In the absence of accountability, you get stuff like this

The TSA destroyed Cory Doctorow’s suitcase because it looked like it might be locked.

  1. It was not locked; and
  2. Even if it was, the case was one with the “TSA locks” on it, which TSA agents supposedly have a master key for.

The TSA cannot be held responsible for the destruction, though, because terrorism. Accountability is anathema to this organization; just look at the distance they went to keep their serial gropers from being prosecuted.

Hey Chief Heathen! Re: The laptop I didn’t buy

It’s an upgrade year in the Heathen Office, and so I recently ordered a new laptop from Apple. What I didn’t buy is their new super-sexy 2-pound MacBook, but I admit I was very tempted.

If your use case runs to web, email, and Office apps, though, and you don’t mind the unusual port configuration, it may well be the laptop for you. Anandtech has a long review of the new machine. I’ve seen them in person, and while they’re not as shockingly small as the original Air was, it’s a pretty damn svelte computer. The keyboard feels fine (but unusual), and the display is shockingly good.

At this point, the lower end (well, non-Pro) laptops at Apple come in two flavors: the now-venerable Air platform (in 11″ and 13″ varieties), and the new Retina Macbook. Assuming you want 8GB of RAM (and you do) plus at least 256GB of storage (and you do), the pricing looks like this:

  • 11″ MacBook Air: $1,199 with 256GB; $1,499 at 512GB.
  • 13″ MacBook Air: $1,299 / $1,599, or basically $100 over the 11″ model.
  • 12″ Retina Macbook: $1,299 /$1,599, or the same as the 13″ Air.

So which one do you buy if you don’t need the Pro?

It’s not a simple answer. The Air models still come with a “normal” complement of ports, and are technically faster, but are saddled with the non-Retina display. You probably think, as I once did, that the display isn’t that big of a deal, but once you see a Retina screen it’s super hard to go back. Trust me.

Also, the speed thing isn’t a slam dunk for the Airs, owing to the novel characteristics of the new Intel chip in the Retina model. Basically, it can “sprint” for short bursts very well, so it punches above its weight in situations where that’s indicated. If your workload includes long, computationally intense tasks (e.g., video rendering, or gaming), the Retina model will fall behind the Airs, but this does not describe most people.

That leaves the port situation. Having a single port (plus headphones) allowed Apple to make this thing way, way thinner than they would have been able to otherwise, but this has costs. First and foremost is that you’ll need an adapter to plug in so much as a thumb drive, since the port is the new USB-C, not the regular USB you’re familiar with. This port type is absolutely NOT proprietary to Apple, and we’ll start seeing it in normal peripherals very, very soon now — every manufacturer will want to support it, for the same reasons Apple used it: it can simplify design dramatically.

In real terms, though, buying a Retina Macbook now means you need at least one and probably more adapters. Apple sells three:

  • One, for $19, that converts the fancy new port to normal USB;
  • Another that “splits” the port into regular USB, USB-C (for charging), and HDMI (think of this as the desktop dock) for $79; and
  • Another splitter (also $79) that swaps out regular VGA for the HDMI, in case your monitor has the older connector.

Realistically, there’s no way you can use the new Retina Macbook without dropping coin for at least one of these, and probably two of them — the simple USB one, plus the multiport one of your choice. That’s not a HUGE deal, but it matters.

For me, if I were in a mode to buy a web/email/Office computer, I think I’d probably bite the bullet and get a Retina, but if goofy ports scare you, getting a Macbook Air at this point is still a defensible move. If you’re more mobile and spend less time at a desk plugging things in, the Retina starts to look even better, though.

Books of 2015, #11: Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt

There is little I can add to this bit, from my friend Mike:

[L]et me now say that the book is entertaining, and yet transcends entertainment, in the way that most people’s attempts to understand themselves are able to do. It’s funny, but with only a couple of moments that made me laugh out loud—but those were really good: Louis C.K.’s comments on how to approach visiting Amsterdam, and his brother’s description of a scene in The Phantom Menace that continues to make me laugh just thinking about it.

Enjoy.

(No, this is not cheating.)

Books of 2015, #10: The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

No, I’m not late to the party; this is a re-read. Frankly, I almost never do this, but I was so underwhelmed by The Goldfinch that I bought a new copy of History — a fancier, literary edition, compared with my falling-apart paperback from 20+ years ago — to bask in what I remembered as her best work.

I did this with some trepidation, obviously. Often we go back to works we though amazing, only to discover our tastes have changed, or that we remembered it better than it actually was, or some combination thereof. I’m happy to report that I wasn’t disappointed here, though — frankly, the book is probably better than I remembered it. I’m certainly better educated at 45 than I was at 22, so more of her classical references landed with me the second time around.

This isn’t to say it’s not a LITTLE precious. The book does a sometimes-delicate, sometimes-clumsy dance between being timeless and being rooted quite seriously in its era. Her cadre of isolated classics students dress and act as though they could belong to any decade back to the Jazz age, or even the Victorian era, but for occasional references to cars or planes or politics. Their instructor is similarly unmoored in time, in a way that I think academics might envy.

Tartt’s recurring themes and traits are of course here: envy of easy privilege, wastrel figures with big trust funds and family money, an uneasy orbit of New York and wealth, all seen from an outsider who is from the hinterlands and cursed with an inconvenient poverty. Richard is very, very like The Goldfinch’s Theo in all these ways (and, we wonder, not unlike Tartt herself, who left her native Mississippi to attend Bennington, the school that is the transparent inspiration for History‘s Hampden).

The prose here is a bit overwritten, but not in a clangy way, and we would do well to remember how young Tartt was when she wrote it. It’s not really a problem. And you’re made of wood if her descriptions of ur-collegiate Hampden don’t make you nostalgic for your own college years even if you went somewhere not comprised entirely of northeastern university stereotypes.

The story itself has stood up well. It’s not a whodunnit at all; the murder is front and center from page one. The story is how they GET to the murder itself, and remains solidly captivating the whole time. As with my first run through this book, I read it nearly compulsively and finished it in about two days.

I’m rambling, but the point here is that it’s still a solid book well worth your time. I kind of sorry she didn’t get better notice for this one, because I see it as a superior work to Goldfinch despite the latter’s prizewinning resume.

Happy Union Victory Day!

As previously noted, today is the 150th anniversary of the surrender of the treasonous Lee at Appomattox. Raise a glass to the Union, to the destruction of the Confederacy and its preservation of slavery, and to the brave troops who helped put down the rebellion.

Also, via a friend on Tumblr, here is an actual depiction of the regimental flag for the Union’s 22nd Colored Regiment, and I fucking LOVE IT:

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In Which We Bitch About Name Collisions

I’m planning to upgrade my laptop this year, as is my custom. I do so every three years, give or take. Mrs Heathen usually takes my old one as hers for light duty (email, web, the odd Office doc), which also serves as my “emergency backup” machine until it’s recycled or donated when the next new machine enters three or so years later.

Laptops have gotten good enough that the three year cycle is starting to seem a LITTLE extravagant, but two things drive the upgrade this time:

  • First, I’m about to be out of warranty, and it’s my work machine.
  • Second, I have no backup, and haven’t since 2012. That year, we were robbed, and they got my then-2-year-old machine. A month or two later, the then-5-year-old prior machine gave up the ghost as well. We got Erin an 11″ Air, but I can’t work on that for lots of reasons.

There’s actually another factor, too: it seems like CPU power might finally have come to the point where I could buy something other than the top-of-the-line full-size Macbook Pro. Time was, a 4.4 pound laptop was svelte, but that’s just not the case anymore; the 13″ Retina Macbook Pro is a full pound lighter. (The Air and the newly introduced just-plain-Macbook are nonstarters for technical reasons.)

That said, I do worry a little: the 13″ laptop ships with a fast CPU, but it’s only a dual-core chip. The 15″ machines have quad-core chips, meaning they effectively have four CPUs while the smaller one has only two. And it’s not at all clear to me how much difference this makes to me.

I feel like my machine is only rarely CPU-bound despite its fairly heavy duty cycle — lots of Lightroom, plus I run a Windows VM all day every day. Memory is likely the bigger problem, plus I/O. But that’s a hunch, and I don’t want to marry a laptop on a hunch.

Turns out, there’s a tool I could use to watch my CPU usage over the course of the day. It’s an old-school command-line Linux-heritage tool called “sar,” but it comes with OS X. There’s lots of examples online of how to use it, but as is often the case with command line utilities, it looks like there’s some serious differences between the Mac version of sar and the Linux version.

No problem, right? Just ask Google, and be sure to specify the version of OSX!

Well, turns out, that doesn’t work so well.

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Tomorrow should be a holiday

I’ve long considered celebrating anything about the Confederacy to be morally questionable if not outright obnoxious, but I could make an exception for this: Make the Confederacy’s Defeat a National Holiday.

There’s no escaping that those who fought for the South were committing treason at every turn — and were doing so in defense of slavery. They didn’t want to be part of a country where all men were created equal, and so they took up arms to attempt to force the issue. They failed. And we should celebrate their failure.

Tomorrow marks 150 years since Lee’s defeat at Appomattox. Raise a drink to the Union.

Thanks, John.

This is a good man.

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He was only my stepfather for something just over 19 years, but I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know him. It was a smallish town. He and his family lived around the corner, and his youngest was one of my brother’s earliest and best friends. We all went to the same country club on Saturdays, and the same church on Sundays. In season, we hunted the same dove fields. Dad took care of the Green animals, and Doc took care of the Farmer eyes.

Eventually, everyone got divorced, because it was the 70s and such things were mandatory. (My parents liked it so much they did it again, even.) Eventually, though, everyone was single. And then, at some point — I can’t recall exactly when — mother and John began dating. I don’t know if it was before my father died or not, but it didn’t become a serious Thing until fairly late in high school for me. They took their time with it, for sure. I think, by the time they married in 1996, they’d been dating for over a decade. The six kids all sort of assumed they’d do it as soon as the youngest two left home, but Frank and Mary Beth matriculated at their respective schools in the fall of 1993, and they waited another 2+ years. Old people, man.

John was, without a doubt, the best thing to ever happen to my mother. Frank and I were grown and gone by the time they married and combined households, so he was always more “our mother’s husband” than “father figure,” but that didn’t stop him from treating us as his own in every way. And we loved him for it, and especially for how he treated our mother.

Our mom is tough and solid and no-nonsense, because she had to be as single mother in the 70s and 80s. She was a single mom twice, really, first because of the divorce, and then in a much more serious way after dad died in 1986. She was due some easier years, and some time being taken care of, and John gave her both. He doted on her, cared for her, and made her happier than I ever remember seeing her. They traveled together — big, fancy trips! — and they loved it, but I’m not sure they didn’t love spending time on John’s tree farm more. It’s quiet there, and peaceful, and serves as a fantastic antidote to loud, chattery modern life. They knew what they wanted in a marriage, and how to do it and take care of each other. In that, they have been especially inspiring.

John turned 80 this fall — he’s a bit older than Mother. I guess we all knew that, well, 80 is getting up there. Something might claim him. On the other hand, he’s traditionally been hearty, hale, and healthy kind of guy — he split his own firewood until fairly recently, and was fond of long hikes in his woods, so even as we knew he was 80, I don’t think any of us quite accepted that he was, like all of us, a fragile human.

Last October, just before his birthday, he was diagnosed with inoperable metastatic cancer. Given the particulars, he refused any but palliative care, figuring that for him and for his family, getting the most GOOD days beat out simply living longer in a medical haze.

We had a wonderful birthday party for him the next month — there are pictures. The holidays were as rich and delighful as I ever remember them being in Mississippi. Erin and I got to spend a lot of time there, just being with him and with mother and with our shared, extended family. There are pictures of that, too.

After the holidays, he began to dwindle. Hospice care began.

This morning, about an hour ago, mother called me. John Green, one of my favorite people ever, has passed away. He was 80. We will miss him terribly.

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Today in GPS Amusements

At the Tour de Houston afterparty, a friend noted that, when his wife had a season-ending crash on the TdH last year, her GPS track showed it quite clearly. We checked the track for my last November ride, and sure enough, it’s pretty clear for me, too:

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Heh. I dunno if someone thought to stop it or what, but I remain surprised that the track doesn’t show the part with my bike in the car post-crash.

45 & a small, good thing

It’s my birthday. I’m 45.

This year has had some really good things in it — another MS150, a great summer and fall of cycling, a great cruise, wonderful visits with friends and family, and Erin got a new job! — but some pretty serious rough spots, too. Obviously, I broke my hip in November, and that’s been a long haul, but around the same time my stepfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

I had thought, years ago, that this year would be one I threw a big party. 45 is a big number, and it’s one of those rare years when my birthday falls, as it did in 1970, on a Friday. Widespread uncertainty about my leg kept us from planning anything — we didn’t get the “yup, fracture’s healed & gone” report until Wednesday — so it’s turned out to be a low-key year instead, for that and lots of reasons. I’m a little bummed about that, but not a lot.

But there’s one more than that puts me in a good mood about it today, and it’s an example of a kind of enduring friendship we probably don’t give enough credit to. In elementary and middle school, one of my best friends was a guy named Paul. Paul and I were in the same scout troop, took the same smart-kid classes, and lived reasonably close to each other. In high school, we moved in somewhat different directions, but we’ve always been friends. I remember, on a whirlwind trek from Tuscaloosa to UVa one weekend in 1990 (to help a buddy see a girl), I dropped in on him to say hi. And that may be the last time I saw him in the flesh, which makes the rest of this even more remarkable.

Paul’s not on Facebook or any social media I’m aware of. We don’t email, or really communicate outside the following. But for the last 7 or 8 years, Paul has called me on my birthday every year, without fail. He’s a busy guy — so am I — and we live very different lives now. Paul’s a cardiologist, recently moved from New Orleans to Nashville, and is the father of quadruplets. Obviously Heathen Central is a nerd lair of the first order, and features cats, not kids. But he remembers, and calls, just to wish me a happy birthday.

It’s a nice thing, and it’s the sort of thing that reminds me to be grateful for the life I have, bumps and all, because it has so much joy and happiness in it even when things seem tough.

Happy birthday to me. Cheers. Know that I am insanely grateful for you all.

The CIA is the enemy

They’ve been working for YEARS to break into Apple’s devices, going so far as to try to infect the tool chain (i.e., the software development tools).

As Marco Arment points out:

What would you call a targeted attack on one of America’s most successful and beloved companies in history in order to break security protections, spy on millions of citizens, intercept their communications, and steal their data?

Unpatriotic? Absolutely. Terrorism? Maybe. But those don’t quite capture what this really is: war.

The United States intelligence agencies are at war against all U.S. citizens.

Seen at physical therapy: March 11

  1. A Rolls Royce. There are plenty of super fancy cars in Houston, but seeing an actual Rolls is still pretty rare. I’ve seen more Lambos than Rollses. Very shiny. Possibly related to items 2 or 4 below (or, well, 3 for all I know):

  2. Josh Hamilton. I had no idea who he was. He stopped to talk to my therapist Chris — who is, apparently, also his therapist — and they looked briefly at some footage of him batting in a cage as part of his rehab program. The hits sounded solid; I said so after he’d walked away. Chris, realizing I had no idea who he was, enlightened me once Hamilton was out of earshot.

  3. A likely Holocaust survivor. Well, either that, or a very, very old man of obvious European extraction who just randomly had a number tattooed on his forearm.

  4. Seattle Seahawk Earl Thomas, whom I also didn’t recognize. Chris pointed him out after telling me who Hamilton was.

That’s a damn good question: Why DOES the FBI go manufacturing terror plots?

The Intercept asks a question we should ALL be asking: ?

The FBI and major media outlets yesterday trumpeted the agency’s latest counterterrorism triumph: the arrest of three Brooklyn men, ages 19 to 30, on charges of conspiring to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS. As my colleague Murtaza Hussain ably documents, “it appears that none of the three men was in any condition to travel or support the Islamic State, without help from the FBI informant.” One of the frightening terrorist villains told the FBI informant that, beyond having no money, he had encountered a significant problem in following through on the FBI’s plot: his mom had taken away his passport. Noting the bizarre and unhinged ranting of one of the suspects, Hussain noted on Twitter that this case “sounds like another victory for the FBI over the mentally ill.”

Books of 2015, #8: The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

I rarely read fantasy, but after meeting Rothfuss on the nerd cruise I decided I’d make an exception and sample his trilogy. I say “trilogy,” but only two books yet exist, with legions of geeks clamoring for more.

It’s okay. The tale, at least in the first volume, is really two stories: Kvothe, a hero famous in his world, is in hiding as a pub owner, but has been found by a royal Chronicler and cajoled into telling his story. AT the same time, though, Creeping Evil is threatening the land, as is so often the case in such stories. We get very little of the latter story in The Name of the Wind; just enough to set the stage. Mostly, we’re concerned with how an orphaned child manages to become this known-and-feared character.

We don’t get very far here, I’m afraid, but it’s not for want of pages. Rothfuss, like so many of his contemporaries in fantasy, seems to mistake volume for quality. There’s a much more agile book, no less interesting, lurking inside hundreds of extraneous pages. Kvothe’s rise is inevitable, given the framing story, so an endless litany of ups and downs is, beyond a certain point, really just plate-spinning. I was reminded of Gravity, and not in a good way, because you know very well that nothing bad is going to happen to Sandy Bullock. The filmmakers just needed 91 minutes of stuff to happen before she could be safe.

I sorta feel like Rothfuss thought he needed several hundred pages of stuff here before he was willing to let the plot move, and that’s not necessarily so. Kvothe is an interested character, but I’m not sure I’m signing up for the rest of the trilogy unless I hear he’s hired a better editor.

Here’s something I wonder.

This weekend marks 50 years since Selma.

I know lots of folks from Mississippi and Alabama who are 70 or older. Every time an anniversary like this comes up, I wonder “what were YOU doing then, when these folks were beaten on the bridge?”

History is judging the anti-civil-rights crowd very harshly, but don’t those who sat it out bear some responsibility, too, for not helping? To what degree is “I was in school” or “I was busy” an excuse?

And then I wonder: what am I sitting out, or not noticing, or not helping with today, that my nieces and nephew will wonder about in 20 or 30 years?

I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s Microsoft, after all.

I keep my personal calendar information separate from my corporate calendar. Work stuff is in an Exchange calendar, and personal stuff is in Apple’s iCloud calendar. Since the native Mac calendar can read from both servers, I can easily see my whole calendar there. Ditto on my iPhone and iPad.

However, heretofore, I haven’t bothered trying to show my iCloud calendars in Outlook 2010. It’s been a nagging thing-I-need-to-investigate for a while, but what pushed me over the edge was scheduling snafus brought about by the sudden influx of daytime medical appointments (scheduled, naturally, on my personal calendar) that were invisible to Outlook. See, 90% of the time, the calendar I consult before accepting a business appointment is the sidebar (“To-Do Bar”) calendar in Outlook.

That Outlook can’t see dinner parties is one thing. That it couldn’t see midday physical therapy sessions was becoming a problem. So, today, I went looking for a way to show all my cal data in Outlook, too. Turns out, getting that data in Outlook is pretty simple — you just download iCloud for Windows from Apple, and like magic you can see your contacts and calendars from iCloud in Outlook. Nice.

But because this is Microsoft, and they hate you, there’s a grotesque limitation. Sure, you can SEE your non-Exchange data in the Calendar mode in Outlook, but the To-Do Bar — which is the only calendar I ever use in Outlook — is limited to your DEFAULT calendar, and cannot show data from any other calendar, either from Exchange or another data source.

WAT.

This makes utterly ZERO sense, because even if I kept my personal calendar data in Exchange, it’d be in another calendar, not co-mingled with every business appointment ever. Having NO WAY to show a real and accurate sidebar calendar in Outlook is just baffling. Or, rather, it would be baffling, if it weren’t from MSFT.

So much for at-a-glance functionality. If I’ve gotta switch modes to see my days, I’ll just turn off calendars in Outlook entirely and use the Mac calendar instead, because this is some bullshit. It’s also bullshit that gets WORSE in Outlook 2013, since the To-Do Bar has apparently been significantly dumbed down there. More reason to eschew that particular upgrade.

Your Monday Morning Random Fact

Owing to the appearance of the Cradle of Love video (which is fun for lots of reasons, not the least of which being the prominent placement of both a cassette deck and an ancient Macintosh) in this morning’s drink-from-the-Internet-fire-hose, I’m now in a position to remind you that David Fincher directed a shit-ton of pretty iconic music videos in addition to the “Cradle” clip before he started making movies, from artists like Paula Abdul’s (“Straight Up”, “Cold Hearted”), Madonna (“Express Yourself”, “Vogue”, “Bad Girl” (which featured Christopher Walken)), Don Henley (“End of the Innocence”), Aerosmith (“Jamie’s Got A Gun”), George Michael (“Freedom ’90″), and others.