Large file copies from Windows to OSX failing?

Go read this:

It’s a discussion of why copies of large file from windows to macintosh fail, and includes a Windows registry change which fixes the issue. This was driving me nuts for months and had me on a set of wild goose chases (must be the router firmware….must be the mac since this doesn’t fail in other contexts … must be something in windows drivers … must have something to do with the drive mounted via usb where these files were usually headed, on and on). Anyway, 5 minutes after reading this my problem was gone.

Microsoft….does the right thing?!?!

Microsoft introduced a point system for purchases when they introduced the xbox (or 360? I forget when it began), a system that was mostly reviled by gamers. They announced over a year ago that they were ending that system in favor of straight cash purchases for their online stores, just like most everyone else uses (ie Amazon, Apple, Google Play, etc).

Both Sony and Microsoft sell debit cards at retail for making purchases in their online stores, so kids without credit cards can buy games online. Retailers periodically run specials on those cards, especially around the holidays, so you can get $50 for $40 or whatever.

Several Christmases ago, I stocked up on these cards when Target ran a $50 for $30 sale or something along those lines. I added those credits to my respective accounts, and then my Xbox 360 promptly died. My $50 of Microsoft credit has been sitting in limbo ever since, as I had no plans to replace the 360. Imagine me shaking my fist in irritation at Microsoft. Then imagine me bemused to receive an email from Microsoft letting me know that my points have been converted back to actual cash $$$ – I’m now sitting on $49.15 in credit for Microsoft’s stores. Bully for them for doing the right thing and me for getting my funds back.

Next, imagine me shaking my fist in mild irritation again when I discover I can only spend these funds in the Windows 8 and Windows Mobile stores, which I do no business with.   :-/

Amazon customer service rocks

A couple of weeks ago I bought a new waterproof camera (a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS5A) to replace my aging Pentax Optio, in preparation for my annual camping trip on Lake George. Yesterday I noticed the price had dropped by $50 on Amazon’s site. One quick, somewhat automated support email later and I had a $50 refund. There are reasons Amazon’s the number one online retailer, this being one of them.

(the camera’s great so far – excellent image quality, nearly instant bootup time, and a host of cool new features, gps being the one I’m most pleased with)

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From the ‘there’s always someone out there nerdier than you’ file:

I present: Radio Rivendell. 24×7 streaming music channel featuring high fantasy themed tracks. I kid in the headline – I recently found this and started playing it while playing Dungeons of Dredmor on my PC. Dredmor is fantastic and at $5 a steal (or less on sale, which it is frequently). Rivendel’s perfect when you’re looking to set that high fantasy mood, which of course lots of you are…right?

😉   enjoy,


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Vladimir Propp still looms large in my life, sort of

English: Vladimir Propp, Russian philologist

English: Vladimir Propp, Russian philologist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I suppose I’m one of the few people on earth likely to say ‘Vladimir Propp had a profound impact on my  development.’ If I let that drop in conversation the most likely response would be ‘who the heck is Vladimir Propp?’ He was a Russian professor and theorist best known (I think) for authoring ‘The Morphology of the Folktale,’ a work which showed how to reduce folktales down to their base components and proposed amongst other things a way to author folktales algorithmically using those components.

His influence on me had less to do with his literary theories and more to do with how I encountered his work during an English Lit course I took back in the late 80’s. I had what seemed to me at the time to be a unique insight in that course. The course was a pastiche of material all connected in one way or another to computer mediated learning, narrative structures, and the study of literature. It was an experimental course two English faculty were collaborating on, and we students were sort of guinea pigs – they had some broad ideas about what they wanted to cover, and were looking to use us to help them shape subsequent offerings of the course. For the final project, we were broken into working groups and tasked with delivering something in hypertext based on the works of one of a set of authors. It occurred to me that we could use Hypercard to build folktales using Propp’s structures while taking input from the person sitting in front of the computer (ie the name of the hero and so on) to add some unique elements to each generated story. Each team had been assigned a student computer programmer, and I managed to convince my team that the idea had merit, then convinced the programmer he could actually pull it off.

To this day that work remains one of the things I’m most proud of from my college years, even though I found out later that the programmer had cheated and the software didn’t actually work – the story was more or less random and did not fully implement Propp’s structures correctly, though it did so well enough to fool both us and our instructors. The student programmer admitted this to me over beers at a graduation party at the end of that year. The instructors who taught it won a teaching award and took the ideas that came out of that course and turned it into a grant which later led to the release of  ‘The Linear Modeling Kit‘ [<- pdf link] that they used in subsequent courses.

That experience, which took place my Junior year, was a pivotal moment in my life. I had not yet figured out what I would do with my degree when I graduated, and truth be told by that point had started to second-guess my choice of major. I know this sounds hopelessly naive, but across my Sophomore and Junior years I had slowly come to the conclusion that there was no such thing as objective truth, and my passion for textual analysis was waning in the face of the fact that the study of literature was not the path to conclusive meaning I had been grasping after. Feel free to picture me as a possibly drunken young undergrad shaking his fist at a cold uncaring universe if it helps you set the scene 😉

Anyway, until that course I had started thinking History, not English Lit, should have been where I had focused (yep, there’s that naivete again – at that time I thought something along the lines of ‘unlike literature, history is full of unambiguous cold hard facts and data that I can sift through and make categorical statements about’ ;-), but the experience got me really interested in computer mediated textual analysis and authoring, which a few months of study on my own, coupled with influences from my Dad’s career as a journalist, slowly focused into a fascination with hypertext and its possibilities. Mind you, this was years before web browsers existed – almost all of this was notional, with me reading texts and imagining things.

All of this comes to mind because of this piece on boingboing, which covers a piece of software called ‘The Infinite Adventure Machine,’ which, you guessed it, authors folk tales using the basic structures Propp sketched in the Morphology of the Folk tale, while leaving space for the user to influence and be additive to the basic narrative. I hadn’t heard Propp’s name in probably 20 plus years until I saw that, and it brought all of these old memories bubbling back to the surface. Fun how these things work when they come over you, isn’t it. It’s also lovely to see a cherished idea turned into something more functional and aesthetically pleasing.

My meandering point, I suppose, is that I owe the career I have today to that experience at The College of Wooster one semester 20 something years ago, and tangentially to a somewhat obscure Russian theorist, and I loved having that reinforced so randomly and with such an unlikely reference point.

The new PC build

After the death of my gaming rig in December, I pulled together parts and built a new machine. I kept the old case, power supply, and optical drive. Everything else I bought new. I used two new resources to help this time round, after years of using the techreport system builders guides. I still referenced them, but this time I relied more on a wonderfully maintained thread and associated resources from neogaf – the “I need a New PC!” 2013 Part 1″ thread. There’s a google spreadsheet linked from there with parts lists for a number of different cost, performance and form factor builds, which is embedded in the first post of the thread. There’s also a link to, which has this great tool that lets you build a shopping list which is sharable and which can be configured to find the lowest price for each component in your build from whichever vendors you want to select from. It’s great. Here’s my build list, by way of example. For the record, since who knows how long that link will work, below is also my partlist:

Intel Core i5-3570K
Asus P8Z77-V LK ATX LGA1155 Motherboard
Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory
Samsung 840 Pro Series 128GB 2.5″ Solid State Disk (this is the Operating System drive)
Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive (this is the apps drive)
Western Digital Caviar Green 2TB 3.5″ 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive (this is the drive backups are written to)
Gigabyte Radeon HD 7870 2GB Video Card
Asus Xonar DGX 24-bit 96 KHz Sound Card

This is the first time I’ve added a soundcard in years, maybe a decade even. I did it because I became frustrated with the driver situation for my previous build, where the mobo manufacture (Gigabyte) and the audio chipset manufacturer were not in sync on their drivers, and I had a number of compatibility problems with games. The Xonar stuff has been on my radar for a while – it was cheap enough so I figured I would give it a shot. So far it’s great, and having two independent audio devices is actually handy (voice comms on one, game audio on the other).

The build itself was uneventful – about as easy as they come, and so unremarkable that I have nothing to say about it beyond that. The machine’s been running well for a couple of weeks now, I definitely got a performance improvement in a number of games, which is great, even if truth be told I wasn’t feeling like I needed it before the old machine died. Plus, so far all my game saves have been successfully migrated to the new build, which was the thing I was most worried about. Now I can just cross my fingers I get 2+ years out of this build. Insofar as I can tell, the videocard will be the only likely weak link.

It is worth noting that it’s possible this will be the last time I do this. Intel is signalling that eventually you won’t be able to buy processors anymore – you’ll have to buy a motherboard/cpu combo or manufactured machines, and even the machine vendors like Dell and HP are signalling that they want to get out of the PC business (!!! – they can’t make money). I think what they’re trying to do is get PC’s to the point where they are consumer devices – no one picks which audio chip goes into their stereo, and Intel figures no one should think about PC’s, you just go to best buy and buy model a, b, or c. We’ll see if they succeed. In theory by the time I need another new machine, they’ll be close to or at that point, and Dell may be out of the consumer PC business.

The death of suckegg 7

Last weekend I finished building a new computer. I was forced into this by the death of Suckegg 7, which had been my main gaming PC for 2.5 years*. I’ll do a brief writeup of the new machine build shortly, but to start, I thought I’d share the befuddling tale of its predecessor’s death.

The first clue I had that something was wrong was about a year ago. Randomly when it booted it would forget what its boot drive was, and I would have to go into the bios and reset it to the correct boot drive. I tried a number of things to fix this (resetting the bios, replacing the bios battery, patching the bios), but nothing worked, and at a certain point it stopped letting me patch the bios alltogether. At this point I concluded I had corrupt bios and started thinking maybe I needed a new machine, or at least a new motherboard, after looking into what it would take to fix corrupt bios and deciding it was a no go. There were two problems with buying a new machine though. First, for about the last 15 years I’ve replaced my machine roughly every two years, but when we knew my son Brady was on the way I spent a bit more than I normally would and figured on the machine lasting me 3+ years. This meant I didn’t want to go and build a new machine, I had sunk money into the one I had and wanted to keep it. Second, they no longer manufacture the motherboard I had, and ‘new’ boards on the aftermarket were $300+ – at least $100 over what I paid, so I didn’t want to pay that much to try and swap out the motherboard in the hopes that would fix it. I actually bought a different model of the motherboard with the same chipset, figuring I could swap everything out and manage to get the right device drivers running on the thing, but chickened out at the amount of work it would take to do it.

Bottom line is I sat on my hands for about a year, dealing with the annoyance of sometimes not booting and having to muck about in the bios to get the machine booted. That was more or less working until December, when the newest and lightest used drive in the system died, causing one of those ‘the system is recovering from a serious error’ blue screens and a dead drive. When that happened I did a chkdsk on all the drives (there were 4 – an SSD boot drive, a 1TB game drive, a 2TB media drive, and a 2TB backup drive), and every one of them had serious problems. At that point I freaked and concluded I needed to write images of every volume as a precaution, despite having recent backups of everything, my theory being I would buy new drives and use those images to get me completely back up and running. I have Acronis, one of the best reviewed backup and disk utility packages on Windows, and thought that this would be easy, but then things got freaky. Imaging my 80GB SSD took 3 days. 3 DAYS!!!. The 1TB drive took over a week. Writing that image back out to a newly purchased drive then took another week. A freaking week!!! I tried all kinds of things to get around this – replacing all the SATA cables, pulling everything but the essentials out of the machine (boot drive, ram, cpu, gpu), booting to cd, to usb drive – nothing worked. Speed was abysmal. Meanwhile, during all this flailing about, the machine stopped booting – it would come up bluescreen of death, and could not even boot to safe mode.

At that point I became so frustrated I stopped touching the thing for a couple of weeks. Eventually I brought it into a local pc repair shop, figuring my time was worth more than the $50 they would charge me to tell me what the hell was wrong with the thing. That was only partly true as it turned out. They came back with a diagnosis of bad sectors on the SSD where a critical windows file was located (which I had already kind of sussed out), and offered to do a data migration for $100-200 depending on how complex that turned out to be. Worst case $200+150 for a new SSD, with me thinking the motherboard was the root of the problem and this money would not fix the issues caused me to bail on the machine. I bought new parts and built a new box. I’ll write that up shortly as per custom, but the spoiler is it was easy this go around, cost me about $850, and I’ll be selling off the remaining working parts from the old machine on ebay to subsidize the purchase shortly. I figure I can get around $300 for those, meaning my out of pocket is not much worse than the repair costs quoted by the repair shop ($350 vs. $550), for a repair I didn’t have confidence in. My one remaining question is, what the hell went wrong with the old one? My best guess is bios corruption introduced data corruption problems on the sata devices, but it’s really just a guess. Anyone else want to weigh in?

*(the name Suckegg 7 derives from when I first moved from Macs to PC’s oh so many years ago. That was in the Windows 95 era, and I joked with friends at the time that Windows sucked eggs in compared to Macs, which I then used as its network name (suckegg). Suckegg 7 isn’t the 7th machine in the sequence, but it was the first running Windows 7, so….)

Stories write themselves

Who needs writers? Here’s a glimpse of our near-term future, wherein software takes responsibility for writing the stories we read. Now imagine not too far into the future* wherein a complex, macabre circle jerk editorial process consists of computer-written stories being ingested by other software, assessed, cataloged, re-written, and re-published back into the news stream.

Maybe we don’t need readers either, now that I think on it. The computers can just talk amongst themselves. I’d love to see a simulation of how that would play out, where we pour in today’s news and take a glimpse 5 years later at what they’ve been spewing out. There’s the seeds of a novel there for someone like Gibson or Stephenson.

*(by which, of course, I mean now)

Do not be alarmed, site may go down for a bit

So I might have to turn off the website for a bit. I’m still haggling with the hosting provider because they’re seeing too much database usage on it, which I have no explanation for. If you try to get here and get nothing over the next week or so, don’t be alarmed. It means I’m moving the site.