Author Archives: Aron

Geeking out, Mac style

I. Love. My. Mac.

Apple has truly seduced me. I bought a low-end iBook back in 2004 to check out OS X, which sounded great on paper. It was running 10.3 Panther at the time, which was pretty cool. Then 10.4 Tiger came out, and I loved Spotlight and Exposé, enough so that when time came to move to New Zealand and I was shedding computers, I decided to make a Mac my only machine.

And so I bought a spanking new 15″ MacBook Pro. And while my MasterCard smoked for a few days afterward, I never once had the slightest twinge of regret over my purpose. It is simply fantastic. The quality you get for the money is astounding.

And now I’ve just upgraded to 10.5 Leopard, and I just sit here and drool. It looks stunning, which is great, but then you get to using the new features, and it just works. The new Finder Cover Flow and Quick Look are so amazingly slick and fast I’m still amazed; give me a week and I won’t be able to imagine living without them. Time Machine is trivial to set up and just works (though on this one the delivered reality is rather less impressive than the vaporware I remember from a year ago…even Apple isn’t perfect). Spaces is the most elegant implementation of multi-desktop that I’ve seen. Mail’s parsing of contact info and appointment information is a really cool concept and works pretty well. So far, absolutely no regrets over shelling out NZ$199 for the upgrade.

Yes, there are still some things that you can’t do on a Mac. Last night I had to borrow the wife’s PC laptop to load some New Zealand maps onto my Garmin GPS. Connecting to my company’s VPN uses a PC-only solution. But it’s getting to the point where I view these exceptions as a weakness in those products rather than seeing the Mac as an ‘also-ran’ platform. (Garmin, to their credit, is finally getting around to supporting Mac, but they’re not quite there yet.) Of course, I could always shell out for a copy of Windows and dual-boot or run something like Parallels, but at this point I don’t see the value for the money.

And since I mentioned it, I will put in a plug here for the New Zealand Open GPS Maps Project, which provides free auto-routing street maps for Garmin GPS. The price is much better than the near-$300 that Garmin wants for their equivalent, and after limited experience, I can’t see anything that’s missing.

Medieval Architecture Comes to the North Bay

A few weeks ago my wife says, “Some guy built a castle in Calistoga and they’re giving tours…wanna go?”

(Context: Calistoga is a town at the north end of the Napa Valley, about half an hour from us.)

I just stammered: “Castle? Calistoga? Huh?”

“Yeah—they brought in artisans from Italy and everything. It’s a winery.”

I remained dubious. It sounded like a gimmick and completely arbitrary. I feared kitsch.

But Sheila was quite excited by the prospect, and there are certainly worse ways to spend a weekend than a visit to Calistoga. So we managed to book space on a tour this afternoon, and drove out there.

It took me about 3 minutes to completely change my mind. It was, in every way my feeble mind could perceive, a 12th-13th century Italian castello. Except in the Napa Valley. And brand spanking new. It has to be among the most remarkable buildings in all of the Bay Area. The stonework is amazing, the vaulted ceilings, the frescoes, the towers. And the part above ground is dwarfed by the labyrinth of caves and tunnels beneath (used to store the wine, of course), all with cross-vaulted brick ceilings.

All of this managed to get built in the regulatory environment of modern-day America. Northern California, no less. The cost was, of course, enormous, and building it was a 14-year ordeal that pays tribute to the sheer tenacity of the owner with this vision.

In the end, I guess it’s still rather arbitrary to have a Tuscan castle in California wine country, but I’m fully behind it now. Where, after all, would not be improved by being a little more Italian?

Information: Castello di Amorosa.


To the right → you’ll note a new ad on the site. Kiva is a service that allows you to easily loan money to a particular somebody in a developing nation, allowing them to start or develop their business. There is no interest paid, but you are statistically very likely to get your investment back in the specified time frame.

Contribute as little as $25, and make a tangible difference to a person who is unable to acquire funds via more standard channels.

How disappointing…

Sometimes you’re better off not knowing.

I just found out the origin of the term ‘Bohemian’, as it applies to lifestyle. Wikipedia (the indisputable fount of all knowledge) tells me that it’s based on the French word for Gypsy, as the French purportedly used to think that Gypsies came from Bohemia.

All this time I’d imagined Prague at the center of an area with some great history of artistic self-expression. But no. Just a buncha confused medieval French people.

I guess I’ll have to focus my Czech-loving attentions on neighboring Moravia, which does seem to be pretty fascinating, at least the Moravian church and those killer cookies.

Now, I’m sure that Prague is still a fantastic place despite it all and I hope to visit soon. I don’t want to raise the ire of the Czechs.

UPDATE: Nor the gypsies. I’m all over Flamenco.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know, But Were Afraid to Ask…

I was sitting here fiddling with Google Earth, as I am prone, and noticed for the first time a city name of ‘Kingston’ hovering in the middle of the Pacific between New Zealand, Australia, and New Caledonia. “How curious”, I mused, and zoomed in to find Norfolk Island. A closer look showed a bucolic looking place of country lanes and homesteads and a bit of forest. The ruler tool showed me that the island was all of 5 miles and change in its longest dimension.

In other words, a tiny, isolated place in the midst of a vast ocean.

Curious to know more, I Googled it and found near the top of the list, as usual, the Wikipedia page on the topic. Not expecting a whole lot to be said about such a small place, I was surprised to find an extensive entry discussing the entire history of the place, details of the two murders that have occurred in recent years, how delivery ships dock at the jetty (it depends on the direction of the wind, you know), where it’s safe to swim, and the exact number of analog and digital telephone lines in service (as of 2004). Lovely panoramic photo, too. With a population of some 1841 (again, as of 2004), there are more words in the article than there are residents of the place, by a factor of more than 2! This is not to mention the subsidiary page on the politics of Norfolk Island, or the one on elections and parties in Norfolk Island. There are more, too.

So what’s the point here? I love Wikipedia! A couple of people who care deeply about this little island can write as much as they want about it, and we’re all the better for it. This can, I suppose, lead to disproportionate coverage and, therefore, a distorted account of the world, but I’ll take that over a more traditional encyclopedia entry which is likely to just say: “Small Pacific island and territory of Australia”.

Good tech, bad tech

Wow, has it really been since May that I posted?!

As for the topic of this post, I received an iPod Shuffle for Stressmas and I, as I and many others are prone when it comes to Apple products, have fallen for it. The design is, needless to say, inspiring…the aluminum, the hinged clip, the simplicity of controls, the lack of protrusions, the little touches like silk-screening the serial number and the required FCC, etc. ratings out-of-the-way under the clip; it’s all just perfect.
And how does it actually work? While listening last night, I fumble-fingered the pause button and instead hit ‘next track’. Since I was in the middle of a lengthy podcast, I thought: “@#$(!, now I have to find where I was again”. But when I hit ‘back’, it started from where I’d left off. A small thing that made all the difference at that moment.
But of course not all is perfect; my main complaint so far: I want a better way to automatically update it with podcasts!

On the ‘bad tech’ side, I opened Adobe Reader tonight and it notified me that it wanted to be upgraded with version 7.0.5 and 7.0.6 and 7.0.7 and 7.0.8 and whatever else. Fine. First annoyance: I had to select each update individually and click ‘Add’…shift-click and control-click didn’t work.
That done, it downloads and starts installing. Not only did I have to reboot to commit the changes, I had to reboot 5 times. Must’ve taken me half an hour to update bloody Acrobat Reader, probably without being able to notice any difference.

The moral of the story: Details matter a whole damned lot!

Solar Energy

For awhile I’ve intended to quantify the rate of energy received by the Earth from the Sun and how that relates to our current rate of usage, to better understand the practicality of solar power generation on a massive scale. Wikipedia comes to the rescue (via dKos), summarizing that data handily and with cool graphics. The percentage of the Earth covered by those black discs is heartening: for the vast amount of energy we consume, it’s still minute compared to what’s given to the planet every day.

More Gore

I’d like to see this theme expanded to other topics and adopted as a rallying point for progressives:

Any force that tries to make you feel shame for being who you are, and loving who you love, is a form of tyranny over your mind. And it must be rejected, resisted, and defeated.

— Al Gore, speaking at the Human Rights Campaign Gala on March 25, 2006, at the Century Plaza Hotel.

Tyrrany over the mind…says it perfectly to me.

(Via John, via Pandagon.)

The State of Homedebtorship in America


  • Nearly one in 10 households with a mortgage had zero or negative equity in their homes as of September 2005, according to First American Real Estate Solutions, an arm of title-insurance company First American Corp. The study of 26 million homes in 36 states and the District of Columbia found that one in 20 home borrowers was upside-down by 10% or more.
  • The situation is even grimmer for recent borrowers. Of those who bought or refinanced homes in 2005, 29% had zero or negative equity, and 15.2% were underwater by 10% or more.

I’ve for some time been a housing bear, but these numbers are worse than I’d have predicted. And this was at the peak of the market!