Ceremonies to Anchor Trust



Through this intriguing Register report I learned about the DNSSEC root-signing ceremony. It happens quarterly in alternating fashion on the east and west coasts of the US. The carefully scripted ceremony, lasting over two hours, is meant to anchor the web of trust in the DNS, the Internet’s domain name system. To this end it is streamed live and archived for posterity.

The Reg article linked above recounts the foofaraw surrounding the most recent such signing ceremony, slated for February 12, 2020. Participants from around the world had arrived in El Segundo, CA. The ceremony did not come off on that date because its host, IANA (the Internet Assigned Numbers Agency of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), could not open one of two physical safes that hold the essential raw materials for the occasion.

Reading about this modern ceremony, performed quarterly for 10 years now, immediately put me in mind of a similar ritual, the Trial of the Pyx, staged in London for 738 years, for a substantially similar purpose: anchoring trust in the English currency.

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A Subjective Rating of OSX / MacOS Versions



This is a text file I have maintained locally on my Mac desktop and/or laptop over a number of years. It encapsulates my bottom-line evaluation of the quality and user experience provided by Apple’s OS versions since I moved to OS X in 2002.

For my money the pinnacle of OS X quality occurred with Snow Leopard. It’s noteworthy that at this time Microsoft was floundering in the self-made morass of Windows Vista, and Apple perceived itself as so far ahead in the OS sweepstakes that it took an entire release off from adding any new features — a 2-year hiatus — and simply improved the speed, fit & finish, and polish of its OS.

In my view quality took a huge hit when Apple began folding iOS features into its desktop / laptop OS — a hit from which it has taken the company 5 years and 5 releases to recover. However, the most recent two releases have seen quality slip again.

 ▼  vers.   name            rel. date
     ----    -------------  ----------
 -   10.0  = Cheetah        2001-03-24
 -   10.1  = Puma           2001-09-25
 6   10.2  = Jaguar         2002-08-23
 5   10.3  = Panther        2003-10-24
 4   10.4  = Tiger          2005-04-29
 5   10.5  = Leopard        2007-10-26
 8   10.6  = Snow Leopard   2009-10-28
 4   10.7  = Lion           2011-07-20  << begin iOS-ification
 5   10.8  = Mountain Lion  2012-07-25
 3   10.9  = Mavericks      2013-10-22
 4   10.10 = Yosemite       2014-10-16
 7   10.11 = El Capitan     2015-10-08
 7   10.12 = Sierra         2016-09-21
 5   10.13 = High Sierra    2017-09-12
 5   10.14 = Mojave         2018-09-24



An Odyssey of Mac Recovery



Tl;dr — MacBook Pro broke, wouldn’t boot; fully restored 30+ hours later. Some may be interested in a record of the steps to recovery and the (to me surprising) extent and depth of Apple’s recovery tools. This was the first occasion I had had to follow that road right to the end. 

So this happened. Woke up Wednesday morning the 21st of September, 2016, to a query on my 2011 MacBook Pro as to whether OSX should install the update that had been downloaded overnight.

Said yes without even checking what kind of update it was. To date, my experience overall with updates and even upgrades of OSX had been benign. (I later learned that the update consisted of Safari version 10 only.)

Machine wouldn’t boot thereafter.

Here’s the behavior: OSX collects password to unlock FileVault, goes into boot sequence, gets as far as Apple logo on white screen with progress bar (about 75%), and screen goes black. 10 seconds go by before a quick flash of logo on white; 10 more seconds; flash; rinse repeat forever.

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tl;dr: This morning I tweeted:

What occasioned this tweet was exploring a mild curiosity about how a sequence of products of the primes would grow. In my own head I had provisionally dubbed this sequence “Prime Factorial,” because it is the product of all numbers up to a given point, but in this case using as input the primes instead of the natural numbers.

Spoiler: It grows damn fast.

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The Electoral Triumph of “Did Not Vote”


Perhaps you’ve seen this map that has been floating around social media lately. It was created soon after the 2016 election by Reddit user Taillesskangaru and is posted here.

Let’s pretend that Did Not Vote were a candidate in the 2016 election. The number of eligible voters who did not vote exceeded the vote totals garnered by any living candidate in 42 states.

The dominance of Did Not Vote mostly reflects the relatively low voter turnout, even in presidential election years, in most states. Nationwide, turnout has varied in a range from 50% to just over 60% for the last 40 years. In 2016 it was 59.3%. In some states, in some presidential elections, turnout has been below 40%.


I got to wondering how unusual the the 2016 triumph of Did Not Vote was in the context of recent elections. The result:

If Did Not Vote were a candidate, it would have won, handily, every one of the last 10 presidential elections. Full details follow.

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Tech Support, Cameroon Style



The following day-in-the-life story was emailed to me in 1999 by my brother, Roger Dawson, from Cameroon. He and his wife Sandy were working there with Wycliffe Bible Translators, a missionary organization that probably employs more linguists than anybody except the CIA, in furtherance of their mission of translating the Bible into various indigenous languages. Sandy was teaching English and Roger performed computer support in Yaounde, the capital city of Cameroon.

Roger Blaine Dawson died on August 18, 2013.

Note added 2016-03-24: After his death, Roger’s widow Sandy spent over a year in discerning what she wanted to do in the next life phase, and decided to return to Cameroon. She is there now, teaching English, and sent a note after having read Roger’s thoughts below.

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A Tale of Two Anti-Spam Services


tl;dr: One works, the other doesn’t. Spam cut from 300/day to nearly zero.

One of my email addresses got in the spammers’ sights sometime last year. The spam volume kept building and building until by the fall it was over 300 per day to this one address, which got only a handful of good emails per day. Time to do something serious about it.    ‣ more…



Giving Google Advice


It’s what we all love to do, right? “Search would be really useful if only…”

And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.

What I want is for Google search to do the right thing when I ask it to sort the results by date.

Say Google has presented me the first 10 of 2.6-odd milliion results. The ranking by rele­vance is, of course, pretty good (modulo years of sleazy SEO and other gaming of its algorithms). Now what I want to see is the relevant results, sorted with the most recent first.

When I tell Google to sort by date, what I get is: 2.6-odd million almost exclusively crappy results, sorted with the most recent first.

Google: you have already lifted the useful 100 out of the vast steaming ocean of slimy results. Why throw them back now?



Apple Missed an Opportunity to Make Mail.app’s UI Slightly Less Unusable



I was happy to see a usability improve­ment show up in Mail.app’s version 9.1 in the recent El Capitan update (10.11.1). But Apple missed the refinement to this improvement that would make life easier for power users of email.    ‣ more…



The New “Support”


Dropbox exemplifies it.

I have a free account with over 7 GB of storage, built up in the early days when few knew about DB and I got bonus gigabytes by proselytizing it to friends & colleagues. You’d think that loyalty might count for something? Think again.

I knew that free accounts get back-of-the-bus service in terms of timeliness. But this does take the cake.

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