MonthJuly 2007

Why is nmblookup the kiss of death for OSX?

I’ve written before about how my machine dies from time to time – it becomes unresponsive, can’t open new Terminal windows, can’t quit some applications, can’t login as anything. Basically, it’s the big kahuna, the Dementor’s Kiss for any work I have underway.

After a number of episodes of this (which comes around every week or so at present) I’ve found what is at least a symptom: the process nmblookup appears in the process list. Once that’s there, abandon all hope ye who would like to press Enter here. You’ll never recover the machine: all lookups fail, and many processes such as Microsoft Word, iCal and Mail won’t exit gracefully – they seem to be doing some sort of lookup before they quit which, of course, can’t be resolved, so they just hang forever.

Sometimes, I do catch lookupd (which is the daemon that does name server lookups, eg for when it’s given up. You can kill it and it will restart automatically; no problem. But as I say, if the machine is hanging (typical problem: browser unresponsive in Activity Monitor) and you find that nmblookup is running, you’re toast, and so is any unsaved work.

In the latest episode, I’d not done anything. In fact I’d been away from my machine, which was still happily connected to the office (Appleshare) network.

Can anyone explain why, and what the hell nmblookup is meant to do, and why it would be appearing in this situation, while I reboot my machine?

Update: from around the web: this Macfixit thread suggests it might be

related to some sort of race condition between lookupd and crashreporter.


..And then some more reading of the same thread suggests it’s due to a bug in crashreporterd.

..And there’s this Stepwise piece which says “We’re reported the bug to Apple, and they plan to release a bug fix before the next release of the OS.” Hope you weren’t holding your breath – that was May 1999.

Stop the continuity announcers before they.. announce again

What is it with the new breed of continuity announcers on TV? Once upon a time they were happy to tell you what the next programme coming up was, or when the next episode of whatever you’d been watching would be coming on. And they’d wear formal clothes if they had to be on screen.

Now, though, they seem to think that they’re right there in the living room with you and that you want to know what they think. So the soap episode ends with someone crying – for she might be pregnant. Or not. It’s carefully done so you don’t know. Cliffhanger, don’tyaknow.

“Ooh, tears of sadness, or tears of joy?” wonders the continuity announcer. Yes, we know. It’s flipping annoying. And nothing seems to put them off. (Will this? Could it? Please?) It’s worst on Channel 4 and ITV especially – I haven’t really noticed it on the BBC. (Perhaps there are guidelines that prevent them making personal comments. If so, thank God.)

Stop this attempting to inject personality stuff. We don’t care who the people are announcing the things. Only that they don’t sound like drunks, get it right, and don’t flipping well give us their opinion when we didn’t invite them in. They’re only there on sufferance. If we had stereo and could tune them out, what chance would there be that we’d just turn it over to the channel without their blabbing?

(Thanks by the way to from whom I’ve sourced the photo. The original post – about continuity announcements – is pretty interesting too. There was some rubbish stuff then…)

Which mobile operator should I go – or should I stay – with?

Look, here I am, about to be unencumbered by my contract with Orange, which is coming to the end of its 18-month run. I don’t spend a lot per month – about £15 on contract, which usually comes out to double that. I rang Orange the other day to find out what I could get, and they offered – on a one-time offer only, for the duration of that phone call only (yeah, nice try on the corner-the-customer negotiation, guys) a deal for £12.50 per month which would give me a huge number of talktime minutes and 100 texts free. Plus free calls to landlines. “At evenings and weekends,” the guy said, though I had to remind him of the latter when he was summing up the list at the end of the call.

I didn’t bite. I have until the end of the week to decide which network to go, or stay with.

Here’s me.

  • I stick with contract.
  • I need a phone that gets very good coverage because I live rurally and travel on trains.
  • I don’t do a lot of data (yet; might change if I got a Blackberry or similar).
  • I don’t want a long long contract (18 months counts as long long; 12 months doesn’t) because it’s clearly a way to tie you in to bad packages (yes, I’m looking at you, Orange).
  • I’d like a Sony Ericsson, please, because that plays nice with my computer, and that’s very important. An iPhone might do the business, but they ain’t on any shelves I’m seeing.

So, what’s your advice? Twiddly stuff like editing your own videos, ringtones, watching TV, watching videos, slicing cucumbers, and finding lost kittens aren’t important. I just want something pretty low-cost that lets me yak a lot in many places and isn’t too restrictive. Suggestions?

(This is filed under “Chocolate teapots” and “Scams” because that’s how mobile operators feel a lot of the time if you’re a customer.)

For once, John Gruber channels me on something

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column in the Gdn called “iPhone is more than the sum of its parts” which looked at the peculiar way in which iSuppli, whose purpose seems mostly to be to tear stuff apart and price it using metrics nobody quite understands, had priced the iPhone’s components even before the iPhone had been released.

[iSuppli] reckons that the hardware and manufacturing costs for an 8GB model is $265.83 (£131.97) – meaning that at the retail price of $599, a whopping 55% is pure profit. All depending, of course, on the meaning of “pure” and “profit”.

In January, iSuppli had estimated – without even dismembering one – that an iPhone’s hardware and manufacturing costs were $264.85. That’s only 0.3% variation in its estimate, which means it’s either brilliant or that these analyses completely miss the point.

I concluded: The problem with these analyses is that they assume that these products fall out of a clear blue sky, their design realised by morphic resonance (where everyone suddenly understands something simultaneously), and that Apple – and other companies, for Toshiba’s creation of the miniature hard drive for the original iPod accounts for a lot of the product’s rocketing success – just sits around deciding where to buy advertising spots. That’s rather like saying that the bodies that medical students practise on have all the same content as live ones. It’s obvious that isn’t true, because when alive, those bodies had that something extra, the gestalt, which made them alive, not dead.

Now, John Gruber has laid into iSuppli:

Searching in Google News, I’ve found several dozen stories from the past month about Apple’s supposedly exorbitant iPhone margins, but not one citing a source other than iSuppli.


The total cost of a product’s physical components is not the total cost to produce the finished product. Build quality, packaging, shipping, warranty costs – none of these are taken into consideration by iSuppli.

For once, it’s nice to feel I kept ahead of Gruber on at least one part of the curve, which is more like a manifold when it comes to figuring out what is going on in the Uniappleverse.

Next, to figure out what this “product transition” thing coming up next quarter is. Except – damn, Gruber’s already been there. [Thanks, TechnicolourSquirrel for pointing out the need for a better link]

Richard Dawkins’s book reduced to 10 lines

Excellent letter the other day in the Guardian:

Genetic diversity within human populations decreases as distance from Africa increases. This is good evidence that humans arose in a small region and later dispersed (Africa cradle of humankind, study shows, July 19). This argument could be applied to biblical fundamentalism. There are people who take the story of Noah’s ark literally. If it really did happen, every species of animal should show a similar kind of distribution around Mount Ararat. This doesn’t happen. So, biblical fundamentalism only makes one testable prediction, and it’s wrong.
John L Morton
University of Glamorgan

(There’s a summary of a 2005 paper about the genetic diversity point, though it’s been more strongly made lately.)

I love that letter – so short, neat, not a word wasted. From science, to biblical fundamentalism to case dismissed in a few sentences. Now that’s science for ya.

Alternatively, you could read the hundreds of pages in Dawkins’s book, but I think I prefer this letter.

Harry Potter and the pointless reviews (fear not, no spoilers here)

I don’t understand reviews of the latest Harry Potter book. Why publish them now, as the book comes out?

Here’s the reason for my confusion. Either you’re going to read the book, in which case you won’t want to read a review first; you’ll want to read it yourself, because you can’t leap into book seven of a seven-book series; and if you’ve read the other six books, you know how you want the seventh to turn out, and that’s a personal thing which will be different for every person.

Or else you’re not going to read the book, in which case you’re likely not interested in the review.

But people – well, editors – feel that they have to have a review that’s the first and so on, because.. well, that’s what newspapers and media do, isn’t it?

In which case a review isn’t going to do anything for you, plus or minus. Once I’ve read the book, then OK, I might put my thoughts about it here for everyone to ignore. But a review, before anyone else has had the chance to read it? When everyone wants to read it? Makes no sense.

I mean, I’m still mulling over the ending of the final series of the Sopranos. Don’t get me started on that. It’s going to take ages for all the folk here in Britain to catch up on that one.

When exactly did schools become rubbish at medical stuff?

Got a phone call the other day from our childrens’ primary school. “It’s [child2],” they said. “We’re a bit worried about his elbow.”

How exactly is one meant to react to a call like this? Say “Oh my GOD his ELBOW I’m coming down there AT ONCE!”? I suspect that was how they wanted me to react. I rather didn’t.

“What do you mean, worried?” I said.
“Well, he’s been carrying it oddly – he fell over and he says it hurts.”

OK, so we’re now getting slightly somewhere. Let us begin to take a medical history, but unlike in ER where they ask the patient face-to-face, I’m doing it over the phone to someone who isn’t the patient. Ho hum, sure this happens to GPs all the time.

“So is it swollen? Is it red?” I ask.
“Er, no,” comes the reply.
“Does it hurt him to move it?”
Pause. Off-phone, I hear her ask if it hurts to move it, and he says – he’s clearly in the office – yes. Which you would expect, to be honest, from any child.

Thinking that at least this is going to be a lot simpler than House, we move on. He can move it, so it’s probably not broken. Or at least not seriously. Let’s move on to other possibilities..

“If you squeeze his elbow and he moves it, does it hurt him?” More noise off-phone. Comes back. “He says yes.”

“Fine,” I say. We have a diagnosis.

“Well, he can’t have chipped the bone,” I say. “If he had, he’d be screaming in pain when you did that. I think he’s just banged it. It’ll get better.”

“Oh,” they say, as though I’ve told them something incredible.

When exactly was it that schools became completely bobbins at telling whether a child has a broken leg or just a flea bite? Why can’t they actually do anything? Why is it that they’re in loco parentis, yet won’t do the obvious things that any parent would do – ask questions that would find out whether any “injury” is the real thing, or what. Schools these days not only don’t seem to have a nurse (at least the primaries), but don’t have a clue about how to tell whether someone’s properly ill or injured or not.

The Baby Einstein piracy swizz

Our smallest really likes the Baby Einstein DVDs. God knows why – pictures of elephants, tigers, and so on and so on. But if it keeps him happy..

So we thought we’d see if we can get the boxed set on A Popular Auction Site.

Wow, enter piracy city. “Because it comes from a boxed set we will send it in a clear plastic sleeve…” Oh yah, sure thing. “It has no region and will play in any DVD..” Oh yeah, like all the Baby Einstein DVDs. Oh no wait, when you look at a real seller (chosen at random) you discover that the proper Baby Einstein DVDs are region-encoded.

It’s depressing how much this occurs. The Popular Auction Site may be a force for deflation, but it’s also a hell of a conduit for illicit stuff. Not to mention scams – such as when people get their accounts hijacked and thousands of items are sold through formerly trusted accounts.

It’s just endless, even on A Popular Bookselling Site’s Marketplace, where you get things saying “The dust jacket and case were damaged in transit so I will give you a new case but no dust jacket”. Yeah riiiight – you’re copying the damn things on your DVD burner and selling them. You frickin’ crook. Making a copy of a DVD for yourself, so kids don’t get jammy fingers all over it? Absolutely. Selling them through well-known sites that can’t keep up with the sheer time it takes to swat you? Scuzzy in the extreme. Buying from those people knowingly? The lowest of the low.

A quick thought on Federer winning Wimbledon five times

Back in the day, you were either a Borg fan or a McEnroe fan. When they met in the 1980 final, where Borg was trying to become the first person ever to win 5 Wimbledon titles in a row, it was immense. (And let it be noted that McEnroe himself got to 5 Wimbledon finals in a row from 1980 to 1984; bested I think only by Borg, with 6.)

Today, Federer beat Nadal in five sets – I’ll try to watch what I taped, but not all of it – which puts him on a par with Borg, utter tennis royalty, at least at Wimbledon.

There’s been a feeling that Nadal going for Federer has been like McEnroe chasing Borg, trying to stop the title sweep.

But the difference is that this would be like Borg going after McEnroe. Though McEnroe is in awe of Federer (and hell, who can’t be?), Federer isn’t another Borg. He’s quick like him, a champion like him, but he’s an incredible shotmaker, imaginative in what seem like obvious situations. Borg didn’t have that; he wasn’t as rounded. In this comparison, Federer is the McEnroe, and Nadal is the Borg.

Though Borg remains the better in these terms: he would win the French Open, and then he’d come and win Wimbledon, which was played on faster courts. Federer hasn’t done that, yet; and Wimbledon is slower, the grass holding the ball a bit more. He might actually benefit if it were faster. But the French/Wimbledon double is one of the toughest challenges in any sport, I think. It’s like the Tour de France, tennis version. And Federer still hasn’t done that one.

I might watch through my fingers: cochlear implants live on the Net!

Sys-con tells us:

A cochlear implant surgery will be performed live over the Internet from Tampa General Hospital on July 26, 2007 at 4 p.m. EDT on

Forgotten what it involves?

The procedure typically takes about an hour per ear and involves implanting a small internal computer into the bone behind the ear. The surgeon opens the mastoid bone behind the outer ear to access the cochlea (inner ear) and slides an electrode cable into the inner ear.

I was once in the operating room trying to interview a doctor who was performing a hip operation. He was OK about talking, but once he started the drill and it started to bite into the bone, I felt kinda green and had to go. House I am not.

Meanwhile there’s a new site about cochlear implants in the UK, and particularly the “postcode lottery” of which Primary Care Trusts offer bilateral implants, and which don’t. (Thanks Jason for the pointer.)

It’s sponsored by Cochlear, which makes implants; but the identity of the owner is suppressed, and the “about us” doesn’t lead anywhere. Which leads me to go hmm, yes, bilaterals are good, but I’d like to know who’s really behind this. Is it simply Cochlear doing some astroturfing? Or an individual who went to them and asked for it? The site looks too well-made to be a knife-and-fork DIY job. But there’s useful info there too, which I’d like to tap…