I’ve gotta say, there’s precious little that makes me more annoyed than a company that miraculously decides to do right by its customers just after enough of those customers express interest in a class-action lawsuit against it.

Being someone who paid Apple $289 for the pleasure of having them repair something that should’ve never broken, I called them today to find out how I could get my reimbursement. I ended up speaking with Shirley in Customer Relations, who (very snippily) told me that I “need to be patient,” that I “should allow Apple to be proactive in contacting all the people who have been affected,” and that in no less than six weeks, I should get a letter in the mail explaining how I can collect the money that Apple cheated out of my wallet. With her attitude, it was hard to resist telling her that I found the use of the word “proactive” disingenuous, given how clearly reactive this all is. I also asked her who I should call if, in six weeks, I haven’t received my letter; she said that I shouldn’t call anyone, but rather, should “check the Apple website” to get information at that point. I actually had to push to get her to give me the direct number to Customer Relations (which is, of course, available on the web). The whole conversation was distasteful, and left me wondering whether Apple might have overlooked a few of Shirley’s character traits that might make her ill-suited for a job handling customer complaints.

(Note that I’ve turned off comments on this post. I wasn’t looking for them in the first place, and then an anonymous troll came to visit, so that’s that.)

For those who are similarly infatuated with all things Mars, I’d recommend keeping an eye on the websites of Susan Kitchens and Robby Stephenson. Both have been chock full of good info about the current missions, with detail that doesn’t make it into the general press. Worth a daily read.

Thanks go out to Matt for solidifying my depression by pointing out the fact that the Northeast has been colder than Mars over the past few weeks. I mean, we’re talking about a planet that’s nearly 50 million miles further from the Sun than ours, and it’s warmer there than outside my apartment window. Maybe a Mars colony doesn’t sound like such a bad idea after all…

Congrats go out to the peeps at Six Apart for making available what seems to be the first public implementation of the Atom API.

Today only brought one image from Opportunity’s camera on Mars that was worth reassembling in color; this time, though, it’s true-color.

mars in true color

(Also, I’m not too sure what that little, white, vent-like object is to the right of the calibration target, but looking at this picture taken by Opportunity’s twin, Spirit, it appears that we can use its orientation to determine which rover took a picture in which it appears…)

For those who, like me, have found the latest batch of Firebird OS X nightly builds a bit on the unstable side, there’s a guy putting together unofficial builds of the version 0.8 branch for the Mac. So far, so good on my machine…

What do you get when you combine a slow on-call day, a copy of Photoshop, and an unhealthy obsession with the Mars mission? The first color images of the Meridiani Planum, courtesy of the Opportunity rover. Using today’s raw images and Kano’s info about the color wavelengths that correspond to each of the rover’s camera filters, it was easy to create the color versions, and while they’re not true-color — NASA hasn’t provided the red channels — they aren’t all that far off, and they’re much more satisfying to look at than the black-and-whites that are all over the newswires. (Note that I also lightened the midtones, since the raw images are pretty dark in the visible range.)

Opportunity has landed! Every time I think about the logistics involved, I end up realizing how unbelievably astounding an achievement it is for NASA to have carefully orchestrated the successful landing of two complex, mobile exploration rovers on the surface of a planet that’s anywhere from 55 to 400 million kilometers from Earth. Sure, Spirit is having problems with its flash memory (and who hasn’t?), but NASA engineers seem to have a handle on that; soon, we’ll have two little friends rolling around the Martian soil and experimenting on our behest.

Now, wouldn’t it be damn cool if Opportunity could hunt down Pathfinder and restore it to life, then go and tag-team a definitive repair on Spirit, and lastly find the Beagle 2 and resurrect it? I picture a merry, Wizard-of-Oz-like band of robotic friends marching around actuator-in-actuator, looking for answers to all that ails them…

I’m not sure which surprises me more, the convoluted and unnecessary crap you have to go through in order to turn off all the various annoying behaviors in RealPlayer, or the fact that users haven’t rebelled against this kind of crap with such force that Rob Glaser and his infernal company go bankrupt in an avalanche of shareholder lawsuits.
Now’s the time that I share two photographic notes from the end of my week; as always, click on the little pix to get bigger pix. Friday morning, Boston was cold enough that I was barely able to motivate myself out the front door. My engine turned over six or seven times in order to catch, and when I looked down, I was saddened to see the thermometer on my dashboard read six below zero.
dashboard thermometer
On my drive to work, NPR kept warning that, while the ambient temperature outside was in the few-below-zero range, the wind chill was making it more like forty below zero. It was the first day that, rather than spending one minute crossing the street, I decided to take the ten-minute, entirely-indoor route between my parking garage to the hospital. It was cold enough that, after doing a bone marrow harvest, I needed to again use the indoor route to bring the marrow across to the cell processing lab; we were told that the insulated cooler that we transport cells in just wouldn’t be good enough in that kind of weather. Friday evening, I was getting ready to leave the hospital when Shannon called. She had come home to find my cat sitting there drooling with her tongue out; Sammie was unwilling to close her mouth, and didn’t appear to be all that excited about eating.
sammie's tongue
I hurried home, and after a quick search, found a great vet who was still open, and (more importantly) was willing to see us right then. We took Sammie in to get checked out, and after some hissing, scratching, and a little sedation, the vet told us that she had some dental disease but no clear reason for her symptoms. Worried about a jaw dislocation or fracture, the vet did x-rays which didn’t shed any light on things; despite that, nobody could get Sammie to close her jaw completely, and we were left thinking that there was a possibility of a tooth abscess or other hidden infection. They sent us out with antibiotics for Sammie, and also with the instruction to have her checked out again if she didn’t improve over the course of one or two days. Last night, Sammie let me get enough of a look in her mouth to see that she appeared to have a malocclusion, and this morning I brought her in to our fabulous local animal hospital. They hooked us up with a visit this week to their dental specialist; we’ll see how that all goes. For now, Sammie has been relegated to eating soft food, and to forming puddles of kitty drool if she stops moving for more than five minutes. It’s sorta pathetic.
As an incredibly happy owner of a 2003 Outback wagon, Subaru’s move to reclassify the Outback as a light truck to avoid fuel and air pollution standards disappoints me. I like the fact that it’s not a truck, sitting a bit lower to the ground (improving stability) and with an interior that feels less like a hose-it-down utility vehicle. I understand that there are legitimate business interests involved in car companies cramming themselves into the voids created by the differences in the standards passed down by the Transportation Department and the EPA, but it’s possible that Subaru is messing with perfection here.
Sad update: V.J. Lovero passed away early this morning. After being diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer, he opted to dig in and fight, and we all benefited from four more fantastic years with Veej. He will be sorely missed; V.J.’s spirit lives on in all that knew him.
When I got into my car this morning, the in-dash thermometer read minus 3 degrees. That’s in Farenheit, people. It was three freaking degrees below zero, cold enough to make the insides of my nose freeze in the time it took to walk from my front door to the car. Cold enough to make shifting my car into first gear feel like dragging a two-ton weight through a vat of molasses. Cold enough to make the 200-foot walk between the parking garage and the hospital seem like a legitimate threat to my well-being. Dammit, I grew up in balmy Texas, where temperatures below freezing were less common than Democrats, and when you talked about dressing for the cold, you meant that it would be a good idea to wear pants. Looking at the coming week, we’re going to get up to a truly toasty 38 degrees before plunging back down in the single-digits… I hope that I get through it without losing body parts to frostbite.
In case you weren’t able to grab last week’s cheap wireless router during Amazon’s rebate period, they’re offering up another great one, the Netgear MR814, for twenty eight bucks (after a rebate), and with free shipping. Same as last time — if you’ve been waiting to get into the wonderful world of wireless, this might be a good time.
Do you remember the great Google bombing article by Adam Mathes? Apparently, so did these plagarizing bastards, but they’re hoping that we didn’t. It’s unbelievable how stupidly dishonest people can be.
Tonight’s one of those nights where my pager keeps interrupting me with its shrill screams, so in an effort to feel like I’m a bit more in control, I’ve decided to log all the calls. My hope is that, by posting the pages, I can somehow exert cosmic influence in a way that calms things down a bit. 8:05 PM, from my resident: the surgery team spent a lot of time with us yesterday, explaining how important it was for them to be present when one of our patients received an interventional radiology study. Tonight, they weren’t there, and the surgery team claimed to have no idea why they would be there. We talked it through, and they’ll be there. 8:20 PM, from A’s father: A is a five year-old girl with neuroblastoma, who we sent home yesterday after the first of her two back-to-back bone marrow transplants. She wasn’t drinking so well when she went home; she’s doing equally poorly today, and her parents feel that they’re unable to push any harder without her totally shutting down. They also feel like they’re at their wit’s end, ignoring their jobs and their other daughter for the sake of getting A better. And in the end, they’re getting her better so that she can come back in for a second bone marrow transplant, to face the same issues again. We’ll work more tomorrow, but I told them to back off and let A be the boss for the next 12 hours. 9:12 PM, from my resident: this afternoon, we readmitted S, a 17 year old young woman some 100 days out of transplant, for low-grade fever and vomiting. Tonight, she can’t take any of her oral medicines, including the two that help suppress her immune system so it doesn’t reject her new bone marrow. We worked through converting the meds to intravenous doses. 9:32 PM, from my resident: it turns out that S’s kidney function isn’t so great, which definitely limits our ability to use intravenous contrast to do a CT scan of her belly. One of the best ways to prevent contrast-induced kidney failure is to use a drug named acetylcysteine, but you have to drink it, and as we know, S ain’t drinking anything. We decided to just use big-time intravenous hydration, instead. Wow — no calls after I posted all this. Maybe the voodoo works…
There are times when this job is hard, there are times when this job is really hard, and then there are times when it’s all worthwhile.
Presidential candidates who have recently spammed my referrer logs (no links, for obvious reasons):
  • Dick Gephardt
  • Carol Moseley Braun
Presidential candidates who have recently spammed other people’s referrer logs: I seriously can’t figure out what the motivation is, since generally, the only people who’ll notice are the people who are most likely to be pissed off by the spam. Of course, it’s not like we’re talking about viable candidates… smiley
As always, when one of our little space sentries alights on the firm ground of a neighboring chunk of orbiting rock, I get all giddy. If only the Beagle could participate in the party…

If you’ve got a D-Link DI-514 wireless router and an iBook (or any Apple machine with an Airport card), save yourself a few hours of annoying fiddling by reading this little tidbit of useful information. It’s amazing what a quick search on Google Groups can do for a frustrating problem…

Even though I’m on call over the holiday, the bone marrow transplant unit is quiet enough that I’ve been able to get out of there at a reasonable hour for the past two days, and spend some time working on setting Shannon’s office up. I mentioned before that the office is far enough away from the main net connection that we decided to use wireless networking rather than string (and hide) a cable all the way through the house. Yesterday, I was able to install a wireless card into her computer, but instead of seamlessly adding the desktop machine onto our network, I learned that Windows ME had an entirely different idea. The operating system acknowledged the card’s existence, and I could even half-configure the settings, but beyond that, I was the card’s bitch. “WiFi access point? What access point!?! You will struggle and curse and click on every single option, and yet I will still deny the existence of the access point!” Fucker. At first, I figured that the antenna on the card was just too weak to pick up the signal from the front of the house, and spent a little time fiddling with alignment and whatnot, to no avail. Then, I set my iBook on the desk and turned it into a wireless access point, but the machine wouldn’t even see that. Lastly, I thought foul, foul thoughts about WinME, and started backing up all of Shannon’s files so that I could erase the worthless operating system from existence (well, at least in this house). Not surprisingly, after a 40-minute installation, Windows XP instantly recognized the wireless card, and more importantly, recognized the wireless network. The signal isn’t strong, but running over 802.11g, it’s still faster than our Internet connection (which actually says a lot), and did I mention that it just plain works? That’s the key; I may not be sophisticated or nothin’, but I’ll take a working network connection over one that doesn’t work any day. WinXP also acknowledged the existence of the UPS, the combo FireWire/USB 2.0 card, the CD/DVD writer, and my JumpDrive, all of which made me much less interested in throwing the entire jumble of metal, wires, and glass through the window and into the sunroof of the sparkling new Passat sitting down below.