Monday, March 24, 2008

Strange stuff in Santa Fe

As we were having morning coffee, Robin read a story in the newspaper about someone who threw a bottle in the ocean off the coast of Oregon twenty-something years ago and it was found washed up on shore in Alaska just recently.

I told Robin that reminded me of a "note in a bottle" experience that I had in 1990. My son, Josh, who was in Junior High at the time, and I were home on a Sunday afternoon. We lived on a road in the foothills of Santa Fe that had originally been an arroyo that drained water from the foothills to the Santa Fe River, which was very nearby. Every year or so, when a big rain storm drenched the mountains and foothills, a flash flood would suddenly come raging down the street.

This particular August 12th, we were watching TV when we heard a roar that sounded something like a freight train outside. It wasn't raining in our neighborhood, but it was pouring higher up in the foothills. We went outside and the street that ran up the side of our house, Lorenzo Road, was under about five feet of class 5 rapids. Our yard (and all the yards in the neighborhood) were about 10 feet above the road, so the street/river was not a threat.

I said "Hey, lets write a note and put it in a bottle. We'll put our name and address in the note, and ask anyone who finds it to write and tell us where they found it." We found a plastic Evian water bottle, wrote a quick note on scrap paper, and tossed in the rapids.

We didn't think we'd ever see it again. Or at least, not soon enough that we'd still be living at that location. If someone found it ten years later, we'd never know it.

About two or three weeks later Josh and I were outside, unloading groceries from the car. A kid that lived up the lane from our driveway came walking up to us and said "Did you put this in the river?" It was the note that we had written. "Where did you find it?" we asked the kid.

"My family was on vacation in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. An old Mexican man saw our Santa Fe license plate and came running up to our car and asked if we were from Santa Fe. We said yes, and he handed us this note and said he'd found it in the river (the Rio Grande)."

Maybe it's just me, but come on. What are the chances that the bottle could have made it through the Santa Fe River all the way to the Rio Grande, then through a couple of dam systems, all the way to Mexico? And then to be found in Mexico by someone who lives a dozen houses away?

I had lost track of the note over the years, didn't have a clue what had happened to it. The day after telling Robin this story, she's going through some files in one of her filing cabinets in her office and pulls the note out of a folder.

I don't know what's going on here, but I'm framing this piece of scrap paper.


The original note in a bottle that made it from Santa Fe to Mexico and back.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Time Machine

If you have a Mac that's running the Leopard operating system, do yourself a huge favor and take advantage of the automatic backup feature called Time Machine. It has saved me a lot of stress, grief, and time several times in the past six months. Several times I needed a older version of a file that I had made changes to. Once I needed an older version of my Address Book and iCal info. And just yesterday I totally screwed up my admin password (long story) and couldn't install software updates. Fortunately, Time Machine was there and I was able to start up the Mac from the original Leopard install disc, then choose a System folder from an earlier date and restore it. The older System folder contained original admin password data (data that I later changed while experimenting with user accounts).

It took about two hours, but Time Machine restored the system perfectly while I worked on another computer. I'm guessing that Time Machine saved me a couple of days of reinstalling a new System and all the applications that were on the Mac. Just knowing that Time Machine is at work removes a lot of anxiety. If I'm working on an important document and it crashes, I know that Time Machine checks regularly and makes a new backup when a file has changed. I can always go back in time, select a backed up version of the file, then click "Restore."

To use Time Machine, you'll need to connect an external FireWire hard disk to your Mac that serves as a backup volume. Or you can buy Apple's wireless backup device called Time Capsule. Same thing, only wireless. And with Time Capsule, you can use it as the backup volume for multiple computers.

Once you connect a dedicated hard disk (or Time Capsule) and set it as the Time Machine backup volume, backups are automatically performed in the background whenever a file is created or modified.

To restore an item (a file or folder), select it, then click the Time Machine icon in the Dock (below).


The screen transforms into a star field (below) with windows receding into the background (back in time). Click the 3D arrows to transport back in time to the last saved version of the selected file. Or hover your cursor over the vertical timeline on the right side of the screen to select a backup date. When you find a version of the item you want to restore, click "Restore" in the bottom-right corner. The file is restored to your Mac and its current environment. Oh so easy. And convenient.


To restore an entire System, as mentioned above, it's a little more involved because you have to start (and run) your computer from another System, such as from your original install disc, or from a connected bootable backup disk.

I only mention this because I know soooo many people who don't back up regularly. In fact, the only ones I know who back up regularly are a tiny handful of wise, stress-free, souls who use Time Machine. When it's this easy, go ahead and do it dangit.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Airline flight tracking coolness

Recently (last night, actually) I needed to check on the status of an arriving flight so I could pick up Robin and friend Amy. They were returning from England, due to land in Houston, then catch a flight from Houston to Albuquerque. Severe weather in Houston was casting doubt on the flight schedule, so I opened my Flight Tracker widget in Dashboard.

The widget is pretty cool, but, as you can see (below), the mapping of the flight location is so simple that it's hard to tell exactly where the plane is. But who cares? This is close enough. Unless you're in the habit of expecting information overload from your web inquiries. And I am. In the habit. Of wanting more information. Than necessary.


So I searched Google for an alternative "flight tracking widget." I quickly discovered On the FlightStats home page you can check any flight's status by entering an airline name and flight number. The web page shows the flight's location on a Google map (below). The map automatically updates every 20 seconds or so, alternating between map views and positional information. The positional information includes stuff I really want but have absolutely no need for, such as current latitude and longitude, speed, bearing, miles to destination, and miles from origin. It also gives me information that I do actually need, such as flight and airport delay info, departure and arrival times (both scheduled and actual).


Click the "Options" button on the status page to set the Google map to Street View, Satellite View, or Hybrid View.

Click the "Pilot" button to chat with the pilot. Just kidding, but maybe it's in the works for the next version.

Since this is a web page, and not a widget, I can create my own widget using Safari's Web Clip tool in the Safari toolbar. I click on the scissors icon in Safari's toolbar (circled below), hover the cursor over the section of the web page I want to transform into a widget (that section of the page is automatically highlighted, as shown below-right), then click the "Add" button.


Zapola! An instant FlightStatus widget in my Dashboard (below). Five seconds ago I didn't know a single widget programmer, and now I are one.


Great stuff. Just one problem. Even though Robin's flight was on schedule, and I had more information than I needed, I barely made it to the airport on time because I was mesmerized, watching her plane fly from Houston to Albuquerque.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

iPhone, you've put me in a bad mood

I don't own an iPhone. But I've seen them. And I love them. I think they're great. I want one.

But here's the problem. Lately, every time I look at (or try to use) any other phone, I get extremely irritated by the absolutely horrendous junk that phone companies are willing pass off as human-friendly interface design. I watch Robin and various friends happily and effortlessly navigate through all sorts functionality like it's the most fun they've had all day. Their phone experience is enjoyable. Heck, sometimes it looks freakin’ inspirational. When I look over their shoulders, I see elegance and beauty. I see graphic design that says "Come enjoy me. Let me share the experience of thoughtful interface design with you." Yes, I want to touch those gorgeous buttons. The path to enlightenment and productivity seems so clear.

My phone rings. I look at it. I'm sick. It's ugly. But if I just answer it and talk I'll be OK. Just in the name of all that's holy in interface design please don't make me have to look up a number or find a message. And oh merciful Heaven, don't tempt me send an email. Arrrrrghhhh!

When I look at my phone, I see an interface that says "So what if this interface is unintelligible? It's good enough for you, as long as our engineers can make it work. It's the actual communication capability that's important. So we're going to just keep giving you this crap as long as we can get away with it. Which is probably going to be for a very long time because all of us phone people like it the way it is. And it would be impossible at this point in history for some newcomer to break into our world and change things."





Take a look at the phone interface below that's in our office. Then look at an iPhone. Can you see a difference? Does the office phone now look more like a device that Shakespeare might have used to call his boyfriend? (See The Sonnets in The First Portfolio)

Or perhaps a nuclear trigger device in the Pentagon?

I'm just surprised you don't have to type something like "C://" to make a phone call.


Maybe someday our office phone will be as elegant as the iPhone. Or maybe not. It probably depends on whether or not Apple expands its mobile phone business and moves into that market. Meanwhile, if you call, don't be surprised if I don't answer. That ringing sound can sometimes trigger disabling anger management issues that I blame on the iPhone.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Definitely High-Def

Oh yes, I'm definitely high-def now and no one can stop me now. Bwahahahha!

My new Canon HG10 consumer-level high definition camera arrived and it's pretty nice. Downloading video from the camera to a Mac is almost automatic. Just launch iMovie ’08, connect the camera's USB cable to the Mac (to import high definition video, the Mac must have an Intel processor), then turn on the camera and put it in Play mode. iMovie automatically detects the video camera and opens an Import window that shows thumbnails of the video clips that are in the camera.

I'm slightly disappointed that the download time of clips is virtually real-time. I figured since the clips are already digital and didn't need to be converted that they would import a zillion times faster than from MiniDV tapes (which have to be converted from analog to digital during import). A two minute clip takes about two minutes to import.

As for iMovie ’08, it's very cool and you can make a movie quickly, then click a button to upload it to your .Mac Web Gallery page or to YouTube (if you've created a free account). However, it's not as easy to create complex edits as it is in iMovie ’06. But I'm not a whiner, and iMovie ’08 can still work basic, every-day miracles compared to what I did in the past with scissors, tape, and 8 mmm film. If that'll get you by, you're good to go. If you really need pro-level miracles, Final Cut Pro does those for a few dollars more. And Final Cut Express does almost everything FCP does for half the price.

But do you care? I don't think so. You're really just hanging around to see the latest MaltiPoo/Golden Doodle photo.

So here ya go.