"So there are Oliphaunts. But no one at home will ever believe me."
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The Snipe Hunt

This morning, over espresso (how terrible war is), somebody wanted to play with my iPad (again, this war, right now: terrible) and started an impromptu game of Scrabble. We started a “pass the iPad” multiplayer game, and to my surprise the demo turned into a serious contest. Time passed, and finally somebody suggested that it would be great if we had a multiplayer computer version to play on our laptops, taking turns during little breaks throughout the day.

Surely, I offered, some enterprising programmer has created a free version of Scrabble that can be hosted on one computer and played locally with other computers on the same network. Probably, I hypothesized, this programmer had even made it possible to play through your web browser. The other two agreed that this was virtually certain to have happened.

“Well,” said one, “you should probably go back to your CHU to download whatever it is since the Internet is so slow so we can have this set up by tonight.”

“Right,” I agreed.

Six hours gone, and many vast and deep Internet searches later, I had to give up. I realized that the challenge to find this thing on the Internet had been like a perfectly aimed special munition into the very heart of my personal Death Star. A whole perfectly splendid idle Sunday used up in futile sifting through the bed of the web’s Mariana Trench.

“Well played, friend,” I admitted to my new enemy, many hours later.

Perhaps all was not lost. I have been casting about for something to work on to keep my coding skills sharp. A locally shareable game like Scrabble, with an HTML5 client, would have a pretty deep stack of the technologies I’m interested in. So I may pursue it.

Around dinner time I got a late invitation to go barbecue with our Lebanese friends. The food tonight was really, really good. I think that perhaps my culinary interest in Lebanese food has prompted our host to up his game, or it may be that improving economic conditions have made it possible for him to acquire better ingredients and equipment (for instance, tonight he had actual hard wood charcoal as opposed to briquettes). Whatever the cause, it’s great to be able to enjoy simple food, well prepared.

We were going to make peanut brittle afterwards, but everybody was stuffed, and I owed this to the blog.

Tomorrow I start teaching math class again. We learned in the last that having the class five or six times a week was likely too much, so we’re cutting back to every other day and placing more emphasis on homework.

April 25, 2010   Comments Off

Corrupting your Preferences

There is nothing more insidious than having your preferences corrupted. Of course I’m talking about the file that stores your configuration information from an application running in Mac OS X becoming unreadable to the computer, causing unpredictable results.

Every application stores information about itself in something known as a property list file, or plist file for short. Any well-behaved application will create it for you if it is missing. This happens, for example, the first time you run the program. If this configuration file gets corrupted—for example, if there was a crash while it was being updated—then the program may not be able to read it the next time it starts up. Rather, it may be able to read it, but only partially, yielding strange, incomplete, or undefined options controlling the behavior of your application.

This happened to me recently when iChat refused to start up with the video camera enabled. It would tell me that the computer did not support video conferencing. However, it was able to turn the indicator light for the camera on, and all other programs using the camera worked fine. A bit of Google searching revealed that iChat is particularly susceptible to having its plist file corrupted in a way that has this effect.

Even if you don’t have a reason to suspect the preferences file, it is not a bad troubleshooting technique, when you are up against the wall and everything else has failed. So it’s a good technique to remember.

Most plists will live somewhere in your Home folder’s Library. In my case, I found the .plist for iChat in Home/Library/Preferences. It’s name was com.apple.ichat.plist. Quitting iChat, deleting the file, and restarting iChat solved the problem.

February 25, 2010   Comments Off