Feb 22

A few years back, I bought an Apple Time Capsule.  I had just purchased a new iMac to replace my Power Macintosh G5.  The G5 had two internal drives, allowing me to use Time Machine (Apple’s automatic incremental backup/snapshot system) on the second drive.  As the iMac has no provision for a second internal drive, my choices were to attach an external drive, or go for the Time Capsule.  I bought the Time Capsule, thinking it would be more useful: it could also back up a few other Macs in the house.

I just bought a newer iMac, and I bought a FireWire external disk for it and migrated my backups.  It’s time to bury the Time Capsule.

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Aug 11

Being the first of several reviews of grocery stores in the Kingston, New York area.

Adams Fairacre Farms is a three-store chain in the Hudson Valley of New York.  It’s really more of a “Super Farm Market,” as they advertise themselves, than a grocery store.

The good

When you walk into Adams, you walk into the store’s best department:  the fruits and vegetables.  Adams works with local farms to stock as much local produce as possible.  In general, they have higher-quality produce than any of the chain stores at any given time of year, even if it isn’t local.  If you care about quality veg, one trip to Adams will convince you to make it a regular weekly stop.

Adams’ meat department is no comparison to the local competition; it rivals any dedicated butcher shop for variety and quality.  They stock both quality “store brand” meat—typically better than the premium national brands found at other stores—and high-end brands like Bell and Evans.  They typically stock a selection of USDA Prime beef, as well as local beef.  The meat department is well-staffed, and they will gladly handle special requests.  There’s also a full-service seafood department.

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Jun 11

Before I got my iPad, I didn’t think I’d use it much for reading books.  I love books.  The house is full of books. I’m proud that I am perennially short of bookshelves.

Now, I find myself leaning toward buying books via the iPad more than going to the bookstore.

The thing is, I usually have my iPad with me.  It’s easy to carry. That means I can read nearly anywhere, and as a result I can read more often. I’m already a devout reader, so this just feeds the addiction.

Of the available readers, Apple’s iBooks is my favorite.  By no means is it perfect, but it’s good enough.  With the right font, and the right type size, I don’t find the iPad’s LCD objectionable.  It certainly gets dim enough to read comfortably in bed. (It lights up the room considerably less than the LED miner’s lamp I use for reading physical books in bed.)

Where iBooks falls down is in the texts themselves. Continue reading »

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May 17

Since I got my iPad, I’ve been a bit worried about dropping it.  The aluminum back doesn’t give one a lot of confidence; while I’ve not dropped it yet, it sometimes feels distressingly like it could slip out of one’s grasp.

It seemed like a silicone slipcover would be just the ticket.

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Apr 26

I first started cooking for myself in high school.  I think the thing that got me started was making homemade peanut butter cookies for a girl I was sweet on.  (She enjoyed them, but not enough to dump her boyfriend and take a good hard look at me.  But I digress.)

In college, I lived in a dorm that was at the outskirts of campus, a 20-minute walk from the nearest dining hall. This was in Rochester, NY; for those not familiar with the area, Rochester is famous for its lake-effect snow.  It usually starts snowing in late October and lets up sometime in April.  This dorm was originally built as graduate housing, so each 2- or 3-bedroom suite included a kitchen and a bathroom.  I very quickly decided to take full advantage of the kitchen, and I almost always cooked my own dinner.

My early companion in learning how to cook was the venerable Joy of Cooking.  I’m not going to link to that book; you can find it easily enough at any bookstore.  Why not?  Because I now know that a lot of the advice in that historic tome is just plain wrong.  I weep for the number of home cooks that have been lead astray by that book.

When I really decided to take my cooking past the “competent at preparing basic food” stage and learn how to truly cook, I was heavily influenced by Alton Brown and Iron Chef.  But there was one discovery that truly helped me take it to the next level.

Cook’s Illustrated.

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Apr 17

After two weeks, I still really like my iPad, and it has replaced my Mac for a lot of things. It’s with me almost constantly. In many ways, it is the revolution of computing that it’s made out to be. There are still some rough edges, though.

I’ve gotten more used to the onscreen keyboard. It was great to discover that you can type an apostrophe by touching the comma key and sliding your finger upward. That was one of the most glaring problems I’d had—having to go into the numeric mode to type punctuation. There are other shortcuts like that hidden throughout the keyboard.

Even so, the lack of number keys still bothers me. Even more is the semi-smart behavior of the numeric mode. It’s hard to predict exactly when it will decide to switch itself back to the alphabetic keyboard. Typing an apostrophe seems to trigger an immediate switch when you’re in the middle of typing a word. Typing a space does it reliably, which is really annoying when you’re filling out a form with a phone number.

I just picked up an Apple Bluetooth Keyboard, and I’m using that to write this blog entry. So far, it seems like an improvement as far as typing goes… but it does bring up the fact that the iPad desperately needs some sort of stand to use with the keyboard. The reason it needs a stand so desperately is the high-glare screen.

Apple’s worst design decision with the iPad was the high-gloss glass screen. Yes, it feels slick to the touch, and it’s probably easier to keep clean than a matte finish. However, it’s also utterly impossible to use comfortably under office lighting. Any sort of overhead light, or lighting behind you, or for that matter sunlight, will make it difficult to impossible to see the iPad’s screen. If someone comes out with a good antiglare overlay, I’ll buy it in short order.

Mobile Safari works well. It’s particularly good at pointing out web pages whose authors have made unwarranted assumptions about screen size and CSS layout code. There are a lot of web pages that are illegible upon first loading. Thankfully, the double-tap-to-zoom function works brilliantly.

The AIM app is a big disappointment, although some of that has to be laid upon how AOL has implemented multiple sign ins. When you leave the AIM app to do something else, after a while your buddies may not see you online, which makes the push notification feature a bit useless. When you get a push notification, you’re offered a choice of “view” or “close.” If you choose “close,” the IM may disappear from the iPad without a trace. OK, I thought, I’ll leave iChat logged in on my Mac to catch those messages. Well, no matter what AOL claims on their website, it seems essentially random as to which AIM session, if any, will receive messages when you do this. Apple and AOL need to collaborate on making multiple logins more useful in the context of portable devices.

Too many apps “drop state” when you leave them to check something in another app, especially if you’re in an “add item” or similar composing sort of mode. This becomes annoying quickly, and is probably the biggest reason why the iPad’s lack of multitasking is an issue.

If you walk around with an iPad, you’ll attract attention. The one thing you won’t hear, however, is “What is that?” It’s a testament to Steve Job’s marketing prowess that everyone you meet will instead say “Isn’t that the iPad?” It seems like everyone knows about the thing and can recognize it even if they’ve never seen it. The next question is almost invariably “Do you like it?” Yes, I do, for all that I see the rough edges.

I do wish I’d waited for the 3G model. There aren’t as many wireless hotspots in my area as I’d thought, and where there are hotspots… the iPad’s internal antenna is… quirky. Sometimes it works quite well. Often, it fails to pick up signals that laptops pick up fine. Occasionally it will ping-pong back and forth between strong signal and no signal while you hold it stationary in one spot. When it switches base stations, it interrupts your work with a “Connecting…” message for a second or two. This annoys me, because I have two base stations in the house for coverage. They’re on the same network and have the same SSID. Every other WiFi device I have switches seamlessly between them, but the iPad struggles with it. I hope Apple will release a firmware update that addresses this.

But, although I complain—products can’t improve if people don’t complain—I still love the thing, it’s my constant companion from the time I wake up to the time I sleep, and it’s definitely the future of computing. It won’t replace my desktop computer, but for most of the day it does supplant it.

Mar 15

I like to grill in the summer.  If it’s not raining, I’m more likely than not making dinner on the grill.  So, a few years ago, my birthday present to myself was a top-of-the-line Weber Summit Platinum D gas grill.

It’s a great grill.  It grills evenly, it has predicable heat, it can sear like nobody’s business and give you beautiful grill marks.

And yes, it cost a lot of money.

Last year, one of the burners no longer wanted to light.  Weber’s instructions include detailed annual-maintenance tear-down instructions.  I found that one of the ignitors had a cracked insulator.  This happens with gas grills; I expected that I just needed an inexpensive part.  It’s the sort of thing that one would consider a “wear item.”

Now, Weber doesn’t have an online store for their spare parts.  You have to email customer service.  Normally, I’d complain about this.

In Weber’s case, though, it seems that customer service usually replies with “that’s covered under warranty.”

They sent me a new ignitor at no charge.

I love this grill.  I do a maintenance every year, taking it apart and cleaning out the burners.  Even with this, two of the burner tubes have clogged up so that they don’t burn evenly any more.  Once again, I emailed Weber to get the price for two new burner tubes.

I didn’t include a serial number or anything.  I just said I needed the price for a burner tube part number such-and-so.

Paraphrasing: Well, Mr. Levandowski, our records show your grill is still under warranty.  How many do you need, and are you still at the same address?  We’ll ship them right out.

Wow.

There are a lot of companies that are willing to charge you tons of money for a product that’s top-notch when you buy it.  Sadly, it seems like few of those companies are interested in doing anything after they have your money.

Weber isn’t like that.  They understand: I paid top dollar for a top-of-the-line grill.  Even though this is a very durable grill with an impressive warranty, some day I will be in the market for another grill.  Or I will know someone who wants a grill.

When that day comes, I’ll be remembering that Weber didn’t nickel-and-dime me with spare parts — they went out of their way to save me money and keep me happy.

If you’re looking for a gas grill, buy as much Weber as you can.  It will be a good investment.

Jan 12

In 2003, I wrote the following blog entry:

I’ve recently inherited a house. The air conditioner, a jumbo window model from Carrier, is operable, but the mode selector knob is broken. Although it can still be used with judicious use of a pair of pliers, I wanted to get a replacement knob.

It turns out that Carrier understands a key tenet in customer service: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Even though this air conditioner was made over a decade ago, it won’t be a problem for me to get the knob. In fact, Carrier will send one to me at no charge. They make replacement knobs for all their room air conditioners available for free, just for the asking. Their web site offers instructions for requesting new knobs online.

This is how you make customers happy. A small, inexpensive part that would be hard for service centers to stock, creating a logistics nightmare… is instead centralized and turned into something that makes customers feel “taken care of.” This kind of small gesture is what leads to repeat customers.

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