My house remodelling is almost done. And I'm repeatedly impressed by the expertise of the craftsman. All these details that have to be done correctly, both for engineering and æsthetics.

One reason we chose this house is it has beautiful 30s woodwork; oak floors, mahogany moldings and baseboards. We've installed new floors in a couple of rooms that didn't have them. And I learned a new thing; when you add a floor to an existing room, you have a problem as to how the floor joins the wall. Walls aren't straight and you can't cut wood perfectly, so you end up with a small gap between the floor and the wall.

Traditionally, the baseboards are installed after the floor and cover this gap. But when you have existing baseboards you have three choices. You can remove the baseboards, install the floor to the wall, and reinstall the baseboards. That's the right way but it's difficult and can damage the baseboard. So you can try to undercut the baseboards; cut a thin sliver from the bottom of the baseboards and slide your floor underneath. One floor company tried that and it was a mess, now the gap is in the wall, not the floor.

The final solution is a "shoe". You lay the floor as close as you can to the wall, then cover the gap with a little bit of trim. (The picture above is misleading; it shows the floor under the baseboard so there's no need for a shoe). The common fix is 3/4" quarter round for a shoe which looks completely ugly. For just a bit more work you can have a nicely shaped bit of trim. Stain it to match and it looks like an extra baseboard detail, not a patch.

This wall vs. floor problem is one of hundreds of problems that come up during remodelling. Good craftsman solve these kinds of problems every day. It's a lot like software engineering, only a heck of a lot harder because you can't just recompile to fix your bugs.

  2008-06-24 17:46 Z
As I write this post my mouth is coated in the sour, unpleasant aftertaste of a sourdough English muffin. It's breakfast: a little butter, a little Italian honey, and a crunchy muffin. Why is my muffin sour?

It's sour because in the US, particularly in San Francisco, it's hard to buy good bread. About 75% of the decent bread in my grocery store, both fresh baked and industrial, is sourdough. Consumers think sourdough is shorthand for quality. It's not. In fact, sourdough is seldom the appropriate bread for a meal. It makes lousy sandwiches, lousy breakfast, it clashes with cheese. It's good with creamy soups, and it's good plain with butter. But the premium bakeries all push sourdough, and so sourdough becomes synonymous with "good", when it's not.

The flipside of sourdough is hideous American industrial bread made out of sugar. Sugar has no place in bread. OK, maybe a pinch to proof the yeast. But bread should not be sweet. Pretty much every industrial bread in my grocery store is sugary; particularly second-rate breads like hot dog buns. Yuck.

  2008-06-21 15:36 Z
Photoshop CS2 is the most expensive piece of software I own. I wanted to migrate my license to Vista and it wasn't as simple as I'd like. The main challenge is CS2 is an old version and Adobe claims it does not work on Vista. Here's how to make it work anyway. I'm assuming you have a legal copy: do not steal software.

  1. Get install media. If you have CDs you're in business. Otherwise write to Adobe support and tell them you need to download a CS2 installer. Do not mention Vista; they'll tell you that you have to spend $200 on an upgrade to CS3. They sent me an FTP link with a password for
  2. Unzip the install media. Don't just double click the installer and run from the virtual folder; the Adobe installer will break with the meaningless errors .\AutoPlay\main.ini MAIN_FILE_VERSION PRODUCT_REGISTRY_PARENT PRODUCT_REGISTRY_KEY. Extract files and run from the new folder.
  3. Run the installer. Grant it permissions via the usual Vista UAC popup.
  4. Run Photoshop. Activate it.
  5. Allow Photoshop to update itself. Grant the Updater permissions via UAC.
  6. Reboot. (Screw you, Adobe).
  7. On reboot, you'll get an error that Vista blocked programs at startup because they asked for permissions. Run the Vista tool recommended in the error box and disable all of Adobe's startup tasks (gamma control, updater). The error will go away and your computer will boot faster, too.
  8. Enjoy Photoshop!
I'm sure there's some lurking Photoshop / Vista compatibility problems. But I was able to edit a raw photo from my camera, that's all I really care about. I didn't test color management and printing, I could see potential problems there.
  2008-06-21 15:06 Z
A few weeks ago I asked for advice on Vista or XP for a new computer. Responses were mixed, but most of the people I talked to who actually use Vista are fine with it. So I got a new Vista 64 box and after 24 hours it seems to be working great. Sure is nice having fast new hardware.

I'm long past the point where new computers are fun; it's just a chore to set one up. But I spend all day in front of a computer, so fast hardware is nice. And the software experience is like a home to me, my environment. So I care a fair amount about the details. Here they are.

More inside ...

  2008-06-19 15:54 Z
Bad news on the Google Browser Sync / Firefox 3 front; Google has discontinued Google Browser Sync. At least, that's what a Google support person told a user; no official information on Google's product page or FAQ. It's not unexpected. This is the downside of Google Labs; a 20% project from a smart engineer can get released quickly but truly supporting a quality product takes a real team.

There are some alternatives. If all you want is bookmarks, there's lots of options. If you want cookies and passwords too the best bet seems to be Mozilla Weave. But it's an "experimental prototype," requires registration to install, and reports are that it's unstable.

I'm surprised how slow Google has been to support Firefox 3; there's not even a Toolbar version yet. Firefox is very valuable software to Google. There's no public data about how much money Google makes from Firefox, but there is information on what Google is paying for the privilege of being in the Firefox ecosystem. Google paid Mozilla over $50M for search ad traffic in 2006. And Google pays at least $1 / install for Firefox + Google Toolbar. They're not just giving that money away to be nice, they're paying to own the default search box. Nothing wrong with that, I just hope it translates into good support for the development of Firefox products.

  2008-06-14 16:03 Z
It's time to retire RSS. Atom is superior, better defined, mature, and a proper standard. RSS is hurting blog readers' user experience.

The problem is that the major blog platforms that support Atom are publishing multiple feeds in the autodiscovery section of the blog. So when a user goes to subscribe to the blog the browser presents a completely confusing choice of multiple feeds to subscribe to. That choice is meaningless to blog readers and just causes unnecessary anxiety. Publishing platforms should simply advertise the Atom feed and be done with it. Yeah, sure, keep the RSS link working for backward compatibility if you need to. Just stop advertising the link to the RSS.

Here's the advertisements for major publishing platforms

  • Blogger: 3 choices. Atom, RSS, Atom comments.
  • Typepad: 5 choices. Atom, RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0, Atom comments, RSS 2.0 comments.
  • Wordpress: 1 choice. RSS 2.0. Atom is supported but not advertised by default.
  • Tumblr: 1 choice. RSS 2.0.
Ironically, many of the RSS links are published through Feedburner which has some automatic feed rewriting that ends up serving Atom anyway.

Congrats to Wordpress and Tumblr for not presenting a confusing choice, but you're offering the wrong feed type. Blogger and Typepad, your user experience is awful. I sympathize with the blog vs. comment problem, but at least get it down to two choices.

PS: no criticism intended to the history of RSS. The original Netscape work was revolutionary and kudos to Winer and other early blog pioneers who saw the value of a standard syndication format and promoted it. Atom represents the industry maturity of the syndication vision of RSS; it's time for the progenitor to retire.

  2008-06-13 16:23 Z
You have to give AT&T and Apple marketing credit; they've managed to palm off a price increase as a discount. The headline is "$199 iPhone, half the old price". Then buried in the details is that the data contract now costs $10/month more, so over the two year lifespan of the phone it ends up being $40 more.

I know, I know, the new phone is more capable and the 3G network will be faster. Yeah, I want one too. But you have to admire the simple old carny marketing trick.

What I find most odd about the new price plan is it seems to bring the iPhone closer to AT&T lockin. I'd been hoping Apple would move away from a single carrier. I sure hope Android or something else provides some viable competition to the current market.

  2008-06-10 17:27 Z
I just had a lovely little two day outing to Murphys, CA, about three hours drive east of SF between Stockton and Yosemite. If you're looking for a weekend getaway and want a mix of gold country, Sierras, wine, and good restaurants then Murphys is a good option.
I love going up to the Sierra foothills, it's relaxed and beautiful and the gold history gives some architectural interest. On my full day in Murphys I visited Mercer Caverns, a fine vertical limestone cave that's a bit worse for wear after 120 years of tourism. I also headed up to the incomparably beautiful Big Trees state park, home to a couple of groves of giant redwoods and a fine looking swimming hole on the Stanislaus river.

There's a zillion pleasant towns in the Sierra foothills. Murphys is distinguished by its concentration of good restaurants and wine tasting. Calaveras County is a relatively young wine area, but the local winemakers got the bright idea to put all their tasting rooms in one town. You can easily spend a pleasant afternoon having lunch and wandering around the friendly tasting rooms. And Murphys has several fine restaurants. I had a delicious roasted pork shoulder with beautifully seasoned beans at Grounds. Next night was even better, with spicy corn chowder and perfect lamb chops at Alchemy. Both meals were way better than you could expect in a town of 2000 people and Alchemy could easily compete with any of my favourite places in San Francisco.

I'm always a bit uneasy with being in a tourist town, but places like Murphys justify it. The area is beautiful enough to be worth visiting and the tourists bring in money to support good services. The whole gold country region is really growing with tourism. Even sad little Plymouth, a town I visit solely to take pictures of a rusted gas pump, is now home to a fine restaurant, a gourmet deli, and soon an Indian casino.

  2008-06-08 16:51 Z