Thursday, December 14, 2017

TV/Electronics tech advances

15 years ago or thereabouts I had simple cell phone, then I had a phone and a Palm Pilot, then a phone, a pilot and an iPod.

I remember saying to someone at work that what I *really* wanted was the unification of all three, so that I was only carrying one gadget. Three was too many.

That did eventually happen, with the IPhone. For reasons, I didn't get into that level of smart phone right away, not until 2010, and I started with an Android, because I thought I was going to do a programming project for it (that never happened, and eventually I hated the device--Android at that time was stinky). But I did love the success of only having one device.

The problem with this is that the Pilot was better at one particular thing I needed to do, and adequate at the remainder, and I STILL cannot do that one thing equally well since having to give it up. This really bites, and I could damn sure solve it if I could program the iPhone in my preferred language (Java, which Apple doesn't allow). I'm not going back to android.


Where is this going?

Why hasn't the television world unified all those devices along with the obvious expansions that should happen?

What is it I want? I want a single unit, so I don't have cables all over. I want that unit to do the cable/satellite interface (i.e., channel tuning, DVR, channel guide, etc), I want it to play a DVD/blu-ray, I'd like it to do all the online things that Apple TV does.

And I want to use voice control.

I don't want to spend a pile of time flipping through a hard-to-read channel guide. I'd like the screen to be touch-sensitive. I want to be able to say "play channel 24", "what's on TCM now?", "record this movie", "open the dvd tray"

Why isn't this the default of new TVs already? There's nothing new there that involves R&D, just a coordinated integration spec. You can imagine it being just slightly configurable, inasmuch as I need to be able to replace the "cable" interface sub-unit with a satellite equivalent. And I need to upgrade from DVD to blu-ray at some point. (OK, I can play a blu-ray through the xbox, but that's outside the voice-control, and many people don't have xboxes. And no reason the xbox couldn't have an external-peripheral interface that let me still have voice-control (which wouldn't have to be extra-complex), although as I think on it, that might only really have to be "power on xbox", "power off", and a couple other things. I wouldn't really want to use the voice to replace the xbox controller handheld.

What do you think? Have I missed something else that should be included?

You'd think this was already done, but it's not. ChromeCast uses your phone as the primary device, but I sure don't want that. I'm ok with it as the "remote", but not as the streaming source. The TV still has to do the heavy lifting, regardless of whether your phone is the remote or not. (and if it is, I should be able to talk to Siri, which accomplishes the voice control?)

Why couldn't my XBox be the unit with all the smarts? Well, it'd need a 2T hard disk, or allow an external one somehow, or a local-network storage (

What about Alexa? and FireTV? OK, apparently you can now get an Alexa TV. That sounds good, but it doesn't work with my satellite box.

Years ago you could get a PCI card that was a tv tuner, and then software that would use it. I had one, that was really nice, until the channels I wanted most to record (TCM) went digital and encrypted.

At the moment, it looks like the Alexa-TV/Echo-Dot combo is the closest. And available as a 65-inch 4K. But no cable/satellite. These devices are also, of course, intended to be used by folks with real broadband internet, not folks with satellite.

It shouldn't take an Advanced Degree(™) to figure this out.

Economics lessons, part 1

It shouldn't take an Advanced Degree(™) in Economics to figure out how the economy works, but it sure seems like it does.

"We're going to bring back coal" -- what a ludicrous thing to say. Does anyone think this is going to happen ? Why? It's not. Coal is nearly dead. And you don't want it to come back. Those are nasty dangerous jobs, with illness and reduced life expectancy for everyone involved or nearby. Mine collapse, black lung disease, polluted drinking water. Where coal is burned, polluted air. No good.

Why is coal going away?

Basic lesson: old business models are replaced by new ones that are more efficient in some way. Old tools are replaced by new ones. You could call this economic Darwinism if you're aren't afraid of evolution. If you are, well, you're going to get rolled under by those who aren't, and no amount of stupid from the current federal government/administration will stop it.

Cases in point:

1) Horses. up to 1900, personal transportation was either on foot or on horse. Neither goes very far or very fast, so your travel is very limited. Well, okay, since 1840 there WERE places you could go on a train. But not to the grocery store.

A horse is more efficient that walking, if for no other reason than something besides YOU is doing the work, and the cargo load is greater.

But what's worse is the pollution aspect of horses. Imagine that you are in 1890 New York City. Four million people live there. There are a LOT of horses. Horses poop everywhere. It's probably less bad in the winter than the summer, but it's still bad. And you can't turn it off. (Imagine if the car you drove in the 1950s, 5mpg and high-pollution, could never have the engine turned off…not then an improvement over a horse.) Horses drop dead in the streets; then they rot: flies and disease. You can't hook a horse on the back of a tow-truck and take it to the dealer for repair.

So the revolution here is when an automobile becomes possible, and priced right, it eliminates horses as transportation almost overnight.

(Remember a good Henry Ford quote here: "If I'd asked people what they wanted, they'd have said 'better horses'" because most people's vision extends only just beyond their front door. Well, he gave us a better horse, and a better business model along the way. (Yes, I know Ford didn't really say that.))

2) Shopping. about the time I was born, your standard shopping experience was to go to a department store, let's call it "Sears", and you could talk to someone who actually had expertise/knowledge about how to do something and what tools to use, and they could sell you those tools.

Now, well, Sears is slowly going out of business. With the increased competition that Sears faced, and the willingness of stores to compete on price, the American consumer reached a point where purchase price was the critical aspect. That resulted in a need to cut costs at Sears (and everywhere else), and one of the costs that got cut was labor. Reduced pay because of cheaper workers means reduced purchase prices which means customers don't go elsewhere. It also means that workers are less knowledgeable. Turning those workers into part-timers to avoid paying benefits also keeps costs low, but you still only get the lesser workers. And those workers are the ones that interact with customers. Retail customers don't like trying to deal with dumb employees, but it's not like that's not true everywhere else too. And because aggregately we have decide that cost beats all, this was inevitable.

When you are forced to compete on price, rather than product or service quality, you get a race to the bottom. That always results in a shakeout where some close, some are bought, and a couple limp along getting slowly worse and worse.

As Sears has gone downhill, so have others, putting people out of work.

What's the business model that accelerates this? Well, Sears itself started it back in the 1800s. Remember the "wish book" ? Yeah, that was it, combined with Wells Fargo wagons (remember the song from The Music Man?). The model: send a catalog to a customer, let the customer place a written order with a paper check, box items and put them onto a Wells Fargo Wagon, wagon delivers to customer. Customer doesn't have to visit a store, in fact CAN'T because it's too far away. The process isn't fast, but it means you have access to thousands, millions of customers who don't live in town, or live on the other SIDE of town. Remember that transportation back then was horseback.

Back in the day, you could even buy a house, as a kit, from Sears.

So what was that? It was a new and more efficient business model. Enabled because of reasonably efficient postal service, banking service, and transportation service. Those things were, of course, still fairly limited, but still a giant leap over 100 years before.

3) Amazon. Now the equivalent model is + Paypal + FedEx/UPS. Instead of a turnaround time of weeks, it's now days, and perhaps only hours if you live near an Amazon distribution center. So those Sears jobs are turning into Amazon jobs. At least you don't have to interact with dumb employees or customers.

A theoretically perfect market is like this: you as customer have access to the advertising service, which has access to the payment service, and the delivery service, and all of that can turn around with minutes to hours. That sounds like today, with one exception: in a perfect market ALL possible goods and services are available for purchase at all times. I want to buy an "X" and the advertising service shows me who has that for sale. Our current market is imperfect in that some things are not for sale when you want to buy and go looking, but it's awfully damn close.

The old business model of "brick-and-mortar" stores is just about dead. Yes, there are still a lot of stores around. But that's going away. an old business model that is no longer efficient enough. One of the other reasons why the newer model is more efficient is that if you buy pants that don't fit you can just send them back and order a different size. Soon as you know you wear 34x32 pants, that's the only size you order. No need to try them on at at store.

4) 3D printing. This is going to replace a bunch of manufacturing flavors, over time. You will do it yourself at home. It will be more efficient to own a printer, and order a design, which it then makes for you. There is ZERO shipping cost, beyond raw-material refills. Eventually this is the Star Trek synthesizer. Make-on-demand. No need for a store, because there's no need for inventory.

5) Delivery via drones. Amazon is working this. It will have limited range, but be more efficient for small things, and nearly fully automated: this will reduce vehicle traffic at ground level. Just wait until the air is full of these things, tho.

Back to why coal can't come back…it's an old business model. It worked at the time because it was very low-tech, and because of that there weren't any competitors. You could dig it out of the ground with a pickaxe and haul it home with a horse-cart. But it was still nasty. At large scale, it was also dangerous. Oil is high-tech, but there aren't any mine collapses or explosions. (well, you get oil spills, those are nasty too.)

The coal competitors involve a bit more advanced technology, in varying amounts. Oil/etc require special transportation, special processing, special handling at your house. Natural gas is similar. Electricity puts the most dangerous parts far from your house, and you can do a lot more with it. Solar can bring power generation right back to your house again, and the fuel source is free, but the tech to create solar panels isn't trivial.

Here, too, tho, coal itself displaced a predecessor: trees. Much higher energy density, same transportation methods. Problem: non-renewable. You can grow trees in your yard.

Coal is nasty from the get-go. Oils is too. NatGas not so much. Solar is nasty only at manufacturing time (I imagine that disposal time will be too, but I haven't heard about much of that going on, the wear out age of solar panels is still probably well into the future).

But very little of that involves human work any more. And that is why coal is going away.


All of these advances are the result of automation. Improved tech is a kind of automation. Both are better business models.

Which all result in job losers. Job winners, too, but the jobs are different, and the people are too. 50 years ago cars were still largely hand-made. Assembly lines, yes, but human workers. Now they are almost fully automated. Competition and therefore cost pressures forced this to be true. You want to buy a human-made car? Who still does that? Rolls Royce. Bentley. Morgan. Ferrari. Lamborghini. What's the sales price? Yeah: quarter-mil+

(look here: for a fascinating explanation)

Coal production, such as it still is here in the US, is not guys in mines with pickaxes. It's giant earth-moving trucks scraping a mountain flat out west. The mining jobs are gone. Automation has killed them. Not coming back. Waiting for them to come back because some knucklehead presidential candidate says they will is foolish in the extreme.

Automation has already killed a lot of jobs here in the US. Cost pressures moved a lot of jobs outside the US, and automation will kill them too.

Winners and losers. Economic Darwinism. Survival of the adaptable.

Inevitable. And scary.


An afterthought or two:

1) the coming "AI" revolution is already changing things, and that will accelerate. I don't know how or where. I used to work in that area, when it was still primitive. It was great fun, but inevitably came the pullback of "this is still too hard".

2) electric cars. If I live another 30 years I will see the end of the internal-combustion-engine-driven car. Gasoline will go away. What is currently a gas station hasn't been solely a gas station for years. It's a convenience store where one product is gasoline. Don't plan on keeping your current car forever. Or your antique.

3) self-driving cars and the Uber/Lyft equivalents will eliminate private ownership of vehicles for the most part. Self-driving trucks are in the near future (test vehicles are already in use). This will be one disruptive use of AI. Taxis are doomed; well, the ones driven by humans are. Uber service with self-driving cars will be the new thing--you won't even own a car.

4) There are plenty of historical occasions where the upheaval of new tech replacing old tech causes social unrest and rioting/vandalism.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Solar Power at the home

Hyde University campus has two buildings. One of them was designed and built by me, aka "the barn", and the other is the house.

Where HU is located it's readily possible to have a 30 inch snowfall. I think two years ago we have one that was ~24. Fortunately, it's rare, and doesn't last long (the 24 was only a few days long before melting). The barn has a poured concrete floor on cinderblock supports (because the ground is sloped there). While the foundation isn't precisely flat, it's close. There's about a half-inch variation from the corners to the side-centers. (I didn't know that at pour time, only discovered it as I was installing wall framing sections and not getting the precise alignment I wanted.)

So when I designed the barn, I requested roof trusses capable of handling that 30 inches of snow. The roof is corrugated sheet metal sections on one-inch purlins every 24 inches.

Part of the reason for that was to handle the snow, but another part is that I would like to put about 5KW of solar on the roof. Solar has some weight, but not like the snow. But it's permanent weight, so the trusses are "storage trusses", which means I can also shove boards up there on the inside, and I have done that; mostly it's 2x4 and 2x6, altho my 50/60-year-old cherry one-by is up there too.

So this is all fine. I have a price quote on installing solar, but it's higher than I want, so I haven't done it yet. The quote has, in my opinion, too much battery and not enough panel. I want to be able to start my table saw (Delta Unisaw, 1HP motor, this looks about the same vintage as mine)

while a sawdust collector runs. There's a power-drain-surge while an electric motor starts up, so I want to only start them one at a time, but that's easy enough, and you want to do the collector first. (That said, my "collector" might just be a squirrel-cage blower to vent sawdust out the side wall; I have one, but it's sitting on the floor right now.)

This is a typical two-bag collector.

If you look at Google Images for "sawdust collector" you can see a lot of home-brew variations involving a shop-vac. Shop-vac is usually fairly low-power.

A Squirrel-cage is like this (except that mine is WAY bigger):

I'd just bolt that square opening to a hole I'd cut in the exterior wall, mount a water-blocking cover/shield over it and blow dust out. That'd work fine. It's not like I'm going to be cutting so much sawdust that there'd be a mound of it, it'd just be a dusting, and there's often enough breeze to dissipate that anyway.

So where is this all leading?

The HU house doesn't have the same kind of roof trusses. They are simple triangles with a center-post, no diagonal struts. That makes it easy to climb in around them, but I now have the feeling that I can't do solar on the house, which I *especially* wanted to do, with the barn as a test-drive.

This is a bummer. The house has A LOT of roof, because it's a single-floor ranch, and solar would be great.

I don't know if this has a solution. The trusses over the garage are 2x6, so they are stronger than 2x4 trusses, where the barn has 2x4 trusses with mid-supports.

It might be going to take an Advanced Degree I don't have to figure this one out.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Using Google Earth

Have been using this lately. Working a project where the geographics are important, and someone sent me a KMZ file of some relevant info.

It finally works better than it used to. Hooray!

In the past it was the case that it crashed my laptop really bad--so bad that it needed power-cycling to recover--and now that hasn't happened; well, not on my Mac Pro. I'm not trying it on the laptop again, that was way too painful--so painful that deleting the application was what I did. Twice.

Project is that I may need a ground station for some work, and need to figure out what is possible relative to some other things regarding geolocations.

Years ago I wrote my own GIS program, and while I'd prefer to use that, it doesn't, at the moment, read KMZ files. KML, yes, but not KMZ. Given that KMZ is just zipped KML, that's not significant, but it doesn't. It doesn't show satellite images from a WMS/WFS server, etc, because I didn't ever need that. Probably don't here, either, if I could grab the appropriate data-sets as shapefiles or KML.

The application is interesting, how to solve the rural broadband internet problem. Using a different solution than what you typically read about. Since Hyde University is now based out in the sticks, we need a better solution than the current choices. Can't VPN out here, for example. Boo.

IOS, OSX and Calendars

Someone needed to share a calendar with me for some common planning needs…this has been true for some years now, but today I decided I'd try to solve it again.

This should be trivially simple, but it's not. And in fact a good bit of the online help  is flat-out wrong. May have been true in the past but it ain't now.

And it should not require an Advanced Degree(™) to figure it out, on either side of the equation. Altho it used to, way back when…

Used to be that to share calendars you had to set up some weird caldav goings on. I was successful doing that once, but that was like 2004 or something. Way too hard.

If you look at:

How to Share Calendars from iPhone, iPad - OS X Daily

That's dated early 2017, you'd think that was still ok. But it's at least one full version of IOS behind. I currently have IOS 11.1.2, and what the OSX Daily page shows you in screenshots simply can't be done because the GUI has changed to remove what they show and describe.

How to do it now:

I regret that you need to do this from a Mac. It appears impossible on your iPhone or Ipad.

You have to go to calendar in OSX. Make sure the sidebar that lists all the calendars is visible.

Mouse over the name of the calendar you want to share. To the right of the name you will see a pale gray "icon" appear, that looks like the wifi icon of several circular arcs that are supposed to look like a radio signal. Click on that icon.

You now get a popup asking you to enter a contact or email:

Hit the checkbox if it's a one-way share. Otherwise, it's a common calendar all subscribers can modify.

You can enter names from your Contacts, and it matches them properly. As it should.

The recipient will receive an email asking if they want to subscribe. This went weird for me, so I don't want to claim I handled that properly. On my Ipad I got a special alert asking for confirmation and when I hit "yes" the calendar got added, and after another few minutes all the events showed up. Don't expect the events to appear instantly…

In any case, it does work, but you cannot do it from you handheld. This is stupid. REALLY stupid. Didn't matter for me, once I realized that OSX is the start point, but it you only have a phone, you are SOL.

Shame on Apple for removing that capability.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

New Wolfenstein

This really looks good. No, I don't have it yet, at 55 gigabytes, it's going to be a while before I can actually download that whole thing. Probably going to wait until xmas, when I'll be somewhere that has unlimited internet and I can allow the multiple-hours download.

In any case, I watched about 10 mins of play-through video (which was amusing, the guy doing the playing had it set to lowest difficulty and was getting killed often). Resolution and detail look impressive. Starting out in the wheelchair looks pretty hard. I'll need to go back and play the others (New Order, Old Blood) first.

Monday, October 09, 2017

new iPhone

Got the iPhone 8 here tend days ago or something.

Key reason I did the upgrade is inductive charging. I don't have that charger yet, but that's why.

This is is glass front AND BACK. Turns out that's not as good an idea as it sounds, although the reason is to allow for the inductive charger.

The issue is that now the back is slippery. The old one was not. This is slippery in the near-perfect sense that if you set it down on a sloped surface, it slides off. Onto whatever next surface is lower down, which might not be what you want AT ALL.

And it doesn't seem to matter what that slope angle is. I have set it down on what seem like near-zero angles and it does slowly slide down/off. For nearly flat, it may take a few minutes to actually do it, but I've watched it happen.

It's not completely frictionless, of course, or the slide would be instantaneous per physical inertia.

At first I was wondering if there was some kinda of internal vibration causing this, but I can't feel anything. It just happens.

That all said…

It's a much more responsive device. But not completely error-free--I've still had some web-pages reset during loading because there's some javascript error.

I'm not convinced I like the new "home" button…well, NON-button. The I-6 had a mechanical button--it felt solid when you really clicked it. This is a touch-click, which takes getting used to, and it's a LOT faster about fingerprint-to-unlock, faster than I'm comfortable with.

The last problem I had with it is that it requires a newer ITunes than I am working with. You have to have 12.7, which comes with a newer OSX than I am running right now. I am slowly going through upgrades to get there, while I try to figure out just what all applications are going to stay back with the older machine I may have to keep alive.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Ken Burns Vietnam.

Watched I think all but a few mins here/there.

Impressive. I learned a good bit.

I'm just enough too young to have turned 18 after we were completely out, and in that weird late-70s birthdate-window of about 2 years where you didn't even have to register for the draft  at all. So I didn't.

Young enough also that it mostly all happened when I wasn't really hearing about it. Plus, I spent a number of those years in several somewhat isolated places (Air Force Academy, for example, about as isolated as you could get and still have running water; I grew up in the military, my dad was IN Vietnam for most of a year).

So while I sort-of remembered a lot of the names of locations, I don't really remember why.

The whole thing was a huge cock-up. That seems to stem from a few factors:

1) This horrific post-WW2 Communist boogeyman fear. That messed us up all by itself, with HUAC and related crap. Some of us got convinced that anywhere something called itself communist was by definition going to end up being the equivalent of an eastern-european Soviet satellite/barrier/puppet state, sporting nuclear missiles like Cuba did at one point (and that episode we brought on ourselves, thanks JFK). The "domino theory" was stupid, although if you are fear-driven it seemed reasonable. You how it played out--no dominos.

2) WW2 was the last "good" or "clean" war. The veterans of that war were the parents of the draftees for Vietnam. And we'd created and heard endless stories about that having been a just war--where we were clearly "the good guys". So that's what we thought war was about.

3) Racism. This still haunts us. One required stage in war is the dehumanization of the enemy. There was plenty of residue of that from Korea (which was also really nasty, but not in the same way). So when both North and South Vietnamese "look alike" -- which is "enemy" ? And when they're all "gooks" (leftover word from Korea, or older?), smelly unattractive heathens who need the guiding hand of the white man who can help extract their country's natural resources for them and educate them in the proper ways of civilization and religion…well, we're starting out wrong. And our own racism in-squad about other Americans. It's a wonder there weren't more friendly-fire episodes (recall how Willem Dafoe dies in Full Metal Jacket?).

4) We really didn't understand the region. We understood/feared communism, or so we thought. Ho Chi Minh called the North "communist", but really the struggle was a fight for freedom from foreign invaders--and that included us, it was not a fight to become communist, that was just an excuse to receive guns and ammo from China/USSR. The NVA/VC were willing to fight to the last man/woman/child to get rid of us, which was not something we had ever actually experienced--all our experiences had had an "enemy" that was going to surrender at some point (well, except Korea, which in retrospect, wasn't that different from Vietnam). But while NVA/VC accepted military weapons from China and USSR, they didn't intend to be puppets of either one; this same bucket of Stupid got repeated by us a number of places in Latin America, except that we weren't committing troops, just money, to corrupt regimes that would more or less say "Give us money to fight off these locals who want to become communist leadership", but were going to fight them off anyway, they just scammed us for the money.

5) The South Vietnamese government, military, etc., one big corrupt kleptocracy (I sure didn't know that). They weren't good enough themselves to win--they weren't even trying hard. And we couldn't fight their civil war for them. (well, we *could* have, but that wasn't going to work.) 

6) The local situation had been badly handled from the beginning. Which is 100 years earlier near the end of the european-powers colonial period, which was driven by religion, racism, and greed and its own supremacy battles that had raged for centuries.

7) Women and kids as combatants. That was awkward for us--completely out of our experience, but not unusual for freedom fighting.

So the NVA/VC are freedom fighters. "One mans terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." They want to reunify N/S, with themselves in charge of course, after the stupid partitioning that occurred after WW2 ended, that let the French back in. The Vietnamese was in the 50s to get rid of the French didn't teach us anything, and USA looked way too much like more Frenchies.

And the whole thing was a big nasty episode from beginning to end, full of The Stupid, for which we have paid a huge price.

One thing I thought was interesting: The Revolution was televised. Unlike Ken Burns Civil War, where he did find a bunch of still photos (classic Matthew Brady), Vietnam seemed to have a film photographer in every squad and cameras running all the time. So some of those otherwise iconic photos we all remember vividly: the NV spy getting shot in the street, the burning naked girl…those weren't just stills, they were filmed for minutes. I had no idea. I didn't watch the news (didn't really watch ANY tv, same as now).

It was clear that we weren't going to win if we fought the limited war we tried to fight with inadequate troops, on the VC/NVA terms. Recall that last episode? Where NVA brings a long column of mechanized infantry down the trail, and gets the snot knocked out of them by B-52 firepower? Yeah, that was where they battled on *our* terms, and we clobbered them--because all our military thinking was still about how to fight a tank-battle in europe, and suddenly they gave us the opportunity to do so. They had no experience with that, and we had decades of planning and experience. (And, weirdly, that was till the planning approach for an expected direct conflict with USSR--a tank battle in europe: tank battle, Fulda Gap.) (And thus the massive, quick win in Gulf War 1991--Iraq was dangerously stupid about what they could/not do versus what we could do, they massed a load of mechanized ground forces, completely didn't understand air power, and we pounded them flat in a matter of weeks, and then made the same error we made in 1945: we didn't go to Baghdad and knock over the Iraqi gov't. (In 45 we should have rolled into Moscow…imagine if we had knocked over the USSR communist gov't: no cold war, no...Vietnam)

So of course we lost. It was really inevitable. 

Also a stark recognition: the similarity to the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was stunning. We learned nothing. The battlefield changed from jungle to urban, or rocky mountainous areas--no one could hide, and the fight was similarly nasty, a large guerrilla war (not a clean fight against nazis that behaved like a normal army), and the enemy looks just like the not-enemy, but we are still the foreign invaders.

And Vietnam divided us like nothing other than the Civil War--we learned that we can't trust the government. Can't trust the President. We don't all have the same definition of Patriotism--that continues to be divisive.

Glad to see that Burns used all the music from the era. You can't really separate that time from its music. Pressure creates diamonds, and there were quite a few. I was surprised to NOT hear Barry Sadler's song Green Berets.

We handled the return of soldiers badly. There was so much other social trauma going on here, and Vietnam was not separable from it.

I hope that for a lot of folks who were there that this sparks the cathartic opportunities they need to finally talk about it, and that they can achieve some greater personal peace as a result. The conversations seem to have been taking place. My father was in Vietnam 72/73. He died in 96 of pancreatic cancer. I think he probably got infected by nasty stuff from there, likely Agent Orange in the water, other crud like that. He didn't have a combat job, was in Saigon, at Than Son Nhut, which was occasionally subject to VC mortar shelling in the general area. He'd get under his bed and then go back to sleep. I never asked, but it sounded like no real persona trauma.

And I expect that in 20-30 years Ken Burns will need to do Irag/Afghanistan. Sand instead of jungle, but not much different, altho we didn't overreact against the returning soldiers. Feels like the same errors all made all over again, new actors, same script.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Older ITunes trouble

For various reasons, primarily that of not wanting to shell out hundreds of $ every time a new OS forces paid software App updates, I tend to allow the OS world to pass me by.

In the spring this year I had hardware failure on my Windows PC. So I build a whole new machine. Reinstalled apps, games (geez, turned out I had nearly a terabyte of game files, that took a while). This was on Windows 7; I never upgraded that because 8 was an atrocity, 9 never existed. So a couple months after this new hardware build (btw: 4.5GHz hex-core Intel, 16Gig RAM finally, this time I didn't build a tiny machine), Win 7 updates itself, then says "oh, I don't understand this fancy shmancy new hardware, I can't upgrade myself properly now", and my graphics updates are broken too. That means nearly no games work, and I wonder what else is goofed I will have to upgrade to Windows 10.

I mention all that because Windows isn't nearly as good as OSX about upgrades. In general, in the past, you were better off with a clean wipe and reload from zero. That's time consuming, but probably better for Windows anyway.

OSX was not like that. Is not like that. New versions, if they are going to run on your machine, will install as clean upgrades.

But eventually OSX outgrows your hardware. This means you have to buy new hardware occasionally. So now I'm in the habit of not buying new hardware from Apple. EBay has used machines at great prices. So I've bought some older hardware.

In fact, several older hardwares.

I have a G5 machine, with older apps on it. Expensive Apps. That I can't afford to update again. So that one was also serving as music source, with a fiber cable to my fancy newer hifi that takes optical in. Works great. Runs 10.5, aka Leopard.

About a year ago, got a replacement machine with some newer App versions. That was nice. Came with 10.7 (Lion), the newest/lastest it could take.

Now the ITunes problem. Lion, at least on this machine, has either done something odd about virtual memory (actually another unix partition that you can't see) -- vm partition not big enough -- or ITunes is really flawed. ITunes uses VM partition space (I guess?) while actually playing music, and eventually exhausts it. If you pause music, it stops using space, and resumes when you un-pause. I normally just let it run continuously, and hit the mute button on the hifi remote.

So after a few days, ITunes fills virtual memory, and then it hangs, and OSX Lion says "you are out of application memory" but of course I'm not, it's just ITunes being stupid. This never happened on the G5 machine (and the corresponding software).

So I got a new used machine this month. A 3.5GHz dual-hex-core Mac Pro. Most powerful machine Apple ever made. Cloned the boot disk out of the Lion machine for safety. Installed original into dual-hex. Upgraded to Mountain Lion. Same thing just happened with ITunes--"out of application memory"

At this point the only thing that is the same is that the boot disk that had Lion on it now has Mountain Lion. Otherwise everything else is new. I don't know how to make the swap partition any larger here (at the unix level I could do it easily enough, not actually hard there, but I think that the swap-space is dynamic these days, and my knowledge is from the old static-swap days). This disk reports having 200 GB free. It's an SSD--could that be the cause? Don't know. (This is not a fully updated Mtn Lion, and it's ITunes 12.2. Later: fully updated, with version 12.4. I think 12.7 is the latest, needed for some IPhone 8 stuff.)

So what is going on?'s called a memory leak. It's a software bug. The likeliest situation I can think of is that memory is being allocated for the audio data and then not released--audio files are pretty big, and after playing for 60 continuous hours, at roughly 1 megabyte per minute, never de-allocated, ITunes has pushed 3.6 gigabytes into page space, and exhausted what it is allowed to have. OK, it shouldn't be using that much RAM anyway, but it's the de-allocation failure that is the issue. This is just about the oldest software bug there is after indexing off the end of an array in C. I suspect that what has happened here is that ITunes is not properly releasing a pointer to already-played audio data, so it's hogging space, and eventually you're out. (And given how slowly new data is created/released in audio speeds, it's not like the problem about running out of file handles, which is A LOT easier to bump into if you aren't closing files that you've opened--which, I grant you, could also be a problem here, but decent code scanners will warn you about that.) I've been guilty of failing to close open files in my own code, but nothing I've written that had lengthy runtime had that problem (partly because you run out of "file handles" after a bit. A project I called "The Fridge" was a distributed grid engine, and while it was self-recovering if there was a disaster, it really needed to be not ever having the need to. Altho there was this one error on Linux where a shelled sub-process crashed so very hard it would take down the grid engine node; never did figure out what was wrong there, and now I've forgotten what that sub-process was.)

Or, if it's the disk itself, there is something similar going in that space is not getting deallocated properly after use in the swap partition. That could be investigated by cloning this disk back onto a platter drive and using that for a while. I have some other trade-arounds I could do. OTOH, it's only ITunes that is screwing up. You could also imagine this being associated with the optical fiber digital audio out, I've never used that before in my life; at the same time, ITunes for Leopard using optical wasn't doing this.

Also: at some point here soon I'm going to upgrade this machine to Maverick. If there's an ITunes bug still there, one would hope it is gone. But maybe it isn't...

In any case, if you are doing what I am doing and are experiencing this crash on an older OSX, the simples approach is to totally quit ITunes at the end of the day (or first thing in the morning) and restart it. You'll lose your position in whatever playlist you were in, but that beats a full machine reboot...
slightly later: ITunes here seems hurt worse/differently: it reaches a state where it is still playing, but I cannot go to the GUI and do anything. I hid it, and it won't reappear, and "Force Quit" reports is as not responding. I hope it's not the case that that Lion original is messed up, I can't reinstall-from-scratch some of the apps, and I need to use them. Grrr.

Later: I created an Automator iCal alarm app in which I quit ITunes, wait 30 sec, restart ITunes, and tell it to start playing. That is set to repeat every day at 12.05 am, i.e., right after midnight. That way there's no opportunity to accumulate too much memory-leak trash.

That's gotta be better. I hope that the upgrade to Sierra eventually eliminates this bug.

Later later: the daily reset of ITunes seems to be working, but last night it crashed at some point. This is getting tiresome. Later later: ok, that was a one-time problem, hasn't happened again since.

The old quad-core Pro is slowly dying, so it's powered-down right now. I need to recover what I can there, but the machine is not looking good right now. Ethernet seems to go out, video acts weird after a bit, audio sockets don't work...