Tetris with/on wheels

I love the video game Tetris, the old Russian puzzle game based on blocks of four. When I worked at Nintendo back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and 16/32/64-bit systems were still over the horizon, one of the benefits of my job was sitting at my desk playing with the (yet unreleased) GameBoy. The only GamePakâ„¢ I had was Tetris, but that is all I needed or wanted. Whenever I got on the phone I’d pick up the GameBoy and start stacking bricks. I still do that today, but usually with the “Breakout”-style games on my Treo or iPod. The game takes away my lizard-brain need to fidget with something while my mammalian brain can concentrate on talking. If you call me at work, and the conversation goes for more than a couple of minutes, I’m smashing bricks on my Treo, almost guaranteed. Weird I know, but that is how I work. I should write some discourse sometime about fidgety behaviors, but not today.

Today I played Tetris in real time with two complete tire/wheel or tire sets of FOUR each… that is FOUR Dayton 6″ stainless steel wire wheels, with some old worn Pirelli p4000 super touring tires mounted. FOUR new Pirelli p4000 super touring tires (wrapped in pairs for added Tetris difficulty!) THREE empty 5 gallon buckets (for my home-brew Diesel rig) and ONE 5 gallon Diesel can. Plus myself, my two bags, and extra set of shoes. All this I stacked into my 2002 Volkswagen Jetta TDi for a run into Seattle. I dropped the wheels and tires off at Foster’s Wheel Service for mounting. All the Seattle Jag club folks I talked to suggested Fosters, so there I went. (Actually I did get a suggestion for a place down in Kent, but that is a bit of a drive for me coming down from Arlington!) I dropped off my wheels and one of my signed copies of the KZOK Classic Car Calendar for them.

Amazingly, it all came out a lot faster than it went in, but before I left I took some photos of the FOUR by THREE configuration in the car (Any hard core Tetris player would know why I didn’t dare stack another set of FOUR things in there!:

It may be a boring looking, Teutonically efficient (52 MPG on veggie oil), dull little car, but those Germans do design it to be very useful. Gotta admire that to some degree. There is no way I could have squeezed that load into a Toyota or Honda of equivalent size.

I agree with Paul Wigton’s dad in that life is too short to drive a boring car, which is why I have the Jag. But you will note that I don’t drive it to work more than once or twice a year. 😉

Separation Anxiety

I dropped my ailing laptop off at the Apple Store in Southcenter today at lunch. Last night I imaged the HDD onto an external drive, and was pleasantly surprised that it booted my old, wheezing, battered Titanium G4 PowerBook. If you recall, this laptop isn’t really a “laptop” anymore, since it will not run on anything but AC power. It also has several broken ports (USB and power mostly) and frequently fails to function. Let’s hope it survives long enough for my 15″ “AlBook” to return home.

I must admit, I felt a significant wave of anxiety wash over me as I left the mall and headed to my car. I’m usually not a very anxious guy, but this particular machine is what allows me to do my work, and I admit to being somewhat attached to it. Odd feeling really.

The drop-off experience was less than perfect, but I think that Apple didn’t really think out the whole after-sales support part of the Retail game… least of all with these “mini stores.” What should have taken 15 minutes dragged out into 90 minutes. Can’t fault the staff at the store for that though… they were fine.

Reading update

Along with not updating the web log lately, I have neglected to update my reading link. I finished “Castles of Steel” over the New Years’ Holiday. My friend John Welch (see blog roll) sent me two books for Christmas which I’m into now. One is James Madison’s personal notes from the debates which produced the US Constitution. The U.S.C. is one of my favorite documents ever written, and it bears multiple readings, along with the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. If frustrates me to no end that our current President seems willing to violate the terms of the agreement he swore to uphold in his Oath of Office. We spent millions to impeach the previous officeholder for much lighter crimes. Oh well.. this isn’t a Political Blog, so I’ll leave it at that. I could never write a political blog… because nobody understands my politics it seems. My Democrat friends are all convinced I’m a Republican, and my Republican friends all swear I’m a Democrat. I’m so far out of both camps that I find it not worth trying to define to them because they all want to mold me into one or the other. Political opinion is NOT binary, though it seems so many Americans believe it has to be.

Anyway, it is fascinating reading to hear about what issues were important at the time, and how they affected the debate, and how the framers distilled the issues into language that was applicable yet open to be used to handle issues that they had no idea would even exist 200+ years later.

Good timing for a bad event

My 15″ Powerbook, which I bought in September, chose the morning of the day I was to speak at Macworld Expo to die.

Well, not die really, but have what most would consider to be a “near death experience.”

I was in my hotel room, checking email when it sort of half-kernel panicked. Sort of? Let me explain… When you Kernel Panic, the MacOS kind of greys your screen then pops a multi-lingual error message that basically says: “Reboot your computer, sorry.” This time it greyed, but never asked for the reboot. I’ve never seen it do that before. I power cycled it, but it just chimed and blinked at me. GREAT. A few hours prior to my session and my laptop is dead.

Being a somewhat competent network geek, I always have backups, but of course they were a thousand miles away in my Seattle office, and I was in a hotel in San Francisco, scheduled to speak at the MacIT conference in a few hours. Even if I could get my data, and I needed a functional machine to put it on.

Of course I created this situation. How? I usually travel with a backup hard drive, a burned CD of my preso, repair utilities, a full mobile repair kit, etc. My sturdy computer/messenger bag is almost always stuffed with handy “save my ass” stuff. Except that I never use them so I left them behind this year. Bad move obviously!

So I found the local Apple Store and walked over from my hotel, hoping to get it diagnosed. I walk in, and go up to the “Genius Bar”… only to find out they are booked through to the following afternoon! (sigh) So I walk towards Moscone, stop at a drugstore and buy a set of jewelers’ screwdrivers, and figure I’ll be doing it myself. Once in the speaker’s lounge I am of course surrounded by Mac geeks who as soon as they hear the chime identify it as a RAM issue. (digital.forest client Schoun Regan was the first to offer that diagnosis actually, thanks Schoun!)

It turns out this is a fairly common issue: The infamous “empty lower slot” error in 15″ aluminum G4 powerbooks. Some Googling revealed this to be a terrifyingly common problem. It seems there are a lot of folks who have this (all with 15″, 1.5 Ghz G4 powerbooks), and Apple has not acknowledged it as a defect (yet.) I moved my RAM chip from the lower to the upper slot and instead of chimes of death, I was greeted with the familiar happy chord that a Mac makes when booting. So at least I could continue, deliver my session, and get on with life… though with a non-functional memory slot.

The irony, besides the day-of-session timing, was that the day before I bought another 512mb of RAM for the laptop and was looking forward to installing it upon my return to Seattle. So until I get this fixed I can’t use this RAM. =\ I considered returning the RAM for a 1GB SODIMM, but never had the time to get out around to it.

fast-forward two weeks

Another MacIT speaker who was at the table when I was fixing the powerbook, Dave Pooser iChatted me yesterday that Apple has finally copped to the problem and has created a repair extension program for the issue. I printed out that page and went over to the Apple Store near my office tonight. The “Genius” there only had a one-hour wait, so I signed up and hung out until he had a moment to look at my powerbook. True to every “intermittent” issue, when we moved the DIMM to the lower slot, the damn thing booted just fine… five times in a row. He sort of shrugged and said “if it happens again, bring it in.” Thankfully about 10 minutes later as I was still sitting there talking with him, the powerbook just turned itself off at random, then refused to boot, giving the same chimes. Convinced, he created a work order for it and was preparing to ship it off for repair. He asked me if I had a backup, and I said “at my office, sure.” I asked how long it would take, and he speculates a week or so. I told him my office was very close, so why don’t I go over there, make sure I have a good clone of the machine and something I can work from in the meantime, and bring it back tomorrow. He agreed, so here I am about to clone my drive and make an attempt to run on my battered old “titanium” powerbook for a week or so. It died last summer with a complete loss of power… won’t run off battery, and only occasionally runs of AC power. Should be an entertaining week.

I’ll let you know when the repaired G4 comes back.

Screamin’ deal on an Xserve

A supplier we use has a bunch of Xserve Cluster Nodes; Dual CPU G5, 2 gigs of RAM, 80gb disk… 33% off retail.

Since you hardly ever see Apple gear at more than 10% to 15% off, this is a great buy. We are buying a bunch for ourselves, and if anyone is interested in grabbing one or more, let me know. Send email to: cg at forest dot net.

Back from Macworld Expo

Macworld Expo is like reliving your Freshman year in college, condensed into a week: Lots of Hard Work, Sleep Deprivation, and Binge Drinking.

I’m back home after Macworld Expo, and of course have a cold. Those of us in the “mac community” know this as the “post expo crud”… sigh.

Anyway, I do not consider myself one of those Technology Pundits who feels the need to comment on every move made by Apple, Microsoft, etc. and spread it around the “Blogosphere.” So if you are looking for Yet Another SteveNote rehash, or my view on the Intel based Macintosh you are out of luck. For one thing the famed “Reality Distortion Field” has no affect on me (it actually works backwards.) Additionally, I spent about 3 minutes playing with a MacBook Pro (what a dumb name!) so I can’t really give you an honest assessment of its performance beyond “yeah, it worked.”

I attend Expo because for me it is an invaluable opportunity to meet face to face with my peers. I get together with a bunch of people that I converse with via email and iChat during the rest of the year, and an even greater number of people whom I really only see once a year. At Expo. When I was an “apprentice technologist” back in the early 90s, I was lucky enough to attend a series of great conferences, Mactivity, Seybold, Macworld Expo, etc. At those conferences I learned a lot, was motivated by what I saw, and met and became acquainted with a number of very smart people.

So for me, expo is a way to reconnect to those folks, as well as take an opportunity to provide motivation to today’s conference attendees… which I consider a responsibility now that I have survived to become one of technology’s, as my friend Chuq von Rospach says, “old pharts.”

This year I spoke at the MacIT Conference part of Expo. I shared the stage with Shaun Redmond, with whom I have done four previous conference sessions (usually on Network Troubleshooting and/or Security.) Shaun and I work well together in that we are able to communicate well in tandem, never having any pauses, and he plays the great straight man and provides me with perfect setups for punch lines. Shaun & I took on the subject of “Building A Better Datacenter”, which took on the issues surrounding building and maintaining server facilities. Shaun works for a school district in Ontario, Canada, and so he represented the “small” end of the scale, whereas I, even though our datacenter is of a modest (~1000 servers, 5000sq ft.) size by industry standards, represented the “large” end. The audience was small, but I will say they were enthusiastic and a great group to speak to. We used up our 90 minutes, and ended up staying over a half hour longer answering all their questions. I REALLY like it when an audience is into the subject matter and participate like that. I also liked that this is a subject matter that will ‘stick’… meaning that there is no possibility of a software release, or a change in technology strategy will alter or dilute the knowledge that Shaun & I taught the audience. I’ve done sessions in the past that were obsolete within a year (or less!) and it is frustrating considering the price that conference attendees pay.

I also meet up with Vendors, Clients, professional associates, make a few dashes about the show floor, and of course attend parties and socialize. Macworld Expo is like reliving your Freshman year in college, condensed into a week: Hard work, sleep deprivation, and binge drinking.

There are annual events that I can’t miss:
* The Mac-Mgrs Night-before-the-Keynote Get Together
Hard to miss since I am the host!
* The A/UX Users Group Dinner
None of us still use A/UX, but we can’t let the long-running joke die
* The ‘Netter’s Dinner at Hunan
this year with the return of John Pugh after an 8 year absence
* The YML “Rock’s Expo” party
a great affair put on by a long-time client of digital.forest, Shawn King & Your Mac Life

Expo still motivates me too. One great benefit of the Conference Faculty pass is that I can sit in on any session. I try and focus on sessions that I can apply to the coming year’s technology goals for digital.forest. Paul Kent from IDG puts on a great technology conference and somehow every year manages to hit a sweet spot of what people need to know. I picked up some great ideas and am looking forward to setting the goals for my group at work this year based on what I learned this week.

Vintage Car Events Compared

Trevor asked:
I found your blog through your Colorado 1000 event. I really liked the photos. They did the job very well. I’d like to make the 2006 event and would like to make that the goal for my car. I’ve contacted them about regestering, so we’ll see as I think they only have space for 75 cars. Did you get in right away or did you have to wait for space? Are you going in 2006?

Look forward to any thoughts on it. Thanks, Trevor

So here I’ll take a moment to do a personal comparative of the various events I’ve been lucky enough to participate in, and share what I have heard about other events. This is just my opinion, and the opinion of others, expressed to me, so remember everyone will experience these things differently.

First of all though, I was invited to the Grand as a co-driver, so I have no real idea how easy or hard it is to get in (though I have some guesses…) My car is not old enough to go on that event, so I hadn’t thought about going. For me it was a “consolation prize” for missing another event due to the Jaguar’s engine troubles.

To my understanding vintage sports car events began here in the US about 20 years ago. The first two were the California Mille, and the Colorado Grand. Both did their best to emulate what the founders thought were the best qualities of the European events (such as the Mille Millia in Italy), such as the running of significant old cars, without the risks involved in racing them. Both the Grand and the Mille are therefore “tours”. They cover some distance every day, and stay in nice hotels with (usually) good food. The price tags for these events are steep.

The Grand and Mille also have become a magnet for the most exclusive of cars. First, the field is limited to pre-1960 machines. Then, like I said in my diary of the Colorado Grand, here was a place where stunning and rare machinery such as a 300sl, or a Ferrari 250 GT are “pedestrian”… where else will you see actual pre-war Alfas or Le Mans pedigreed sports cars out for a 1000 mile drive?? The event managers do their best to focus on the unique, and I suspect that only by having been a “regular” event attendee would you be able to bring something as “pedestrian” as a production Healey or Jaguar. I haven’t been on the California Mille yet. I found the Colorado Grand to be enjoyable, but being a first-timer myself I didn’t really get to know too many folks. Those that I did get to know were great, but I have to admit I felt a bit outside the “clique” of people who have been doing the Grand for 10 or 15 years. I’ve heard good things about the California Mille, and I have gone on three other Martin Swig organized events (The Cannonball Classic, the La Carrera Nevada, & the Mille Autunno… which I’ll cover later.) The only thing bad I’ve heard about the Mille is roads and weather. Otherwise an auto tour of Northern California sounds like fun.

The natural evolution of the vintage sports car event beyond the above, then went in two directions. One towards a more competitive event, the other towards a less expensive event.

Rich Taylor’s Vintage Rallies events are the former. Like the famous tours they are not cheap, but they add spice to the event by adding some mild competition. It is basic – very basic – Time/Speed/Distance rallying. Rich also frequently arranges speed events at racetracks… everything from cones, to road courses, to ovals, to dragstrips. He’s even thrown in some Karting on occasion! This, in my opinion makes it a LOT more enjoyable. The TSD is easy enough that you can take it easy, or make it a real competition. Everything that you find on a tour is there, but the competition angle adds a lot of fun to it. The people on Rich’s events are great folks as well. We’ve met some wonderful people there.

If you only could do ONE vintage sports car event, I’d suggest doing one of Rich Taylor’s. He does an amazing job, and I’ve never failed to have a blast doing one.

The other events I have heard of, but yet to participate in, are the so-called “rat rallies”. These are barely-organized, low-cost, no-frills, cheap-motel, tours. They seem most common in California, but I suspect they can be found anywhere there is a critical mass of old car owners. I’ve been invited to a couple, and will get down there for one some day… but so far I’ve either been too busy at work, or the car has been broken at the time. Maybe 2006?

speaking of broken cars…
There is another tour, close to home, that I signed up for last year, that I had to withdraw from. The Going To The Sun Rally in Montana. I was really jazzed about this one, and REALLY wanted to go when the whole engine fiasco happened with the E-type. I had exchanged a bunch of emails with the event organizers, and they sounded like great guys. The route looked wonderful. But fate intervened. I re-applied for next year and can’t wait to go. Trevor, if you can get in that one we could caravan over to Montana and back, adding some more adventure to it!

As I mentioned above, Martin Swig puts on several events a year, not all of them big production tours. They range from the low-key “anti-football run” (being held tomorrow morning), to the California Mille. I noticed that he’s listing two of the larger “rat rallies” on his site now too. I did the Mille Autunno in 2004 and had a great time. The roads and people were great. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, especially since it is a west coast event.

There are others out there. The Copperstate 1000 is in Arizona. I have heard it is a very social event, with a very friendly crowd attending. I’ve never been on it. I have heard of another one, in Utah(?), called the “Red Rocks Rally” (?) that is supposed to be nice too.

On the more competitive end of the scale there is the Targa Newfoundland, and Brock Yates “One Lap of America”… I wouldn’t mind having a go at either of those, but I doubt my car is up to them!

I imagine there are many more that I haven’t heard of.

Overall, you can’t go wrong with any of these. The roads and cars are amazing, and the people fun. The only limiters are time and budget. Like I said before, if you could only do ONE, I’d pick a Rich Taylor/Vintage Rallies event. That little bit of competition makes it so much more fun in my mind. Especially if your co-driver is another “car guy”… if you bring along the wife/gf/mistress/SO/whatever, you might want to pick a more social event… unless she’s REALLY cool about car stuff.

Hope that answers your question Trevor. Thanks for asking. Even if we don’t meet up at one of these events, we’ll have to get together for a drive sometime!