Wednesday, June 20, 2007


By the way, there was mentioned in the comments to my post I Am a Terrible, Terrible Person a note from naper271 to the effect that she had put up an homage on her own blog. I thought I acknowledged this but don't seem actually to have done, so I thought I'd put it here in a post rather than in the comments to a post from four months ago: I can think of little that would be more flattering than this comparison (note I do say the comparison is flattering, not the picture). Thank you! -- and I got the corresponding magnet, too, even if, as is usual for me, I never wrote to acknowledge it.

Incidentally, I am a little curious about the (so-far lone) comment to this post; but neither Babelfish nor I can translate it entirely into English, so I do not know how to resolve this curiosity.

UPDATE 8:50 PM 20 June 2007. Wow, seven visitors today, an increase of infinity per cent! It's almost as if more people come to the blog when I post than when I don't. Hmm, I think I'm on to something here .... Oooh, oooh, what if one were to serve ads to visitors to one's blog 1? I'll bet there's a potential to make money here!

1 Don't worry.

Mac OS X.4.10 and USB drives

UPDATE. I now believe that the procedure described here wasn't actually what solved my problem. Sorry. See the detailed update below.

(I refuse, here and elsewhere, to use the term 'Mac OS X 10.4.10', so I switch occasionally between Mac OS 10.4.10, which grates because it omits the familiar X, and Mac OS X.4.10, which grates because it's hideous and internally inconsistent.) Well, as has been pointed out elsewhere, it's unexpected -- 'unprecedented', I suppose, is strictly true but a bit overdramatic -- to get an update to X.4.10 in place of the release of X.5.0 (or does it start at X.5.1?), but that's not about what I wish to post.

I have long had a problem formatting USB drives on Macs -- I filed Bug #4670521 about it on (I'm not sure how, or whether it's possible, to link to bug reports) -- and so, when I saw that X.4.10 was supposed to offer improved reliability for USB drives, I got excited 1 -- so excited that I decided to upgrade immediately, rather than waiting the week or so I usually do to see what consequences shake out 2. What do you know! -- immediately upon applying the update, even before rebooting, my USB thumb drive, which had previously worked like a dream 4, immediately ceased working. I normally don't reboot immediately after an update, because I'm running a Subversion server on my computer for a few papers I'm writing and don't like to have unannounced downtime; but, in this case, I really needed the files on that thumb drive (for example, it contains my Firefox profile), so I rebooted (sorry to any of JA, CC, JG, and JL who were affected by it) -- twice, because the updater wants to rereboot -- and hoped for the best. I inserted the drive and -- the suspense is so thick that you can cut it with a knife 5 -- nothing. I removed it, tried it in another USB slot, and -- nothing. In fact, now the little power indicator on the drive wasn't even illuminating.

Yee-ha! Taste the improved reliability!

I have no idea what was causing the trouble, but, by deleting my kernel extensions caches (see Common workarounds for when things go wrong post-update in the linked article), I seem to have recovered my beloved thumb drive.

UPDATE 1 July 2007. Sorry to any folks who are coming here to try to find out what to do about USB drive issues -- that MacFixIt article appears to have gone behind the subscriber wall. The fix that worked for me was to delete the following:

  • (a folder in /System/Library/Caches)
  • Extensions.kextcache (a file in /System/Library)
  • Extensions.mkext (a file in /System/Library/)
and then restart.

UPDATE 3 July 2007. It seems from the comments on this MacOSXHints story that I just got lucky with deleting the kernel extensions caches. Some commenters there guessed that the Mac OS X.4.10, v 1.1 update will fix this problem, but I can't tell: Despite instructions on the download page telling me it's recommended for all PowerPC and Intel users, I can only find the download page for the Intel version. Oh, well. Any other suggestions in the comments?

By the way, according to DeepApple (or at least to Google's automated translation of it), the problem a lot of people are having is that the drive is showing up in Disk Utility, but refusing to mount. My drive wasn't even showing up in Disk Utility, so it may be a separate problem entirely.

UPDATE 14 March 2008. I've noticed in the course of later updates that any thumb drive which is connected to the computer when it boots will not be mounted (or, at least, I can't figure out how to make it mount); but another reboot (with the drive removed) seems to solve the problem. I incidentally applied such a reboot in the course of the efforts described here, I now suspect that that, not deleting the kernel extensions, was what solved my problem.

UPDATE 17 July 2007. Wow, a lot a lot of people are still interested in this issue. Hey, folks! Sit and stay a spell!

1 Yes, I am a geek to get excited about the potential to format external USB hard drives. Even worse, the bug is still listed as open, so I don't think I was even properly geekily excited. (The workaround I had involved borrowing extra equipment from several people, and testing it only to find out it's not resolved would entail borrowing all that equipment again, so I'm not going to do so.)
2 For example, I found out in this way about the bizarre 3 Eject key behaviour introduced in X.4.9, which was enough to keep me from applying the update for a while. (I caved eventually, because I figured being up-to-date on security updates trumped having to press the Eject key for slightly longer; and, though I am still bothered by the delay, the world has not, contrary to all expectations, ended.)
3 Bizarre because it's not customisable, not because no-one would ever want it.
4 Actually, this is a simile so in-apt that one might almost think I worked at making it so; for, in fact, the drive worked perfectly except if I inserted it while the computer was asleep and then woke it, in which case it wouldn't be recognised and I'd have to insert it again.
5 This is another disappointing simile, though this time, I think, the fault is not mine. Why is it supposed to be a measure of thickness that something can be cut with a knife? Indeed, knowing that something can be so cut places an upper, not a lower, bound on its thickness: "The model was so thin I could cut him/her with a knife" (but, err, maybe that's not such a great sentence).

Sunday, June 10, 2007

For Ping

For reasons that you (probably) know, I thought you might enjoy this:
I was recently in central London (more about that later, maybe) and needed to get to Heathrow. I took the Piccadilly Line tube from Russell Square. We proceeded one stop, to Holborn, where we stopped for a long while, after which the engineer announced -- these things always come out garbled, so it's hard to say for sure, but it sounded like -- "Ladies and gentlemen, the ground controller has informed me that the train two stops ahead of us tried to take the turn too rapidly, and now can't shut its doors. We'll wait here until further instructed." The man was true to his word, for there we did, indeed, wait, until eventually the doors closed and we moved forward one more stop, to Covent Garden, where, once more, we waited. After a while came another announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, the ground controller ... one stop ahead of us ... further instructed." Eventually, it was announced that the bothersome train was now clear of the tracks, but that we would wait further until the ground controller gave us "the green aspect". Well, that sounds to me like some sort of metaphorical term for jealousy, but, whatever it is, we were apparently given it, for, in due time, we went ahead, and then proceeded without further incident until somewhere in the vicinity of South Kensington, when there came a further announcement. It was (with the same caveat as above): "Ladies and gentlemen, owing to the nature of this train, we will not be running past Northfields." That was all -- no further clarification of whether this meant "owing to the fact that this train is running behind schedule", or "owing to traffic congestion", or "owing to the fact that the wheels are about to fall off", just "owing to the nature of this train" 1; and then the announcement "This is a Piccadilly Line train to Heathrow Airport, Terminals 1, 2, and 3" became "This is a Piccadilly Line train to Northfields", and that was all the explanation we ever got.

1 I've been sensitive to this kind of wording ever since a Delta airlines attendant once announced to those of us waiting at the gate that the incoming flight would be arriving late since it had "broke[n] mid-flight" -- an explanation which she apparently expected us to accept with calm equanimity.

Monday, June 04, 2007

"Our security system is fully impregnable"

From a c|net article on Internet taxes:
Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, said Wednesday that he'd like "to see an impregnable ban on taxes on the Internet."
As a wiser man than I has said, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

UPDATE 20 June 2007. Although it didn't occur to me at the time, I should say that this remark is particularly surprising given Stevens's thorough grasp of the nature of the Internet(s).
UPDATE 11 PM 20 June 2007. Oh, dear. I was just reading a Roger Ebert review in which he describes the rules of the classic caper film, the first of which is that the film starts with an 'impregnable fortress'. Since I don't think of Roger Ebert as someone careless with his words, I went to check, and -- sure enough, 'impregnable' is exactly the word he wants, and there is no such word as 'unimpregnable' (which is what I would have used in that setting). This is quite embarrassing. Do I not even speak English? (Faithful remembers will remember that this is not even my first public linguistic cock-up.)

Saturday, June 02, 2007


"Well," say my legions of devoted fans, "Loren doesn't post, and I understand he must be busy; but I do wish he would post something. In fact, if only he would post -- mmm, what would be best? Oooh, I know! If only he would post about his customer service experiences!" Well, legions, you need wait no longer.

I'm in my approximately once-a-year eBay phase (trying to pick up a few Nick Cave CDs, an endeavour made perpetually difficult by my feeling that one should only very rarely pay more than $8 for an older CD, and by the fact that, apparently, people just don't sell their Nick Cave CDs), and just recently finished an auction. The seller hadn't written me anything about the sale for quite a while after it closed, which made me a bit nervous, since the seller's profile says that one should expect a response within 24 hours; and then I noticed that my My eBay profile said that I had 1 new message, while my message centre said (remember that conflict is the heart of all drama) that I had no unread messages.

Since finding out promptly about the status of my sale is important to me (I'm going to London on 5 June, and would like to have new listening material for the trip), I wrote eBay and asked them what was up when on one hand I was told I had, and on the other hand that I certainly didn't have, any new messages. The reply I got back essentially said that they are aware of this issue and are working on it, which is no more than the sort of pabulum that one expects; but two bits caught my eye:

I understand that on your eBay it is showing that "you have 1 new message" but in My Message, there are no messages to read.
I do agree that at this time this email has not resolved your problem, but please bear with us till this gets resolved.
Clearly, these two sentences are nothing particularly exciting; but, since I would post if I got an egregiously bad response, it seems only fair to post when I get a good one -- and I think this falls into that category, because:
  1. It acknowledges and describes the problem. Given the popularity of canned responses to queries based on a word or two found in the original mail, it is nice to see "Here's what I think you're saying the problem is", if for no other reason than to have a jumping-off point for further questions.
  2. It acknowledges that saying that the problem is under consideration doesn't fix it, which seems like an obvious point but is nonetheless, apparently, not understood by most companies.
Now, aren't you glad that you waited for over a month for this post?