Debugging Our Network (Spoiler: Not Comcast’s Fault)

TL;DR

Skip to the end if you just want the tool to do this yourself, otherwise, enjoy the story about how we debugged a nagging network issue.

Corruption!

So, we’ve been experiencing some annoying network issues lately and we were almost positive it was our ISP (Comcast).   The issue would occur on large files (think major OS updates, video on demand, music downloads, etc).  Basically we would perform our 20 minute download and get stuck with a corrupted file.  Worse, we would pay for a VOD movie and start to watch it only to find it is a glitchy mess with intermittent sound.

Yikes!  Something had to be done.

How hard can it be?

But first — a little about our network configuration.   We have a Comcast cable modem that goes to our main firewall router that then gets distributed throughout our house via switches and wireless access points.   The initial hint was that we saw this corruption on both the wired (Tivo) and wireless downloads.

The worst part of all this is that the problem was intermittent.  Sometimes large files would work and other times they would not.  I needed data if I was going to convince Comcast that this was their problem (note the negative bias).

In the beginning

I started by manually downloaded the large file.  In this case, I leaned heavily on my buddies in Cupertino and one of their 1.1GB major software updates.  Thankfully, their update site provides a SHA1 checksum.    The process was this:

  1. Note the start time
  2. Download said file
  3. Note the end time
  4. Open a terminal window and type “shasum /path/to/filename.dmg”
  5. Make a note in some file whether or not the download was corrupt.

Did I mention

Oh yeah, each one of these downloads took me 6-7 minutes and I have kids now.   This manual data gathering was becoming a pain.   I needed relief and automation so that I could run these tests unattended all night long and gather the precious data in all the configurations and locations of our network.

Thank you Guido

Enter python and 30 minutes of time.  My son, Leo, thankfully cooperated by not injuring himself during those precious 30 minutes.   My daughter, Dagny, also helped out by taking a nice long nap.  The stars were aligned and all was go.

The script

So, I knocked out a quick and dirty little python script that does the above steps while also outputs the notes and results into a csv file.  Don’t worry, the downloaded GB file is deleted every time.  A link to the script is below (NOTE: You will need to tweak the download URL and checksum to suit your needs and desires)

Download_Large_File_examp.py

The results

So, after all the work, what does the CSV file look like when imported into Excel?

Output from the python downloader script with some conditional formatting applied.

Output from the python downloader script with some conditional formatting applied.

And the Winner is………

Surpise!  It was not Comcast!  In the end, I was able to trace the corruption to our Netgear FVS318G router which was running some old firmware (3.0.5 or something).   After installing the latest firmware (3.1.1+) the problem vanished.

The lesson here — it’s not always Comcast’s fault and it definitely helps to throw a little python around now and then.

SHeBeNoBIF

Definition

Strongly Held Beliefs No Basis In Fact(s).

Pronounced “She’-Ben-O-Biff”. Similar to NIH (Not Invented Here). SHeBeNoBIF can be a reason for rejecting something or ignoring new data, purposely remaining stubborn.

Examples

Our internal IT department has SHeBeNoBIF regarding migrating to external cloud services. The repbulican party’s SHeBeNoBIF keeps dragging their approval ratings lower and lower.

CREDIT:

Dr. John G Mooney    Pepperdine University     ca. 2012

5,000 down . . .

Introduction

It’s been a little while since we passed 5,000 diapers.  True to form, we were going through a spat of mud-butt at the time and the 5,000th diaper didn’t dissapoint.

Recalculations

First off, I need to set the record straight.   My earlier calculations on the amount of landfill we’d be generating were actually overly conservative!   In the last 6 months, we’ve up-sized little D’s diapers and have noticed that (even as disposables) they take quite a bit more room now.

This uptick happened at around 3,000.  At that time, we had diverted an approximated 75 cubic feet of waste.

Right now, we are filling 2 hampers of diapers per week (even though the number of diapers has decreased slightly).  This has helped us reduce the stink a bit (we close up one of the bags halfway through the week).   At 2.5 cu. ft. per pail, we’re running about 5.0 cu. ft. for our 65 weekly cloth diapers.  That’s about .08 cu. ft. per cloth diaper(130 cu. in. or 5″ x 5″ x 5″ roughly).

However, a disposable is less bulky and therefore has a smaller waste volume  (75 cu. in. / 0.0434 cu. ft. or approx 4.2″x4.2″x4.2″ packed together with the wipes).  At 70 diapers per week that’s about 5250 cu. in. or 3.0 cubic feet.  This is about what we saw when we temporarily switched to disposables for the week we were in Kauai.

So, the last 2,000 diapers (upsized) occupy disposable-equivalent volue of of 0.0434 cu. ft per diaper.  This brings the waste volume for 2,000 diapers to 86.8 cu. ft!    You see, even through the number of diapers has gone down, the waste volume is roughly constant (and the stink is exponentially worse).

tl;dr:  The Grand Total So Far

After 5,000 diapers we’ve probably diverted 160 cubic feet away from landfill!   In rough equivalents, take the bathroom in your house and fill ‘er up with packed-solid diapers.   Or raise the floor in your bedroom by a solid foot of stink.

Will We Ever Escape?

Here's a chart with TMI. At this rate, we'll have gone through 60,000 diapers by the time Dagny turns 18!!! Thankfully the number of leaks as slowed down.

A long time ago, a naive Red was hoping to be out by 5,000.  Guess what?  Didn’t happen.   Will 6,000 be a reality?  Dunno….. but we do have miss D sitting happily (and nekkid) on the potty.  She gets the idea, but can’t seem to make it all work.  What has worked, however, is outdoor time with a fresh breeze.  Turns out she’s just finally starting to be able to hold it for a few minutes before watering the grass, and that event is a suprise to even her (It’s funny and cute actually).

Quick Rant – Easy Target

Intro

Today’s rant is a quick one…..and it’s target is almost too easy:  AT&T.

I have a personal cell phone and work cell phone.   It was trivial to set my personal cell phone to forward calls on to my work number.   To a person dialing me, this all happens transparently.   The only negative is when I dial somebody from my work line, they naturally see my work cell number (it doesn’t masquerade).

Rant

But WHY THE 621311 CAN’T I FORWARD SMS/MMS MESSAGES (texts)?    Seriously?   My world is neither imagined nor delivered by AT&T or whatever their attempt at a tagline is today.  Dolts.

Realistically, forwarding text messages (in my case, “bouncing” would be a better term so that the headers don’t get messed up) is no more difficult than bouncing emails.  It’s something AT&T already does as they relay the text message to your handset.  Storing modified route information would cost them nothing, especially since they already do this for phone calls!

Constructive Attempts at a Solution

Yeah, I know that grand central (now google voice) can transcribe my texts and kick them to email where I can wait for them to download into an inbox and then wade through them all and struggle to reply to them in a cohesive way.   This would remove the only 2 things texts have going for them (immediacy and automatically threaded-by-person).

Oh, and I did actually call AT&T and ask about this feature.   Nope.   Nada.   Couldn’t care less, ’cause they’d rather charge me outlandish rates for a couple of nibbles of data.  Escalating the phone call got me nothing (and this was already with our ‘premium’ business customer service rep).

Plea for Help

Anyone know of a iPhone app that can automatically forward texts to another number without losing or significantly altering the header info?  Ideally, the message would arrive on the new phone as if it had been sent directly to there and when I reply, the recipient would be unaware of the handset change (much like forwarded phone calls).

Celebrating 3k!

Whoa there, Biscuit!

About a week ago, we hit another parenting milestone — 3000 diapers!  It hasn’t been that long since 2000 and I’m starting to doubt we’ll escape this first child with only 5000. (Maybe 6,000 is more realistic).

For her part, Dagny saved up for a few days and celebrated in style.   Her little event involved fingerpainting with poo and even attempts at taste testing.  There was crying, squirming and in the end we ended up having to hold her down and give her a soapy towel wipe down.

The Landfill Count

So, what does 3000 cloth diapers equate to?  If you go back to our little 2000 celebration and look at some of the assumptions, we’ve saved about 75 cubic feet of waste to date.  (I’ll leave the calculations as an exercise for the reader).  That’s a lot of stink.

Great Balls of Tea — Details of Spherification

Introduction

A recent order to the Spice House (www.thespicehouse.com) had me excited.  Not only did they have some smoked paprika and powdered sumac (good on top of humus), they also had odds and ends for molecular gastronomy.   In case you don’t know what that means, it’s the hoity-toity way of saying doing a little chemistry with your food to create unusual effects.  Candy making is molecular gastronomy based around sugar and it’s behavior at certain temperatures.

One of the most notable effects from this “rockstar” chef movement is Spherification.   I’ll warn you that I’m no expert and definitely not a historian on this manner.  In fact, apart from seeing it done on Iron Chef now and then, I’ve only been served spheres in a restaurant one time and it was not even that memorable.

But I wanted to give it a try — so I bought some stuff for making balls (er….spheres).

Spice House offers excellent small-sized bottles for spherification.

As I mentioned earlier, Spice House offers small-sized amounts of Calcium Salt and Sodium Alginate.  Quantities sized right to get started, and the ingredients are food grade (so not from some scary chemistry shop where they may be tainted with ferric chloride, cyanides and other nasty not-so-edible chemicals).

Why write a post about my balls?

My stuff showed up just in time for some weekend play — but now what?   I trolled the web, but couldn’t find any straightforward explanations or recipes.  How much do I mix in?  How do I make the drops?  What are some basic tell tale signs.   Give me some range of expectations a la Good Eats so that I can tune in my spheres and get this process working.

I gave up on the internets and started playing and making my own notes.  What follows are my experiences from a weekend day of playing around with little alginate balls.

The Process

I didn’t make that much of a matrix, as I was basically trying to dial it in (and my 9 month old can only handle being ignored for so long).   The great part, though, is that I was able to use things that are readily available to any home cook.  Oh, and I took lots of notes of both the successes and the failures.

The Solutions

To make spheres, you drop one solution into the other.  Typically, the flavored ingredient is mixed with Sodium Alginate and dropped into a solution of Calcium Salt.  Through some chemical magic, drops turn into little spheres with a harder outer coating and a soft liquid gel like inside.  Properly done, the little spheres pop in your mouth like caviar and release tastiness on your palette.

Ca:Salt Solution

The Calcium Salt solution is easy to make up.  In my case, I just used room temperature tap water (our tap water is tasty good) and whisked in a small amount of Ca to dissolve.

Sodium Alginate Solution

The sodium alginate solution is a little more tricky.   For this set of experiments, I made spheres using sweet tea (thanks, Steph).  I figured it was a good basic starting point, as it is failrly neutral in acidity and we plenty of it to work with.

The problem with the alginate lies in actually mixing it together (emulsifying).   I first tried room temperature sweet tea and a whisk.   This just made clumps, which don’t work and are not good eats.

The answer: I popped the clumpy mixture into the microwave for 30 seconds and took it just shy of a boil — voila, the sodium alginate clumps broke apart and a whisk finished the job.    The resulitng liquid was fairly bubble free and slightly thicker (think maple syrup).

Another method of emulsification that I have read about and tried is to use a hand stick blender.  This is an aggressive approach and definintely worked at emulsifying the liquid.  However, it also seemed to incorporate lots of bubles and it loosened up the liquid considerably.  Using the hand blender, I needed more alginate per liquid volume in order to achieve the desired thickness.  Also count on a period of rest (or hook up your shop vac and a home made bell jar) to de-air your mixture.

The Dropping methods

Everywhere I looked online people used various tools to create the drops that create the little spheres.  You can use a toothpick or a spoon or a syringe.   As I worked with the various methods, I quickly developed opinions — which I will share with you below:

Toothpick

Good for initial testing of your solutions to see if they will sphereize.   Terrible for creating large amounts of balls — 1 ball every 5 seconds is pretty maddening.   Also ends up creating somewhat inconsistent ball sizes, depending on how much the solution clings to the toothpick.

Spoon

Very uncontrolled.  Pretty much useless for creating spheres.   You can create noodles and spermy looking shapes, however.

Here are the 3 dropping tools I attempted to use. A small eye-dropper type bottle on the left, a more expensive version on the right and a syringe front and center.

Syringe

Maybe I had a low quality syringe, or too small a syringe.  I had a devil of a time creating consistent drop after drop.  Instead, the syringe would clog now and then and I would end up spraying out some alginate solution into a rats-nest in the calcium salt.   Taking in a little air into the syringe helped a little bit with constant pressure against the alginate solution.  Either way, I was not fond of the syringe method.    The best use of the syringe was to cleanly fill up the dropper bottles.

Dropper Bottle

After getting frustrated with the syringe, I tried 2 different dropper bottles.  Both of these worked many times better than the syringe.  They created consistent sized drops and did so very very quickly.  The second dropper bottle was able to create 100’s of droplets in a minute!   A good dropper bottle is easy to fill and the nozzle won’t clog with alginate.   Too tight a nozzle and and the alginate eventually gums up the orifice and you can’t make spheres anymore.      In the end, I used a syringe to cleanly fill a dropper bottle and unleash a batch of droplets into the calcium salt solution.

Example dropper bottles that I tried:

  • (dropper bottle in picture on right) VWR International:  16354-400   $80 for qty 12
  • Low density VWR International 46300-592 or larger (46300-594 is 8oz),  $33 for qty 25

The other nice thing about the dropper bottles, is you can cap them and store your alginate solution for up-to-the-minute use.   One important note about spheres is to not keep them sitting around too long. After about 30 mintues or so they eventually go “stale” and harden up into solid balls — not nearly as texturally interesting as caviar-like spheres.

More Detailed Notes And Quantities

Alginate solution on the left and calcium salt solution on the right -- we're ready to make some balls.

Below are my notes on the solutions and mixes and results.  After trying to weigh out the ingredients on a precision scale, I gave up — how many of us actually have scales in our kitchen accurate enough to measure fractions of an ounce (or just a couple of grams).  In this case, volumetric measurement is going to be more reliable and more available to the standard home cook.

Sodium Alginate Solutions

Sodium Alginate was added to the room temperature sweet tea, but since it faield to dissolve, the mixture was heated in the microwave for 30s – 1 min (just shy of boiling) and whisked to emulsify.

Solution                  Sweet Tea                   Sodium Alginate

A                                   1 oz                                1/8 tsp

B                                   2 oz                                1/8 tsp

C                                   2 oz                                3/16 tsp

D                                  3 oz                                 1/4 tsp

Calcium Salt Solutions

Calcium Salt was added to cool tap water and dissolved with a whisk.

Solution                       Water                            Calcium Salt

1                                  8 oz                                 1/2 tsp

2                                  4 oz                                  1/2 tsp

3                                  8 oz                                  1/4 tsp

Results and Notes

In the following section, we’ll refer to the solutions above.   Obviously, “A1” means sodium alginate solution “A” dropped into calcium salt solution “1”

Red food coloring and simple syrup make these early spheres visually pop off the plate.

A1 Observations

  • Time in Solutions:
    • Drops 1 minute in solution were a little soft, but hardened up a little after sitting.
    • 3 minutes in solution was perfect
    • 4 minutes in solution was a little too hard
  • Solution Notes:
    • Use a little less alginate, the “A” solution was noticeably thicker — almost mayonaisse.
    • Probably could use some more calcium salt since it took so long in solution
    • There was not an excessive salt flavor from the calcium.
  • Syringe Notes:
    • I used the syringe + louver, and got about 3mm drops, but the syringe kept clogging
    • Once I got some air in the syringe behind the alginate solution and it helped with consistency.
  • After 30 minutes of standing by, the spheres were still edible

B2 Observations

  • Solutions Notes:
    • The Calcium saltwater was quite strong
    • Not enough alginate to form a ball
    • Very strong resigual Ca:Salt on spheres….must be rinsed well
  • Drop does not really penetrate surface of the water to make a sphere…instead it sits on surface and additional drops glom on.

A mound of perfectly popping prismatic sweet tea spheres sits on a white plate. Super tasty and sweet!

C2 Observations

  • This combination worked pretty well.
  • Some balls were solid however, way more than A1 — this is not as appetizing
  • Solution Notes
    • Required less soak time than A1
    • The #2 salt solution definitely needs a good rinse.
  • Dropper Notes:
    • Used the dropper bottle (“methonal bottle”)   VWR International:  16354-400
    • This was great for a consistent drop size, although if the alginate solution gets too thick it can sometimes clog.
    • Used the syringe to cleanly fill the dropper bottle.   This worked really well.

D3 Observations

  • Time in Solutions:
    • After 1 minute in the Ca:Salt solution, the spheres were nice and delicate with a good outer layer and  a snap when you bite into them.  Perfect mix for our sweet tea spheres.
  • Solution Notes:
    • Alginate needed to heat or brought to boil for faster/easier emulsification
  • The drops enter the water almost toroid shaped but did sphereize.
  • Dropper Notes:
    • Tried a different dropper bottle (like a visene eye-dropper). Although a little more difficult to fill, it did NOT clog.  It also generated dozens of spheres quickly — just squeeze.
  • Stayed good for 5 minutes (easily) after pulled out and rinsed and dried.

Other Notes and Findings

Drying

Drying these little buggers is in itself an art.   I tried a couple of ways, but by far the easiest was to spread them out on a paper towel in a single layer and cover with a paper towel and slowly roll the balls between the two layers.   The other method is to creeate a “sling” out of a few paper towels and kind of toss the balls around inside the sling.

Spheres, balls, everywhere. Watch out -- these guys know how to roll!

Balls Everywhere

Expect to find and lose balls everywhere.  Once loose, they roll….and because of their size and transparent quality, they can be extremely difficult to find.

Serving

Serve as a presenation note on the side.   I’ve served in leiue of sauce on top of fish (think parsley puree spheres with a good touch of salt as a high note on top of salmon).    Concentrated flavors and colors work well.

Tastes for Serving

For saucing or as a side note, think big bold flavors.  The spheres are small and you want them to pop and release bundles of joy.   I made a nice parsley sauce which, when over-salted, produced a wonderful topping for fist.   Blueberry juice is a little weak, but blueberry preserves thinned with water carries a good punch of flavor.

Other Hints

Mix up your alginate and drop all of your balls at once into the Ca:Salt.  Insead of trying to fish spheres out of the Ca:Salt, just pour the entire Ca:Salt solution out and into a strainer.

3oz of alginate solution is a LOT of spheres.   Easily enough as a side note on plates for 4 people.

I tried using a scale to measure ingredients, but this proved frustrating, as most scales simply cannot handle small fractions of an ounce (or gram) quantitiies accurately.

Debugging

If the drops sit on top and do not sphereize, then there is a likelihood that you don’ thave enough soldium alginate.   If, after a minute, the balls are still too fragile, up the calcium salt solution.

Next Steps

So what next?

Well, I’ve made some great spheres using a celery salty sauce and put this on broiled salmon – but I used the hand stick blender to emulsify the alginate and it took far more alginate than expected.   So clearly, there are some variables at play.   Perhaps I need to buy a pH meter and do some work with acidity and quantity other variables.

The metric that seems key, but is the hardest to quantitatively measure, is the viscosity of the alginate solution.  This is definitely a case where having some experience regarding what to expect and mixing it by eye may be easier.

More products we just love

Background

7 months into this experiment, and I still can’t believe we have a child.    We’re on the verge of crawling and figuring out a good daily routine and I wanted to post about a few more products we are using and really appreciate.

Playyard

Essential for day-to-day survival.

Dagny spends at least 1 hour a day rolling around with toys while we cook in the kitchen.  She rolls around in the morning during breakfast and also as I cook dinner.

She does it in the safety and comfort of her own brightly colored playard.   We inherited this bad boy but I would gladly buy one!  The interior mat is soft and friendly to the little bonker and the rattling creatures on the side provide much enjoyment, too.   This this is essential to our sanity and we have even taken it when we go to other people’s houses so that she has as safe place for a nap.  We’ll even quickly collapse it and transport it outside so that we can work in the garden while the kid plays in the shade.

Play Mats

Interlocking blue foam mats for the rough and tumble infant.

Now that our little one is rolling like a mad person and trying to crawl, we have determined that she is too active to be bothered by little things (like controlling her head).  She has this habit of rolling and dropping her melon onto the hardwood floors.   Eventually she might learn, but my knees and hips won’t.   We needed something softer to roll around on the floor with her.    Carpet is nice, but vomit and spit-up can be tricky.  Steph found these killer and simple mats at a great price and we have invested in a large area to go on top of our nice carpet.  One of these days (when the spitting up has ceased) we’ll store these mats and reveal a clean carpet.  Until then, it’s blue kickboard foam mats for us.

PRODUCT IDEA & GRIPE: I have one gripe to settle with the manufacturer, they don’t make features to interlock with these tiles.  They have a “border” piece that you can attempt to source, but it is at the same level as everything else.   When Dagny rolls over the 3/4″ edge and onto hardwood (a spontaneous event when she has mo’) she invariably goes “thunk”.   We would LOVE to have a raised border of about 4 inches….enough to stop her from flying off the side.   Come on product engineers and bring out the add-on feature.

Digital Video Monitor

The Mobi Cam video monitor is another sweet "essential" device.

We inherited an audio baby monitor, but it was analog and the frequency drifted in and out and the range was horrible.   We really wanted to be able to go outside and do yardwork while Dagny napped (without having to check on her every 10 minutes to see how she was doing).  Once again, Steph did the research and we figured we would get a video monitor (audio doesn’t carry the “information” that you want… like is the baby asleep or just being quiet or just lying face down on their mattress).

We were stoked when our Mobi Cam arrived.   The thing is digital and paired (so somewhat secure) and has an awesome range!  We can put Dagny to sleep upstairs and go downstairs and outside and garden.   You can set it to audio-only mode or watch the video now and then to check on her.   The night vision on the camera is excellent, too.     This device has greatly freed us from checking on her and has actually resulted in longer and better naptimes for Dagny!

NAG: The only nag I have is that the Mobi Cam operates at 2.4GHz, which means that it can trounce our wireless network signals.  To solve this, we simply put our airports into interference robustness mode and we keep the camera and receiver a good couple of feet away from our laptops.   Once we did all that it’s a non-issue.

PRODUCT WISH: You are a product engineer and you are making a digital wireless camera at 2.4GHz.   Could you please just put a DHCP client (or Bonjour capable) and web server in there and simply just serve basic video over the network.  Yes, I know that H.264 is an evil steaming pile of licensing issues, so do something else.   If you did this, then my iPhone becomes my baby monitor (save a web clip) and I only need the camera.       Yes, I looked into security cameras linked into our network, and these generally sucked or were 4 times more expensive than the Mobi Cam and painful to install.     Maybe in a couple of years, somebody will have solved this part.

Wrap Up

As we head into crawling and walking, I’m sure we’ll revisit this topic again soon.   Containment devices (gates and play pens) will surely make the future list.

Celebrating 2000!

Hazzah!

Dagny was in a rush these past few days.  In a rush to get to 2000 — diapers that is.  You see, she’s been battling a tummy-something and has been on the diarrhea bandwagon for a few days (“When you’re sliding into first and you feel something burst…….”)

So, naturally, there was much rejoicing a few minutes ago as we uncorked this vintage model to find yet another poopy mess.   Dagny was quick to reach down in an attempt to examine her work — an attempt thwarted by goalie skills and some handi-wipes.

That’s a Lot of Landfill

2000 diapers in 7 months.  That would normally be a lot of landfill (thank goodness for cloth and the cleaning service!).   Let’s see….about 60 diapers _fills_ a trash container that measures 12″ x 15″ x 24″ (2.5 cu. ft).  Since cloth is a little bulkier, we’ll round up and say that it takes 100 disposables to fill that container.  That means that in the last 7 months we would have generated more than 50 cubic feet of plastic non-degrading human-waste coated silicate-filled landfill wrapped in non-degradable plastic trashbags.    The average disposable trained kid (those that we have seen recently) seems to be in diapers for 3-4 years — that’s something like 300 cubic feet per child.  For reference, fill your living room with a foot deep of diapers and you get about 300 cubic feet.

Soapbox and Diaper Pails

But that’s actually not why I like the cloth diapers.   Environmental pats on the back side, after 7 months of heavy use, I can still soapbox (again) for a few bullet points on the benefits of cloth diapers:

  • Dagny can tell when she’s wet and she doesn’t like it one bit!  Tight feedback loops are key to training.
  • We can tell when Dagny is wet, which means we change her more promptly.   As a result, we see little or no diaper rash.
  • Cleanup is easy, and we experience very few blowouts (compared to the few times we’ve resorted to disposables).  Using the remaining clean part of the cloth for initial wipe down also significantly reduces the number of wipes we need to use.
  • Smell is not a problem, either.
  • The cloth service now also takes compostable diapers and compostable wipes in the same container.  This simplifies things whenever we need to resort to the compostable diapers for whatever reason.
  • In the end, I’m selfish and want to change as few diapers as possible.   There’s the belief (true or not, we’ll see) that cloth diapered babies ‘train out’ on average 1 year faster.

Here’s hoping that we’ll be “out” before we hit 5000!

Dagny’s Dislike for Doctors

Dear Doctor,

It’s not that my baby doesn’t like you, far from it.  Dagny actually enjoys meeting and interacting with new people.  She’ll smile and babble and reach for the glasses on your nose.   She’ll look around and laugh at random inanimate objects.   Dagny is generally a well behaved and non-fussy child.    Check out the attached graph created by trolling through reams of data with statistical sampling techniques.

Dagny's happiness over time

Dagny's happiness chart drawn from large amounts of sample data

Being reasonable parents, we do our best to schedule appointments taking into account the probability of a feeding/napping.   In other words, we know (thanks to Trixie Tracker) when Dagny likes to eat and sleep every day (see chart below).

Our goal is to nudge the timing and shoot to “reset” the happiness clock right before we put her in the car for a given errand.   Generally this works really well, and our child arrives rested, well-fed, dry and generally happy as a clam (and typically smelling better).

But so far happiness for just about any member of your profession has eluded us.   We wake her up, feed her and change her and get her in the car.  By the time we arrive at the clinic, we are well into the chilling phase with occasional bouts of smiling.    We check her in, and immediately fill out all the unnecessary paperwork.

We then sit and wait……

As we sit in the waiting room, Dagny will smile and babble and smile some more.    Around the time a nurse calls us back, Dagny is chilling again.  We’ll weigh her in and the nurse will gather all of the Viking Princess’ growth measurements.  So far so good.

At this point in the visit, nurses are obligated to leave you alone in the exam room with the door closed.  Dagny typically picks this time to start rubbing her eyes.   A few minutes of that (and requisite yawning) and her eyes will catch one of the “Don’t get HIV” or “Mommy’s on the Run” posters and this will kick off giggling and cooing like a crazy psychopath.  When manic, Dagny can get loud enough, that I’m sure the nurses in the hallway become fearful of the sounds emanating from inside our closed room.  Shortly into the manic state,  you (our doctor-du-jour) will knock and come into the room.

Too late.

The peak has passed and whining and nonstop bitching has commenced.    Typically, the only way out is to put Dagny down and reset the clock once again.  But you need to do things, and these things prevent sleep.

And this is why you must think our child hates you.   The nurses have seen the other side of that manic peak and think she’s a cutey, but the same is not true for you.  And so, at the end of the appointment, we put our child back in her car seat and she crashes and sleeps all the way home and the cycle resets anew.

Signed,

Dagny’s Parents

PS:  This cycle has become so predictable at any medical clinic that we no longer try to show up early (or even on time) to fill out the paperwork and grab a chair in the influenza-filled waiting room.   Since y’all are going to make us wait 30 minutes every time, we now just show up 15 minutes late and split the difference — this serves to shorten the amount of back end bitching from our daughter.

Dagny's sleep schedule is fairly predictable and can be nudged a little this way and that without too much effort.

Rant: The woes of Office 2008 for the Mac

The following rant revolves around Office 2008 for the Mac.    In the 2008 release, Office supposedly goes “native” for the x86 architecture and Aqua.   My old copy of Office 2000 was still working and running under Rosetta on 10.5, but (silly me) I felt like I needed to upgrade for improved performance when I upgraded to 10.6.

When you meet up with an an old friend after a decade, you are all the more aware of the changes they have gone through. Similarly, my switchover from Office 2000 to Office 2008 gives me an excellent “delta” comparison.  In this case, Office 2008 is like that high school 2nd string athlete who is now balding, fat, divorced and addicted to some substance or another.

So, without further ado, let’s look at Office 2008 for the Mac (under 10.6) with an eye towards its former self, Office 2000.

Suite-wide Performance

Compared to the current release of Office 2008, the apps of Office 2000 launched faster (with Rosetta) on 10.5 and 10.6 than Office 2008 does “natively”.   I wish I had hard numbers for you, but I’m simply not going to be that thorough here.

POINT:  Office 2000

Look & Feel & Tools

In Office 2008, Microsoft’s attempt at tool palettes is a miserable failure.  Not only do they manage to clutter the screen with a massive amount of junk (like clip art and shapes and a pre-formatted document style pane) they also fail in several other key ways:

  1. The tool palettes fail to have the same information and capabilities as the menu system.   This simply makes it a nightmare to find a given feature (could be in the menu, could be buried in a tool palette).
  2. The clutter of palettes is completely unwarranted mainly because it is features that nobody but a 3rd grader (book report with clip art) or a CEO (powerpoint with motion and sounds) would think of using.  It’s almost like they dragged users into the feature meeting, pointed out a palette and said “wouldn’t it be cool to have clip art and styles and sound palettes”.  The users said “yeah, I guess”, and the design team took this as a free ticket to put everything in your face.    Sure, one could go through the mess of turning stuff off, but “intelligent defaults” are nowhere to be found here.
  3. “Tearing off” a palette is something Photoshop and Illustrator have done “forever”.  Pinning palettes to the top is also a key feature.  Reorganizing palettes to fit your workflow.  Easily adding or removing palettes.   Give it up…..not supported in Office 2008

For simplicity and less clutter,
POINT:  Office 2000

Excel 2008:  Misery

Nothing in the Office 2008 Suite has gotten as drug-addicted as Excel.   We’re talking crack-head functionality here.

First point — I couldn’t give a hoot about VBA support.  This seems to be all that people whine about in the new Excel versions (“No VBA support on the Mac!”).  Whatever, as there are even more mundane problems with this turd of an upgrade.

No text labels in charts, but you can add pictures of ducks instead

Excel 2008 now fails to properly handle and graph large amounts of data.  If you have more than 1000 datapoints, be prepared for long waits as it tries to build your graph.  Be prepared for the beachball.  Be prepared for a crash.   Most of all, be prepared to deal with Excel’s inability to graph things it could crank through in Excel 2000.

POINT:  Office 2000

Oh, and while we are on graphs, you can no longer have a graph on the sheet with data and print just the graph!  Selecting a graph and hitting print may just send 400 pages of data to your printer.  Turns out this is a “known” issue according to Microsoft from 2 years ago! You have to move the graph to another sheet to print it out by itself.   Awesome, eh?

POINT:  Office 2000

You can no longer add arbitrary text boxes to a graph (See example picture).  This was something that was easy to do in Office 2000 (and even in Office 1997). In some graphs in a workbook,  you can add clip art of a dog or a duck or a cute little doggie (who wants their Busy Bee?) but you cannot add additional information other than a title and axis labels.  For some reason, in other graphs I’m unable to even add the same pictures.   So there goes my hopes of encoding additional chart information based on the animal’s species.  WTF???   This loss of text boxes in charts is a backbreaker.    It turns out that Open Office 3.x appears to suffer the same difficulties.

POINT:  Office 2000
POINT:  iWork for Mac, ’cause it is even more functional for graphing!

And finally, formatting a graph is painful at best.   In Office 2008 it is even more difficult to modify the data series data (No, Microsoft, I don’t really want to drag select my data columns when I have more than 1000 rows of data….I’d like to manually enter the series range).  Don’t even bother trying to re-arrange or re-center, as graphs tend to move around on their own.   Seriously, check out how far iWork has surpassed Office 2008 in terms of charting capabilities.  8 years ago there was no “iWork”.   Even the free Open Office matches the features and then some.

POINT:  Office 2000
POINT: iWork for Mac, Open Office 3

Powerpoint 2008: Ho Hum

Powerpoint 2008 is in stasis.   Really, it improved at all in the last 8 years.   For many users, Powerpoint is their primary “draw” package, yet it is no easier to draw pictures and edit photos than it was in Office 2000.

Forget about styling your slides.  An eye Candy pre-formatted puke fest clutters the tool palette instead.   If you want to set up basic font styles based on bullet point depth you’ll have to search and work on it for quite some time.

Auto-layout and layout guides are barely implemented (see Keynote or OmniGraffle for a great example of how to do this).  At least Powerpoint 2008 can hand PNG images!

Regardless, Powerpoint is still the same boring old POS.  It has lots of clip art and other junk at the expense of a clean method for managing and creating professional looking presentations.

This one is a DRAW

Word 2008:  As nimble as a cow

Word continues to be a massively heavyweight cluster-f.  The floating palettes are equally cumbersome and still make changing fonts and adding styles a mess.   Even after 8 years, putting together a Table of Contents is something that befuddles all but the most dedicated users.   Forget about indexing!     Lost in the stone-age, Word fails to do lots of basic text editing tasks and make them easier.   As a document layout tool, it still remains painful.  Images have a habit of moving around and re-sizing themselves (or ignoring your attempt at re-sizing).   Establishing basic things like gutters and orphan control continues to be an option buried deep in the layers of menus.

POINT:  Office 2000
POINT:  TextEdit, TextWrangler, iWork, OpenOffice

Conclusion

On Mac OS 10.1, 10.2, 10.3, 10.4, 10.5 and even 10.6, Office 2000 is a solid upgrade to Office 2008.   In Office 2000 you will find a bevy of useful features and a fairly clean interface and relatively simple-to-use set of tools.

If, like me, you had no reason to upgrade, I strongly recommend you stick with your old copy of Office 2000.  If you must upgrade, consider the free version of Open Office, as it not matches the functionality (and then some) of Office 2000 and even Office 2008.     If you don’t mind breaking out a little bit, I would suggest iWork, as surpasses Office 2000 in terms of functionality and ease of use.

Oh, and at no point is this review being sarcastic…..Office 2008 really is that much of a step backward!