my files, bought a floppy disk mailer from the Post Office, and sent it out. Yesterday, I got a copy of the magazine in the mail, along with a check for $100. The magazine should be on newsstands in a few weeks. The check will be converted into gas money for the Summer.

Page 57 of the June, 1989 issue of Commodore Magazine

Whatʼs nice about it this time around is that the magazine lists what software each artist used to create their picture. Iʼm an Advanced OCP Art Studio user these days, but the picture I submitted is rather old, so itʼs listed correctly as being done in Koala Painter. Iʼve also moved from using a Koala Pad for input to an Atari Trak-Ball. I adore my Pad, but itʼs nice to sit back with my feet up on the desk and a finger on each button while moving the ball around with one thumb. Very comfortable for long painting sessions.

Iʼd gratified to see that so many other C-64 artists also use the same programs I do — Koala Painter and OCP. Thereʼs also a couple of programs listed that I donʼt know: MicroIllustrator, and Artist. And itʼs nice to see people are still creating wonderful things with Doodle!. That was my first painting program, and the only reason I donʼt use it anymore is because I prefer the extra colors available in the low-resolution 160x200 mode, while Doodle! only works in the high-resolution 320x200 mode.

New York by me, from the June, 1989 issue of Commodore Magazine

Thatʼs not to say that you canʼt do incredible things with Doodle!; you absolutely can. Jim Sachs works in 320x200x2, and he is the best of the best. But it requires a lot of thought and planning. High resolution mode is best used by analytical minds who can think far ahead of their creative side. When I started out, that appealed to me a lot. Getting a block of colors to line up the way I wanted was like winning a chess match against a VIC-Ⅱ chip. But now the challenge is different. Now itʼs about using color and shadows to overcome the limits of the 4x8x3 color cell.

Itʼs Friday, so my parents should come home tonight, and Iʼll show it to them then. Hopefully they see more in it than the check. I tried to show it to my friends this morning, but none of them seemed to care. Theyʼre very wrapped up in the prom that Iʼm not going to. Susan was a little supportive, but I think she was just being polite. Sheʼs that way. Everyone else dismissed it as playing with a computer toy.

Something I notice is that the subject matter of most of the art is very traditional. This struck me when I saw Anne Coleʼs Bison. I thought to myself, “Iʼve seen this somewhere before.” And then I realized that what Iʼve seen before is a photo of a bison with snow on its face. And Iʼve seen it maybe a hundred times.

These artists — including Ms. Cole, who is using DeluxePaint on an Amiga — have access to the best technology that money can buy. And instead of creating something new with their imaginations, theyʼre re-creating the art of yesteryear. I, too, am guilty of this with my digital painting of the Twin Towers. Itʼs something Iʼve seen a thousand times, and something thatʼs been photographed by other people millions of times. But can it be considered good, if itʼs something that could be done better with a camera, or even a paint brush?

Maybe thatʼs why my friends were unimpressed. Being immersed in technology, Iʼm overcome by the notion of imagined possibilities turned into reality. But the actual reality that my friends saw is that weʼre just a bunch of geeks frittering away with blocky finger paints. Maybe people who are not into computers see the results, not the method, and so are able to judge the results, not the effort.

What I showed them was my proud technological achievement. What they saw was less good than a three-year-old attacking the wainscoting with a pack of blunt Crayolas. It hurts to think of it, but they must be right. It wouldnʼt hurt otherwise. Strip away the artifice of the method, and the art that remains is poor. Nobody cares how hard it was for you to climb the mountain. All they care about is that you planted a flag on the summit.

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