Sunday, December 28, 2008

Don't buy VISTA

UPDATE ! January 17, 2011

I've stumbled on a post describing which XP/NT Backup binaries and what Vista feature to enable so that the more user friendly XP/NT Backup utility can be run on Vista OS.. yay !


You know that PC vs MAC commercial in which the PC guy is deciding where to spend his pile of money ? "Marketing, Marketing, Marketing... (fix vista), Marketing, Marketing, Marketing...".

I now wish they'd done a better job on Vista.. forget about the 2 days it took me upgrade from Windows XP, re-installing apps and tracking down all the new Drivers required to get my applications to run on Vista..

Yesterday I really got bitten...

Windows update informed me that Vista Service Pack 1 was available and would I like to install it ?
I naively said 'yes'.. then all the trouble began (if I had bothered to check the web about 'Vista Service Pack 1', I would never have agreed to load it !).

After the download succeeded, the installation aborted and left me with an unbootable system. No repair modes, no safe boots, no nothing was going to get the thing going. OK, I have the original install disks, I just have to take the 6 hours it takes to install from scratch, then I'll do a restore from my full system backup from a few weeks ago..

6 hours later, with a bare system, I go to restore my system from my backups.
DING.. Vista will NOT recognize the backup files ! The restore User Interface gives you basically NO OPTIONS.. It's 'trust us, we know what to do'.. (apparently you DON'T know what to do, you can't even see your own backup files !)
Some poking around on the net and I see that I'm not the only one that has found out that their VISTA backups were invisible to the VISTA restore program. I find a command line tool 'wbadmin'.
Ah ha !
wbadmin is able to lookup the backup files. Now all I have to do is use 'wbadmin' options to find and restore from backups and I'm set.


While 'wbadmin' can find the backups, the restore functions are only enabled if you are running Windows Server 2008, you don't get to use them on Vista (because WE know what's best for you, and you don't need to know about this on VISTA) !

I'm completely hosed. The backups that I naively thought were protecting me from this situation are now sitting there useless and completely locked up.

This is all a shame really. Windows XP backups, for all their clunkiness at least allowed me to specify where the backups were and what I wanted to save/restore. I've successfully used XP backups after a disk crash and gotten my digital life back. VISTA has taken away all options with a simpler interface that is almost a binary 'do you want it or not' ? Taking away backup options is unpleasing to those of us that WANT the control. I can live with the loss of control if the feature basically worked, but it doesn't.

Luckily, most of my really important stuff is kept on an external portable drive that I backup separately (using Windows XP backup, BTW). It was a good move not to commit the really important stuff to be under the control of VISTA, or I'd really be in trouble.

OK. I've wasted a day occupied with this already...

A word of advice: Check around on the net before deciding to install VISTA Service Pack 1, and have your important stuff reliably backed up before you do install it. (I'm not going to install Service Pack 1.. BTW, now that I've started with a fresh install of old VISTA, Windows update informs me that I have 147 updates to download and install... fun !)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Radio Romania

I've recently subscribed to podcasts from Radio Romania.

A decade (+) ago a favorite pastime of mine was picking up foreign shortwave radio broadcasts. It was a minor thrill knowing that you were listening to radio waves from the other side of the globe that had reached you by bouncing off of the ionosphere.

In 1995 I heard the Russian side of the WWII story as 'Radio Moscow'/'Voice of Russia' broadcast many historical/propoganda programs honoring the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII.

Now that there are foreign radio station podcasts available, I no longer have to set aside time to search frequencies and hope for good reception to get a listen to Deutsche Welle, Australian Broadcasting Corp etc..

Romania was one of those broadcast countries that I was never able to pull in over the air so I was pleased to be able to get regular podcasts of 'Living Romania' in English.

It's a nice show with a balance of News, History (mostly about the former Dictatorship), Cooking (!) and a short feature 'Learn Romanian'.

'Learn Romanian', that's great ! I had learned a few Russian phrases from Radio Moscow's 'Learn Russian' series.. things like
"so, we'll sign the (business) contract tomorrow".

Getting used to the sound of the Romanian language will be something new...

So the lesson began:

"Today we will learn a few words and phrases that will help you when you are driving in Romania"

"Driver's License"

"Speed Limit"


(ha ha ha !! "Felony ???" I need to be aware of this word ? )

The lesson dialogue went along the lines of:

"May I see your Driver's License"

"You were traveling faster than the speed limit"


That's so funny (or is it scary) ?

I was expecting the next line to be:

"How much can I pay you right now to forget all about this incident"

(but it wasn't)

The 'Living Romania' Podcast RSS feed is:

Highly recommended !

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Farewell, Zafra !

I've been enjoying Jazz Dance classes taught by Zafra Miriam at
Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley .
The class is heavy on development of a strong technical foundation. I don't have a strong technical foundation (perhaps I should say that I don't/didn't have ANY technical foundation !) so the class has been both challenging and perfect for me.
Tonight was my last class with her as she's moving away to far flung landzzz. Thanks Zafra for sharing your passion and feeling for dance with us !

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Yet Another Dance Student Showcase

Hot on the heels of yesterday's Showcase at ODC came tonight's 'City Dance Showcase' at the Cowell Theater on the Bay. A great show with: HipHop, BBoying (Breaking), Jazz, Contemporary, Samba, Belly Dance (more about that in a minute !), Tap and Locking. One of the Belly Dancer's showed some amazing midriff control: she had a thin elastic band around her waist and made it jump between her waist and ribcage solely through the actions of her body in time to the music (look, no hands !). The picture shows the Tap dance group dancing to (live !) piano and vocalist. It was a very entertaining evening.
I really enjoy living in the Bay Area. There is so much going on in Arts and Entertainment that the question often isn't 'what should we do', but 'what things will we have to miss out on'.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dance Student Showcase

Tonight I went to see the 'Rhythm and Motion Student Dance Showcase'. Great show with a variety of different dance styles present: Ballet, HipHop, Hula, Salsa, Belly Dance, House, Tango, Swing and Afro-Haitian. Something for everyone !
For anyone that's interested in learning dance in the San Francisco Area the Rhythm and Motion program based at the ODC Dance Commons in SF is a nice place to learn at (I take a couple of HipHop classes there every week.. great stuff)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The REAL Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

It's not unusual to hear people make analogies to 'The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle' when trying to make a point. For example, someone trying to describe how an anthropologist cannot 'not affect' a culture that they come into contact with might say "well, the 'Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle' says that you cannot measure something without disturbing it". While that may be true about the HUP (name shortened easier typing), the HUP is far more profound and mysterious than that !

No one 'understands' Quantum Mechanics. Not Physicists, not anyone. At the most we can understand the mathematics that predicts results the real (Quantum) world, and use the learned 'counter-intuitive' nature of the Quantum world to guide us in describing results (which is different from actually understanding Quantum Mechanics).

Now, when non-Physicists quote the HUP and say that: "one cannot measure something without disturbing it", it is usually said with (non-Quantum) Newtonian Mechanics in mind (because Newtonian Physics is something that we can understand). It does turn out that Newtonian Mechanics also says that 'one cannot measure something without disturbing it'. Any information that we get about an object will rely on the taking of a measurement and the taking of the measurement will disturb the object, e.g. if we shine a light on something in order to see it, the light that we see would have been reflected off of the object, and the act of reflection will give the object a little bump thus disturbing it.

So what is so different about the HUP then ?

Let's say that we want to measure the speed (momentum) and position of a moving object. We bounce a sensor of some kind (like light) off of it and deduce the speed and position of the moving object when the sensor comes back to us. Every time we bounce a sensor off of the moving object, we change its speed proportional to the size and speed of the moving sensor. So as we decrease the mass/speed of the sensor object that we use to measure with, we also disturb by that much less, the object that we are observing.

In Newtonian Mechanics there is no theoretical limit to how finely we hone this down to get as fine a measurement of the moving objects speed and position as we want.

In Quantum Mechanics the situation is more profound. It turns out that certain characteristics of a system are 'paired' in a special way. They are mathematically related as Fourier Transforms of each other. In particular, position and momentum are one such pair.
Because position and momentum are related by a Fourier Transform, in theory (and in practice) it is NOT PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE to know both the position and momentum of an object to an arbitrary precision. The limit of possible simultaneous precision is described by the HUP. The basis of this limit arises from the Quantum Mechanical wave nature of matter (a physical particle is both a 'solid' thing AND a wave).

One surprising result is that since the product of the uncertainties in the position and momentum measurements is a constant, it turns out that if one measured the EXACT speed of a moving particle, the HUP says that it could be ANYWHERE, you cannot know where it is. Conversely, if one measured the EXACT position of a particle, you would know where it is but it's speed could be ANYTHING, you cannot know how fast it's moving.

So the HUP is not quite the appropriate analogy to make with respect to a situation in which an anthropologist is influencing a culture that they are studying !

The 'truth' about the HUP is common knowledge to anyone who's studied physics, but I have many friends and acquaintances who have not, so this is for you because you might not hear about the truth otherwise.

I can't describe the basic mathematics of the HUP any better than it's already been done, so here's an excerpt from a standard text (kind of cropped on the right hand side):