Mac’s Aluminum Keyboard: not so great

File under: rant. I’m using Apple’s new slimline aluminum “chicklet” keyboard to post this message. I’ve had it for a while and I like it a lot. It has a USB hub that’s built into the underside at the edges, but the ports will only power devices that draw 100mA or less (a typical mouse). An iPod or a USB flash drive won’t work unless the keyboard is plugged into a new iMac (which I don’t own). The old keyboards’ USB hubs have all worked (for every iPod or thumb drive I’ve ever owned). This is pretty shoddy… Apple shouldn’t have let the new wired keyboard out the door with this limitation.

Detect DTMF Tones for Mom’s Phones

The battery on my mom’s cordless phone is almost gone so it’s time for a new one. She has a 1-800 calling card number and code programmed into the phone, but she lost the print information years ago. So, I used this “Detect DTMF Tones” site to decode recordings that I made of the numbers. Now she can get a new phone (or maybe Santa will bring one) and reprogram the calling card numbers for several more years of telephonic bliss.

McCann’s Oatmeal

IMG_3110Best breakfast, ever!  It takes a while to make but these steel cut oats taste great.  Modified recipe: 1 part milk + 1 part water + 1 part oats, heat to boil then simmer, add brown sugar or honey to taste.

Leap Into Leopard?

I’ve been using OSX “Leopard” for some time now. My review: meh. There are some things that run faster and I like the data detector. The UI “improvements” are actually downgrades in most cases: e.g file icons try to “preview” even at 32 pixels on the desktop so any useful information, like the application with which the file will open (preview? acrobat?) is lost and the missing dock in ical makes editing events a many-click process. There are stability issues in some applications (Safari, which never crashed under 10.4, has crashed repeatedly in the last month). What drives me most insane are little quirks like: all of my calendar events disappear (sometimes to reappear) when I add a new item (an apple-z/undo takes care of the situation, but then I have to edit the event again). My favorite: in the window bar of (or when I’m in exposé and I mouse over mail, see picture) the program informs me that I have 4.3 BILLION messages in my inbox. Now that’s a lot of email!

Top Ten Tunes (2007)

It’s the end of the year so that means it’s time for lists! This has been done before, but I’m taking a shot at it for the first time: my top 10 albums of 2007 based on ipod play counts.

As some of you know, I commute for about two hours a day on the MTA’s NYC subway. I do a lot of reading, but I also listen to podcasts and songs on my iPod (a fifth gen “video” model). According to my ipod, I’ve played 1,356 songs this year (some them numerous times, so I approximate that I listened to about 4,000 songs all told). Over 800 tracks were added this year and of those nearly 500 were played an average of three times each.

The following list might be embarrassing, but it is scientific because a track isn’t counted as “played” unless it plays completely to the end. (In my opinion, Apple should modify the software so that a track is counted as “played” if it’s, say, 90% complete, but that’s another matter).

So here are the top seven played albums that were released in 2007 (there wasn’t enough valid data to select ten full albums). Christmas is coming and each album would make a great gift for the geeky music-lover in your life.

  1. Kill To Get Crimson – Mark Knopfler (208 there were a total of song-plays from this album)
  2. Wincing The Night Away – The Shins (205)
  3. Raising Sand – Robert Plan and Alison Krauss (82)
  4. In Rainbows – Radiohead (68)
  5. Sound Of Silver – LCD Soundsystem (44)
  6. In Our Bedroom After The War – Stars (38)
  7. In Our Nature – José González (30)
PS – the accompanying image was touched-up using “Splashup“, a pretty incredible online image editing program.

Etymotic ER-6 Review

M got me these Etymotic ER-6 headphones about a year ago. I’ve been using them during my daily hour-long MTA commute ever since. They sound great. That is, if you don’t mind the “ear plug” design and if you can ignore the noise that is transmitted directly to your cranium when you walk or when you touch the cable. Despite these formidable cons, I really do like these earbuds and I don’t know how anyone can use those shoddy, wide-open earphones that come standard with popular MP3 players in noisy environments (except for while running or if they need something with which to block a drain).

This morning I was stranded standing next to a far-too-hip, iPhone-toting kid with sculpted sideburns and spiky hair who had his cheap white earbuds spewing Hot97 rips jammed up to “13”. The tinny, dentist-drill treble and flapping-in-the-wind bass were enough to drive me to plug my ears with the ER-6es and turn In Rainbows up to “4”. 

This is a plea to my fellow New Yorkers: if you’re going to splash out $400 for an ipod, please drop another $70 (or even $30 for altec lansing branded etymotics) on a decent set of plugs so that the noise stays in your own head and deafens you rather than those around you. (Thank you).


M drove the car into Manhattan twice last weekend. On the way back from her second trip the car wouldn’t start; it would turn over, catch, rev, and die, but it wouldn’t stay running. Eventually we realized that the little “immobilizer” icon on the dashboard remained flashing after the car died, which indicated that the anti-theft device had kicked in and we’d have to tow the car. After some late-afternoon calls, dead cell phone batteries, and inevitable wrangling with AAA, the car was towed to Cobble Hill Super Service (I was unhappy last time I had service done there, but it was the only place I could find that would take it). The owner/manager assured me that they could fix the immobilizer on Monday, if in fact that was the problem. FIne. So he called me on Monday and informed me that the alternator was dead to the tune of $700 (he also told me that I need new struts and my battery is leaking). However, he was unable to get the car started… even when he strapped in a new battery. That sounded fishy to me so after he had bullied me into authorizing the repair I called him back and asked a couple more questions (me: “how do you know the alternator’s bad if it wouldn’t start?”, he: “I’ve got computers that tell me” etc). I was in touch with some mechanics I know and they said it sounded funny too, so I called him back and cancelled the service… “Fine,” he said, “I wouldn’t work on your car anyway… are you questioning my diagnosis? Fine! Take it to the dealership and pay THEM to change your alternator. Come down here and tow your car away…” etc, etc. So I took half a day off work and went down there. It turns out that Cobble Hill Shell — of all people — is the outfit who AAA has called to tow my car! They cancelled the tow and procrastinated for nearly three hours while I stood on Atlantic in the cold. Finally after a dozen calls to AAA and an eventual death-defying, 55-MPH ride down 4th Ave in Brooklyn, we narrowly made it before the VW dealership in Bay Ridge closed. The folks there took a look at it today and chalked it up to a weak battery. They reset the immobilizer, reprogrammed the keys and we were on our way. It wasn’t an inexpensive “repair” from VW, but they did the job right: no threats and no bullying. I will never go back to Cobble Hill Shell/Super Service and I recommend you don’t either!
UPDATE: here’s some crazy documentation on the VW TDI immobilizer system… I especially like the emergency override feature (from chittychittybangbang on tdiforum).
UPDATE: the car’s been running fine this week.