Man With Dog

Tue, 05 Mar 2024

Rethinking Computering

With the ongoing iPad-ification of Apple computer systems, it’s time to rethink how to properly deploy modern compute devices.

TL;DR: Forget the internal SSD. Everything that is yours should be on a fast external bus.

Computering is the term I use for all the various things we now do with computers. We don’t just compute, we watch, we listen, we play, we chat—all of these things comprise computering.

I recently lost all my data on my Apple M1 MacBook Air (see The Day My MacBook Died). I have been operating under old assumptions about what a computer system is. That is, everything in a single box with the dearest bits backed up externally. The increasing reliability of hard drives and now SSDs have provided a false sense of complacency thus greatly reducing any urgency to perform this vital task on a regular basis.

Sure, I could have completely avoided my drama had I simply backed things up on a weekly, or even monthly, basis. But I didn’t. I was, as we all are in modern life, pre-occupied.

Temptation of St. Anthony

This engraving from the 15th century captures our modern life perfectly. Each of the gremlins tugging, sniping, pokingm, grabbing at St. Anthony represent all the distractions from our obligations, habits, needs, and desires we are bombarded with daily. Not to mention all of the external noise from media and advertisements.

Put your phone away: one gremlin gone. Leave the phablet/tablet at home: another gremlin gone. Turn off the TV: another gremlin gone. Stay off of social media: yet another gone. Don’t buy all that stuff they keep telling you to buy: several gremlins gone. Find quiet time for yourself and spend focused time with loved ones: even more gremlins gone. This is our modern life. All of these distractions are consuming us in unpleasant, unwanted ways.

Now that I have recovered much, but not all of my data, I’ve been reflecting on my assumptions about how I use computers and whether my thinking is outdated—it is. So now is the time not only to rethink my usage patterns, specifically how to preserve my data, but also to rethink how the computers I use should be configured.

Where we were

Computers developed from the model of a fast internal bus which connected the CPU and memory to all other I/O, storage, peripherals, and network. Moving data to and fro I/O devices, storage, peripherals, and networks were much slower because of the inherent limitations of those devices. It made sense, therefore to keep as much as possible internally connected to the system bus. Additionally, the overall system was made up of many individual components and interfaces to each of the subsystems.

Then, everything got faster, not just CPUs, memory, and the internal bus. Slow hard disks were replaced with fast SSDs. Networks got a lot faster. Connections to external devices got a LOT faster.

Where we are

A parallel development was the reduction of sub-components both for cost savings and for speed. This has culminated in the system-on-a-chip architecture where the CPU, memory, i/o subsystems and their controllers are etched into a single chip instead of many small, special-purpose chips. A single chip meant a lot less soldering, lower cost, and much higher performance. The only downside is if any part of the chip failed, the chip was basically useless.

One example of this architecture is the Raspberry Pi. For under $100, you can get a complete system board that has more compute power than computers of just 10 years ago. Hook up your own i/o devices and your favorite storage device and you have a fully usable system.

The evolution of Apple computer systems went from traditional lines of desktop and laptop systems to much smaller devices: iPods, iPhones, and iPads. These are all essentially systems-on-a-chip with no moving parts and few, if any, replaceable parts. In recent years, this approach has appeared in almost all of Apple’s computer systems; what I call the iPad-ification of Apple computers. Everything is on a single board or a single chip. No moving parts; with very few exceptions, no fans. Nothing to upgrade—the configuration is fixed. Very little to repair or replace. Most people never needed to change their initial configuration which made this approach viable.

This is attractive because of lower cost, higher performance, less energy consumption, low heat, and slimness/compactness of these designs. This is the computing landscape today. There is no going back to bulky, noisy, hot computers regardless how configurable, or repairable those systems would be.

Where we want to go

In this modern scenario where the SSD, or backing store, is irreplaceable, new thinking about the backing store and longevity of your data is in order. When any component of the single-board system fails, all data is forfeit.

The traditional solution is to have a back up process that is performed on a regular schedule. The backed up data may be to a server on the network locally or remotely (cloud) or to an external storage device connected directly to the system to be backed up.

The downsides of this are its regularity and its accessibility. There will always be a gap between the last backup and whenever the storage system fails. The system to be backed up must be accessible to the remote store. That means always on. Or it means an external device must be manually attached and then the process initiated.

Sure, there are other solutions, such as Apple’s Time Machine. But again, the backup device must be manually attached.

An alternate way to think about modern, irreplaceable internal storage is to think about the internal storage differently.

My new thinking

The approach I will adopt is to think of the internal SSD as a kind of level-X cache. Apps get installed there and launched from there as they currently do.

  • The system still uses it for page swapping (page swapping should ideally use much more resilient circuitry than the SSD).

  • Bootable storage backups done only occasionally, since apps are not updated frequently.

  • No data stored there, or if so, is only moved there temporarily and moved off as soon as possible.

  • All personal data is stored on a fast external SSD enclosure connnected via a fast USB-C (Thunderbolt 3 or 4) connection.

  • External data storage backup up on a regular, frequent schedule, depending upon activity.

My new dream machine

You can already get really fast NVMe SSDs enclosed in really fast controllers. These are ideal for Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 connects—present on all Macs since 2020. See How to Choose a Fast External SSD for Your Mac.

Now we need a MacBook to properly fit into this approach. Such a system would have

  • maximum possible RAM. 64GB to 128GB or more.

  • minimum possible SSD, allowing for apps and working space. 256GB would do for most users, more would be needed for photographers, graphics artists, etc.

  • Whatever CPU, standard, Pro, or Max, you may need for the tasks to be performed. In reality, the CPU doesn’t really matter except for the most CPU-intensive workloads; most people would do fine with standard or pro versions.

Pair such a system with external drive and we are nearly there.

If the system has 64GB or more RAM, I would really like to be able to configure macOS to use a part of that memory as a RAM-disk for system paging. RAM is designed to be re-written; SSDs not so much. In this way, the RAM can take the abuse of paging rather than beat up the SSD.

I looked today in the Apple Store; the closest thing I found to this configuration is a MacBook Pro 14” with an M3 Pro CPU, 128GB RAM, and 512GB SSD for about $4,500. A bit pricey. But that, I think, would be a beastie that would have a very long useful life.

I would rather Apple produce a MacBook Air M3 with 128GB RAM and 512GB SSD with a way to user-configure system swap space, but I doubt any of that will ever happen. Not only price, but cooling might be an issue.


One can dream …

posted at: 15:44 | path: /Computering | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 04 Mar 2024

The Day My MacBook Died!

Gee, the Apple Silicon MacBooks are spiffy! Well, except when they aren’t. This is a tale of such woe.

TL;DR - Laptops should have removable/replaceable storage drives; Apple MacBooks don’t. Either avoid Apple laptops or devise your own external storage system and daily backup plan.

I am a programmer; well, a system’s analyst actually but nobody pays for that anymore. And I love technology. I particularly enjoy working on Apple Computers because they are so graphically rich.

It has been my longstanding opinion that I consider Apple Computers to be the best designed and engineered personal computer systems available. You want the false-economy of cheap, go elsewhere. I have been using and programming Mac computers since the days of Mac OS 7.

Sadly, I no longer hold so strongly to that opinion. I could recount many hardware fiascos Apple has delivered (butterfly keyboard is just recent one); but I won’t. My current daily driver is a sleek, fast MacBook Air with Apple Silicon. It far outperforms my last favorite MacBook: a quad-core 2012 15” MacBook Pro Retina. That was replaced by a little beastie MacBook Air with a 2GHz Core i7 & 16 GB RAM. Then I got this MacBook Air M1 with 16GB RAM and 512GB storage (henceforth, M1 MBA). Almost everything about it seemed like an enormous step forward: the CPU, the screen, the system on a chip, the fast memory subsystem, and the fast system bus. All this except for one thing I didn’t pay enough attention to: the storage system is soldered to the logic board. I truly enjoy sitting down to work with it.

…Until this incident.

I don’t mind that memory is soldered onto the logic board; memory is temporary. I don’t mind that other subsystems are built into the system-on-a-chip Apple Silicon. But electronic components inevitably fail. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later. I/O subsystems are particularly vulnerable to dirty, noisy power. Even storage systems fail. These two things—overall logic & i/o subsystems taken together, and storage subsystems—should always be separate. Sure, the best way to improve the overall performance of a system is to improve access to the slowest part—the storage subsystem. Apple did this by soldering the storage subsystem onto the logic board. But they did it at the cost of recoverability and long-term reliability of my data. And, well, maybe, just maybe, they wanted to sell more iCloud storage. Nah, Apple with its 30% margin and trillions of dollars would not do that—no way.

What is worse, they provide no on-board access to the SSD. It is completely walled in there.

Regardless of their motivations, I now believe Apple has made a huge faux pas in tying the logic board & subsystems together with the storage subsystem. This is no longer just a belief; this is now my experience.

An analogy

The analogy for this situation is that of, say, a bread truck making deliveries. On its route, the bread truck gets a flat tire.

In the past, you call for service. They come to remove the tire, patch or replace it, put it back on. You go your merry way. Simple.

But now, they come and take your truck away giving you a new, empty one. You have a new truck but all your bread is gone (still in the old truck). You can’t have it back; you have to replace it all yourself.

Why this story?

I have two reasons for posting this story.

  • The first is to relay to the Apple Technician the symptoms of what is wrong and what I have already tried to recover from it. In a word: no joy. My hope is that Apple provides some magic tools to their technicians for this kind of incident.

  • The second reason is for my publisher who might think I’m giving them the my dog peed on my homework excuse. It certainly sounds like it: “I missed my promised deadline because my computer died.” I’m not trying to dodge a deadline. This really happened when I was in the middle of my work on Chapter 5. Once I publish this, I’m get back to work using a different computer, recovering as much as I can.


Original, working configuration

My original working configuration comprised my M1 MBA on an aluminum stand connected to a
12.9” iPad Pro 4 also on an aluminum stand via USB-C. It works great as a 2nd monitor.

Once you have experienced working with a 2nd monitor, it’s very difficult to work without a 2nd monitor. For casual stuff, one monitor is just fine.

All this with functioning USB-C cables, using an Apple MBA power supply.

The incident

On Sunday afternoon, I had been working normally editing chapter 5 of the book I’m contracted to write in exactly the configuration shown. As is my custom, whenever I stop, I upload the most recent edits to their server, which I did. We then went out for a couple of hours. The iPad was taken out of SideCar and the laptop was put in sleep mode but otherwise left as-is.

Upon returning, I found that the system would not wake up from sleep and was totally unresponsive to inputs (keyboard and trackpad). There was no inclement weather or lightning storms. There was no intermittent power outages as all other device clock in the house were fine.

Day 0: Sunday evening—denial & anger

As panic began to enter my consciousness, I tried powering off (hold power button for about 15 seconds) and powering back on. Nothing. Blank screen. No cursor. No keyboard. It appeared dead.

Well, not exactly nothing. After I calmed down a bit, having recycled power several times, I realized that I was getting the startup bong.

At this point, I started doing some research. I attempted to go into Recovery Mode but nothing appeared on the screen. The system still seemed to be dead. After about an hour of this I was rather exhausted from the trauma, so I powered it off, disconnected the iPad and decided to sleep on it.

In the meantime, I verified that I still have AppleCare coverage on it. With that knowledge I made an appointment at the nearest Apple Technical Service Center, about an hour away. I also wanted a day or two to see if I could recover my data before possibly losing everything (250GB+ of pdfs, notes, source code, web sites, etc.) on it.

Knowing that the M1 MBA had (1) no way of removing storage subsystem, and (2) no way to access the storage subsystem directly from logic board, my sleep was fairly fitful. I awoke several times wondering how am I going to recover all of that data.

Okay, I admit it: foolish me, I don’t have a recent backup. I do have an old partial backup of my documents folder but that was more than several months ago.

Lesson 1: Don’t panic. Stop. Assess. Do some research. Even walk away for a bit. Do not return to the situation until you are calm.

Lesson 2: have a backup strategy and follow it… regularly. Even daily if your work is important. You likely won’t get fanatical about it until you actually lose a day or two of work. In this case, I lost all of my notes, many project files, and all email—about 6 months worth.

Day 1: Monday (all day)—bargaining

I woke up with a good deal of hope. So this day—all day—I spent going through various possible scenarios and workarounds.

The monitor on the laptop was dead, as was the keyboard and trackpad. A workaround was in order. The first hurdle to overcome was how to get a 2nd monitor attached and appear as the main monitor.

It's dead, Jim

With a second monitor attached via Apple’s Media dongle, I could tell when the logon screen came up because the wallpaper appeared on the 2nd monitor. I could then close the lid of the laptop; the 2nd monitor then became the primary monitor. Yay!

Wait! 2nd monitor works

Oh snap, macOS is so effing secure that you cannot use attached accessories to log on until after you’ve logged on to unlock those acessories. What genius at Apple thought of that one?

I also tried various methods to activate BlueTooth from the logon screen but nothing worked here either. No USB keyboard or mouse, no BlueTooth keyboard or mouse. The hardware must have recognized the internal keyboard and trackpad but couldn’t do anything with them. Otherwise, I would have expected some kind of “no keyboard found” message at boot up.

By this point, I was accustomed to shutting down the OS (holding the power button for about 15 seconds) and then entering Recovery Mode (hit power button again and hold for at least 25 seconds). When the external monitor status light went active, I knew that the Recovery boot process was complete and could then close the lid to access Recovery Mode options.


It is interesting to note that a vintage USB keyboard and USB mouse worked but the USB flash drive with a bootable installer was not recognized. Musta’ been that same genius at work again.

I had found this Apple Support document describing thoroughly Recovery Mode for Apple Silicon MacBooks. The document seemed fairly complete and rather straightforward. So I began working through this document methodically (I had been thrashing about a bit the night before).

The first step was to try to reboot into Safe Mode from Recovery Mode. This appeared to work but returned to the logon screen … and we’re back in our Catch-22 situation: can’t use accessories until we log on, can’t log on until we can use accessories. There must be some way to circumvent this but I have not found it. Send that genius to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200. <aarrgghh>

I had no Time Machine backup so that was not an option.

Oh, wait! There’s a disk sharing option. Yay! On Intel Macs, that was called Target Disk mode. So we configure our M1 MBA for disk sharing

Shared disk mode?

We then introduce our spiffy 2020 Intel MacBook Air by hooking up the necessary USB-C cable through the Apple Media dongle. Then we open Finder and check out our network.

Enter 2nd MBA (2019 Intel)

So far, so good.

No sharing joy

But… nothing. Either this feature doesn’t work or else the USB-C subsystem is hosed in some particular way. Why am I so snarky about a feature not working? Because I made a bootable installer drive for Ventura and tested it on my Intel MBA. It failed because it could not find my Wi-Fi network. Huh?

  • Aside: I have noticed that a lot of stuff in the installation process does not work as expected or is just cheesy. Many times, there is a “continue” button that does nothing when you click it; you have to hit <return>. And then the installer on my Intel MBA couldn’t find Wi-Fi. Ooblek. (see next Aside)

I then tried to reinstall macOS Ventura in Recovery Mode with the hope that some driver or kext had been corrupted. If I was careful, or so the instructions stated, I might not have to completely wipe my storage. Okay, but the installer needs an internet connection. Once again, no joy. You can’t recover your OS without a network connection. The Recovery Mode installer either does not have the necessary network drivers loaded or my networking subsystem is also hosed.

Can't reinstall, no network

What!? Apple, you are killing me, because your marketers bleat, “It just works.” … Uh, no, it doesn’t.

  • Aside: I used to work with Microsoft Windows since before Windows 95. Greasy kid stuff. Then I worked at Microsoft in the Windows Server group. I saw from the inside why Windows is the cheesy way it is. When Microsoft did their enormous layoff in 2015, I think Apple hired way too many of those people thinking they were getting skilled workers. This entire process has felt like working with Microsoft Windows 95 again. <yuk>

Finally, before throwing in the towel and waiting to see what the Apple Tech team could do, I decided to verify that my file system was still good.

File system appears OK

Using Terminal in Recovery Mode and fsck -n (no changes), it appears that the storage subsystem is just fine. Now if I could only get to it. Rather, get it all off that system.

Day 2: Depression

I resolved this day to do a clean setup of everything—disconnect all accessories, power off each computer—and perform each step I tried yesterday one last time.

I also decided to take pictures and write this blog entry so as to provide evidence of what I’d done and what I’m seeing.

At this point, nothing worked. The system is not recoverable. The storage system is intact but inaccessible. There is nothing else to do but see what the Apple Technician can do tomorrow.

Day 3: A trip to the Apple Service Site

I went to the closest Apple Service location as directed by Apple (1 hour’s drive away from my home, yuk). The Apple technician was very knowledgeable and tried to be helpful. He put his Apple diagnostic tool on it and, yes, ALL of the I/O subsystems were totally hosed, even though the SSD and my 250+GB of data was fine.

On the way over there, I had been mentally prepared myself to face the fact that I may not get any of my data back. This turned out to be the case.

Enough of the device was hosed that the technician advised sending the thing into Apple for repair. Good bye data.

So off it went to Apple.

Day 5: Acceptance

It was shipped back to the service site within 2 days. Sent Wednesday and back again Friday. Okay, that was impressive … sorta.

They’d have saved me a LOT more time if there was a way to recover my data.

Day n: Moving on—residual anger

So, I’ve spent the weekend reviewing things I can recover and things I’ve lost for good. Many of the .PDFs I’ve downloaded in past 6 months I can recover. Emails fromt hat period are gone, as are project notes from a few rather significant projects I’ve been workin on in my retirement. Some are recoverable; most are not. I’ve also lost several web sites that I was working on locally, including some nice touches to this blog. <grrr>

I’v e signed up for 2TB of iCloud storage but … you can only back up your Desktop and Documents folders to that. WTF Apple—why can’t I choose what folders to back up to iCloud.

Sheesh. I’m going to cobble my own solution together. I’v been meaning to do it. Now it is time.


This incident has left a very bad taste in my mouth, as it were.

Yes, I know computers fail. Yes, I know that a backup strategy is essential. Yes, I know that actually following a backup plan is critical.

Still, this MacBook Air M1 is not even 3 years old. I did not expect it to fail so relatively soon (for Apple computers) and in such an unrecoverable manner.

Still, the failure of one component should not require the replacement of everything.

I am at the point where FreeBSD and/or Linux is looking better and better and where all the gizmos, gadgets and blinky-lights of Apple products, especially w.r.t. macOS, have lost their allure. This is akin to Bill Burr’s experience of losing his religion—gradually, the way curlers let go of the stone.

I am not so certain that I will ever buy another Apple computer again. At least not until the storage system is reliably recoverable/replaceable.

Somehow, I feel something like a jilted lover … I no longer have that same feeling of comfort, trust, and assuredness for my M1 MBA as I did just a week ago. And I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back.


posted at: 19:03 | path: /Computering | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 05 Sep 2023

A One-Day Layover In Seattle

You only have a day to spend in Seattle before moving on; what to do? Here are some possibilities.

TL;DR: Pike Place Market & City Center in Seattle or Ballard & the Locks.

My wife and I lived in the greater Seattle, Washington, area for 14 years having moved there from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before moving to Mobile, Alabama. Because of that, a friend asked, “We are taking an Alaskan cruise which sails out of Seattle. We want to spend a day in Seattle before we board… what should we do?” So, this article is written from my perspective as a non-native of the region and from that single requirement: just one day before a cruise.

Seattle is a city with a small downtown and a large, sprawling metropolitan area. While Seattle, itself, has a lot of offer, so do neighborhoods around Seattle as well as small towns to the north & south. There is no need to cross over the Cascade mountains.

If you are going to visit Puget Sound, I really recommend you go for 2 weeks, rent a car and really travel around a much wider area to explore not just Seattle but also the East Side of Lake Washington, Whidbey Island, Bellingham, Olympia, Tacoma, the Olympic Peninsula, and even Vancouver, BC. But that is not this article.

Back to Our Question

Most of the cruise ships depart from Smith Cove Cruise Terminal at Pier 91. This is just under 3 miles from Pike Place Market in Seattle. It is also just over 3 miles from Ballard, a quaint neighborhood north of Seattle. Sadly, there is not much between Ballard and Seattle. Pier 91 is nestled between two hills: Magnolia where there is not much to see or do, and Queen Anne Hill which has a vibrant night life with several live music venues.

Given the location of Pier 91, I would suggest exploring either downtown Seattle or Ballard. Pick one or the other; each area has a lot to offer for a single day. Then, depending on which area you choose, you should pick overnight accommodations in that area.


Ballard is an idiosyncratic neighborhood with quirky specialty stores, coffee shops galore, great restaurants, in the summer, and a delightful farmers market on Ballard Ave just south of Market St. If you are not in the mood for tourist attractions (read: traps), Ballard is definitely the place for you. The two streets to focus on are Ballard Avenue and Market Street.

It would be easy to spend the day exploring Ballard with an added excursion west to the Ballard Locks or south across the Ballard Bridge to Fisherman’s Terminal.

And if you just want to hang out in a park, I recommend heading over to Gasworks Park which is on the other side of Fremont. The vista of Seattle at sunset is breathtaking.

Downtown Seattle

Downtown Seattle offers a wide variety of attractions that fit the requirement. These include

  • Seattle Center with the Space Needle, Museum of Pop Culture, Pacific Science Center, and events that happen regularly on weekends.

  • Pike Place Market This is a random collection of shops and seller booths between 1st Avenue and Alaskan Way (next item). Each block and area of Pike Place Market has a myriad of specialty shops, antique shops, produce, restaurants. I think it took us about 5 visits before we felt we explored the whole place. On the south end, you can sit for Japanese tea; in the middle, you can see the fishmongers throw fish about; and on the north end, arts and crafts booths. Remember there are several levels—-in every building—-so you definitely want to just wander about. Everything closes around 5:00pm so you’ll want to go early.

  • Alaskan Way Alaskan Way is at sea level (whereas Pike Place Market is about 4 stories above that). As you wander about Pike Place Market, you may find yourself going down to Alaskan way where you’ll find the Seattle Aquarium, antique shops, and other touristy things.

  • Seattle Art Museum On 1st Avenue, just 3 blocks south (and downhill) from Pike Place Market is SAM, the Seattle Art Museum. While not a large museum, they offer a varied and interesting collection of works.

  • Walking Tours If the weather is nice and you feel like walking, the Seattle Architecture Foundation offers guided walking tours. These are definitely worth the time. Seattle has a rich history of novel architecture.

    Or, you can stop in to Metsker’s Maps on 1st Ave and Pike, and pick up a walking guide book of Seattle.

As I said, lots of attractions. However…

Downtown Caveats

Visiting Seattle does not come without some serious risks. If you visit downtown, try to be very aware of what is happening around you at all times. Do not venture east beyond 1st Avenue. 3rd Avenue and Pine Street is overrun by drug dealers and vagabonds. It is now known as a war-zone; I’m not even sure if the police patrol it any longer.

The main problem is the overwhelming numbers of vagabonds that infest the city. Please do not call them homeless—-they have been offered homes and most of them have refused, preferring instead to live out their drama on the streets. Sadly, there is a great deal of money being spent on this situation with little result.

Also, avoid old Pioneer Square at night; in fact, avoid most of downtown after 5:00pm.

Getting around

For only a one-day adventure, I do not think renting a car would be worthwhile. You can take a train from the airport to Seattle and Ballard. There is also an extensive bus service.

Uber and Lyft are very plentiful and easy to get. Using them removes burden of parking. Some neighborhoods even have bicycle taxis where you are pedaled to your destination.

I believe you can also take a train/subway from Pier 91 to the Sea-Tac airport.


The cold arctic ocean current is a constant 50°F. This means that the local weather never varies by more than +/- 25°F. If it gets too hot, it’ll soon go back to 55°F. If it gets too cold, it’ll soon go back to 45°F.

Because of this constant variability around the ocean temperature, it is very difficult to acclimate to anything but that temperature. The weather changes too often. If you let yourself acclimate to it—-it takes about 3 days—-you will find it actually very comfortable.


There are only two seasons.

For about 9 months of the year, it will rain nearly every day. From the 4th of July to some time in October/November, there will be more or less mostly sun and hardly any rain. That is the dry season. Otherwise, it is the rainy season. Expect rain.

When it does rain, it tends to be misty or light. Rarely is there a heavy downpour. Note that it is also sunny for a bit almost every day. In the winter, it is cloudy and misty/rainy most of the day with short bouts of sun. As summer approaches, each bout of sunshine increases and the cloudiness decreases until the dry season begin. Then in October or November, the rainy season returns.

If you happen to be there in the winter and it snows, DON’T GO ANYWHERE! Seattle is not equipped at all for snow and Seattle-ites have no idea how to drive in it. You will see people do extremely dangerous and stupid things in such conditions. Just find a nice local tavern or coffee shop and enjoy a hot toddy or two.


Because of the moderate temperatures and light rain, focus upon wearing layers rather than a single overcoat for each range of temperatures.

In the summer, a t-shirt or light top along with a long-sleeve shirt or anorak/light rain jacket would cover most situations. In the summer, it is unusual for temperatures to go above 80°F and not for very long if they do.

As it gets colder, add an undershirt under a long-sleeve shirt, a fleece vest, and a light fleece overcoat. I’ve actually worn those 4 layers in temperatures as cold as 25°F with only the addition of gloves and a hat. Most of the winters I spent in Puget Sound, I only needed 3 layers, and rarely wore the 4th top fleece layer.

Note: Down and down-filled outerwear, while warm and light do not do well in even light rain. This is why fleece is ideal in the Pacific North West (PNW).

As a bonus, the 4-layer fleece approach, with warm gloves, warm socks, a hat, and a scarf, will also work well for the colder temperatures on your voyage to Alaska.

Remember, too, that unless you come from a city like Chicago or New York, you are likely to walk a lot more than you are otherwise used to. Shoes with gummy soles or running shoes with thick padded soles would be best.

There is no need to dress up; everyone dresses fairly casually.


Seattle natives tend to be introverted and will tend to avoid any interaction with strangers. This will seem odd to anyone from, well, anywhere else. It’s not you. Really.

Southerners with their habitual politeness will likely fare much better than brash Yankees or loud Texans. And like most other places in USA, anyone from California already has two strikes against them; the natives are still smarting from the California invasion two decades ago.


Seattle is hilly. From sea level to about 200 feet in elevation. Some of these hills are steep, so don’t rush yourself walking these steep hills unless you are very fit.

What are we leaving out

  • Lake Union This includes a visit to Gasworks Park for a beautiful vista; Ivar’s Salmon House, especially for Sunday brunch—-of all of the Ivar’s, this one is our favorite; a seaplane ride over the city; renting an electric boat or kayak to cruise around the “lake”; hanging out in Fremont, a quirky but fun neighborhood; and the University of Washington.

  • Pioneer Square in the “old city”. This includes a visit Occidental Park and old Pioneer Square; an historical tour of “Seattle Underground” (don’t do this if the weather is nice); a walkabout in the International District; and taking in a baseball game or a soccer game.

  • Microbreweries There are excellent local microbreweries throughout the Puget Sound area. You could do just a microbrew tour of Puget Sound if that is your thing. At the same time, Seattle has a bevy of really excellent burger joints to complement your quaffing adventure. Two that come to mind are Two Bell Tavern in Belltown, and Lorreta’s Southwest Burgers near the Boeing Aerospace Museum.

  • Distilleries There are also a number of very good distilleries and whiskey bars throughout Puget Sound, again, if that is your thing. I no longer drink alcohol (that is another story for another time), but while you are quaffing beer, you could equally sip fine local whiskeys, ciders, and wine.

  • Restaurants Seattle is replete with excellent restaurant with a wide variety of cuisines: from standard American, fresh seafood, Japanese, Chinese, Brazilian, and a variety of Polish restaurants. Note that Seattle is famous for its teriyaki.

  • Lots of other stuff There are plenty of Seattle neighborhoods worth exploring, Capitol Hill, West Seattle, SoDo, Montlank area and the arboretum, the university district. And that’s just the Seattle side of Lake Washington.


I would like to emphasize not to overplan your day in whatever part of Seattle you choose. Let serendipity happen; you may discover things you never expected nor would any tour guide ever think to tell you.

One last thing, the air from the prevailing westerlies over the ocean can be amazingly crisp and fresh. You may notice this immediately when you get off the plane. You will certainly notice it on your cruise. Pay attention to that—-it is one of the only things I truly miss about the PNW.

posted at: 17:59 | path: /Travelling | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 31 Aug 2023

From C to … where next?

C is still a great language. Here we examine some viable successors.

TL;DR: Rust, Zig, and ObjFW.

The C programming language was the 3rd programming language I’ve learned—-and that was over 4 decades ago. The first two languages I have essentially forgotten and will never use again: BASIC and Pascal. To be honest, after learning C in university I actually forgot it since I was steeped in a quite different language for my day job for nearly a decade.

As luck would have it, I not only relearned C but also learned C++. I mostly learned C++; I learned just enough to get done whatever was needed; it is a beastly language.

In fact like most programmers, I largely used C++ as a better C. Then C got better.

After more than another decade and I no longer needed to write programs in C++, I very happily jettisoned it. I will not re-acquire it, no matter how many gyrations the C++ committee puts it through. With each gyration they attempt to make it a more something language—-more streamlined, more expressive, more I don’t know what. They do improve some things but then introduce other kludges features—-just too much syntactical strychnine. There is now so much baggage that C++ is beginning to approach COBOL or Ada. COBOL evolved where you could do nearly anything and everything with it… in thousands of lines of stultifying code. Ada was designed to be absolutely everything for every possible usage and therefore could do nothing well or fast. Yet, we keep hearing the incessant bleats, “C is too hard! Pointers! Waaa!”

Then I learned Objective-C. It is C with a few simple syntax additions. Suddenly you have objects and methods. It was influenced directly by Smalltalk where the focus is upon messages, and not all of that other OOP gobbledygook in other OOP languages. The Smalltalk environment has great limitions. Objective-C has a different set of limitations; one is you will only find a viable programming environment for it on macOS. Forget about iOS and the other inhabitants of Apple’s walled garden; they want you to use Swift and only Swift. Swift was billed as a systems programming language but nearly 10 years later very little of any core OS is written with it. Oh, and they just introduced macros in Swift. <sigh>

Aside: The C preprocessor is the one facility of C that I truly despise.

Back to C

Well, mostly. FreeBSD, OpenBSD, Linux (on just about every device), Raspberry Pi, and even Arduino still require C skills. So these things are keeping C alive after 50 (!) years.

The thing I like the most about the C Standards Committee is that for each version they follow a charter. The charter has evolved—-grown, not changed—-from the original to meet current needs. You can read the charter for C23 (née c2x). Note that at the time of this writing, most compilers currently only recognize the -std=c2x option and do not yet recognize -std=c23 even though many features of C23 are supported in current versions.

This charter thing is significant because it means C will continue to operate as C and not some new, improved, now with fizzle-gig gyration of C. There are myriad examples of languages that have gone off this cliff; consider the whole ongoing Python 2.x versus 3.x debacle.


If you accept the proposition that C++ has failed as the next iteration of C, and I deeply believe it has, what are current the reasonable options?

I will simply state without going into details that I have a strong bias against Apple’s Swift and Microsoft’s C#. Both of these are vendor-driven technologies from vendors who have a proven track record of abandoning developers for the next new shiny thing. And beyond their walled gardens, they promise broader platform scope, but how long has this ever lasted from both of these companies. It’s just not in their charters.

I have come upon three different language trends that I believe are reasonable successors to C. Note: I think JavaScript is viable on the web but not elsewhere, and so we will leave it aside for now.

Let’s consider each of these.


Rust has been around since 2015. It is not C. It is not necessarily easy to learn.

Yet, in that time, it has garnered a lot of favor from developers as can be seen in the Tiobe Index and Stack Overflow Annual Survey.

Additionally, it is now officially supported in the Linux 6.1 kernel. That is a rather notable vote of confidence for this language. Furthermore, Rust is not only supported as an extension to an OS (Linux) it is also used to write new, experimental OSes. There’s also a tutorial to build a simple one. There are lots of similar systems projects when you start looking for them.

The Rust community is vibrant. It provides a great deal of resources for learning Rust and support for creating apps in Rust.


In a recent chat with Mark Dalyrmple of CocoaHeads fame and author of Advanced Mac OS X Programming, among other works, he mentioned Zig as a C-like evolution of C. He’s always good for that kind of thing, as in, “Hey, lookee at that thingee over there…”

The syntax looks simple and clean. It has objects. It already runs a bunch of places.

Okay, that’s enough to get me interested.


The main problem with Objective-C today is that it only, or largely only, runs on Apple platforms. Then, this article surfaced via OSNews. ObjFW promises to give new life to Objective-C on more than just Apple platforms.

I am rather excited by this development because I really like Objective-C. I wrote a desktop clock application with it and very much enjoyed the experience. That was about the time Swift was announced.

Sadly, I’ve let that app languish. But now with ObjFW I can see a way to not only escape from the clutches of Apple but also port this app to other non-Apple platforms. Writing/porting my Objective-C app to Linux/Wayland is now a real possibility. I don’t know when that will happen but it is back on my list.


Will these languages replace C? I think not.

Or, at least, not anytime soon. The market is fickle. Programmers are even more fickle. What is the new, shiny today may no longer hold any interest tomorrow. To be clear, these languages will have to get well beyond the new, shiny phase to displace C. That day is coming… but nobody knows when that will be; that day seems to be too far off over the horizon.

C grew out of a practical need for a portable systems programming language. It was originally intended to be used by and for experienced systems programmers. It has grown to be used in many other areas: scientific computing, application development, and the web. However, C still requires a level of awareness and skill to create feature-rich and robust programs. Even with that, C has become a model for many other languages: C++, C#, JavaScript, Objective-C, and now Rust and Zig.

I do think these languages will provide vibrant and stable development environments for picking up where C is weak or falls down. I am looking forward to deeply learning each of these languages to see if, in fact, they will fullfil their promise as the next iteration of C.

Mobile, Alabama
August, 2023

posted at: 12:01 | path: /Computering | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 07 Aug 2023


With the power of CSS (and quite a bit of hacking).

I going to tinker a bit more with the layout and formatting of the various pages until either (a) I am completely satisfied—-unlikely—-or (b) I just get fed up with wrestling with HTML and CSS an then move on to other things.

The site structure is starting to take some shape. Once I complete the tinkering, I’ll move on to site organization.

Basically, the site will be divided into two parts.

  • The Jeffie Part there will be stuff for me… probably lots of stuff.

  • The Wiffie Part this will mostly be her quilt works and other projects.

So, there will be a landing page, a “home” page for each of us, and then the whole organizational mess underneath that.

I’m hoping to capture many of the stories/lessons/experiences I find myself repeating to people I meet. I’ll try not to blather. And if I organize my blog adequately, useful topics should be easy to find. As always, time will tell.

posted at: 12:01 | path: /About this Blog | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 05 Aug 2023

Twiddle, Tweak, and Frob(nicate)

I’ve had enough of this messing about with HTML and CSS for today. So tedious, so cumbersome. I really wish CSS and HTML had a built-in macro-preprocessor, much like C does. That way you could set things in a very consistent manner across a wide variety of HTML properties. Sure, there are HTML preprocessors out there; yeah, I know. But that’s just another step in the process, another layer in the stack, and really just another set of gunk to wade through when things don’t go as expected.

This, then, is the look for the site: colors, fonts, sizes, general layout. This layout should work well enough on full screens as well as tablets and on little phones. Maybe later—-much later—-I’ll attempt to minimize the CSS so it’s much cleaner.

Now I can focus on the overall organization of the site. Once I do that that, then I can figure out which bits of Blosxom will generate static pages (once and done) and which bits will have to be dynamic. Ideally, this can be done in an obvious way so that 6 months, 1 year, 5 years from now, I can reproduce what I’ve done—-exactly like leaving good comments in source code. So expect a bunch of mucking about with the site as it might go through some real gyrations as I figure things out.

Until I get to the final, or near final, organization, these blog posts are going to be more blather than I otherwise would want. Sorry for the blather. Ultimately, these posts will end up in the Colophon.

posted at: 12:01 | path: /About this Blog | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 04 Aug 2023

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh, My!

As I consider the development of this blog, I am at somewhat of a crossroads. Which technologies to use: Perl *gasp!*, PHP *gasp!*, node.js *gasp!*, Python *ugh*, or some “snazzy-whazzy” blog framework *barf*.

For each of these technologies, there are as many proponents as there are opponents.

So I’m going to go “first principles”: what do I really need and then how do I get there.

Here are some needs:

  • Dynamic web pages: no. My web host has deprecated Perl—okay, that’s their decision—so plan B is to go with static ent pages.

    Static pages will be fine. These I’ll generate on my local machine and then “data cannon” them up to my web server,

  • Comments and user feedback: no. Enabling this capability would require far too much moderation and would open my site to the sewage slough of bots, scammers, etc. that is the current internet.

    The simple solution is that if you have something meaningful to add, email me your comment and I might consider adding to the post.

  • Flexibility. Yes. Right now, this blog is stupifyingly simple. But I have much bigger plans and I need most of the features Blosxom provides, especially, categories and what they call flavors.

  • “Security”/”performance”/”ease of use” of *blah-this* or *blah-that* or that new technology: No. If I go with purely static pages with some client-side JavaScript sprinkled in, I don’t think I’ll ever need them. Time will tell.

    Sure, security and performance will always be concerns but with static pages, these concerns are greatly mitigated.

  • Is any one of current web technologies more secure or more performant or easier to use? I don’t think so. Perl can be made more secure, especially since Perl 5. PHP is not inherently secure and sloppy practices can make is much less so. For my needs, none of them will perform significantly better than the other—my needs are just too small. (Remember in Big-O analysis, when n is small, complexity of the code is more significant.)

    The other thing that concerns my about any new or “emerging” technology is that the hype for them is driven largely by marketers—they just don’t tell you enough to make an informed decision about them. So you end up spending a LOT of time learning the gizmo only to find out later that “oh, we’re still working on that feature” or something like that.

  • Cost: definitely no.

  • Focus on content: definitely yes. On the web, “content is king.” This was true when the web was new and despite all the glitzy graphics, shading effects, whatever, this is still true today.

    Once I get things set up, I will have succeeded if adding new content is both straightforward and fast. Ideally, the process can be automated.

So here we are.

posted at: 12:01 | path: /About this Blog | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 03 Aug 2023

The very next day …

There are a few things that appeal to me about Blosxom. These are

  • file-based entries. Each blog entry is a file. I like this because I can have have several topics I’m working on/thinking about in separae files. When one is “done,” it only needs to be moved to the proper directory on my web server and voila!, there it is.

  • dynamic and static. Out of the box, Blosxom is a dynamic file processor/html generator. As I learn Blosxom I’ll likely move more an more of the content from dynamic HTML to static HTML pages. I suspect it’ll be just another step in the process.

  • simple. The simplicity of Blosxom appeals to me as a developer. It is very similar to the source, build, run approach for developing programs. I am also fond of the way Blosxom takes the details of HTML out of the process; these are details I tend to obsess over, which means waste time over. I hope today to add a Markdown plugin which will make creating posts nearly completely eliminated the need to use HTML markup.

  • extensible. The simple plug-in facility makes Blosxom seem highly extensible. And with the careful use of CSS, JavaScript, Perl/PHP, and embedded HTML, Blosxom currently feels unbounded. Experience will tell.

  • flexible. With the ability to mix static and dynamic pages, markdown text and HTML tags, the variety of plug-ins gives me the feeling of enormous flexibility. With experience, I anticipate the feeling turning into actual knowledge.

I found this article about Blosxom: Less Is More about his use of Blosxom and subsequently the site Jason Blevins that he created with it. Lovely. This is the direction I intened to take my site.

Please stand by as we adjust the dials…

posted at: 12:01 | path: /About this Blog | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 02 Aug 2023

Hey, there’s a ‘blog here!

So, today, I have finally gotten around to installing a web logger, called Blosxom (pronounced “blossom”). Each entry is a file, which is a feature I particularly like.

There’s a bit more to do, such as formatting and adding more content; so please stand by.

More to come…

posted at: 12:01 | path: /About this Blog | permanent link to this entry

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