The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…


My iMac’s literal bug

Another lost-to-Google-policies Tweet movie; this time, about a bug in my iMac that was lingering after 24 full hours.

The bug, of course, was a real one; here’s the video that’s vanished from the above tweet:

Thankfully, the little buggy vanished not soon thereafter, thankfully not remaining onscreen for eternity.

Amazingly fast garage door opener

I posted this to Twitter a year or so ago…

Unfortunately, just after I posted it, Google decided that YouTube accounts also had to have Google Plus accounts, so I closed my YouTube account. So here’s the video of those fast garage doors at our local Toyota shop.

These doors are tall, yet roll up in under a second; they come down nearly as quickly, too. The end result is that the service bay entrance area isn’t exposed to the elements for any length of time at all.

On the effect of stock splits

As a finance guy by training, I’ve always been fascinated by stock splits, such as the incredibly-rare seven for one split Apple announced yesterday. First off, just how rare is a seven-for-one split? Incredibly rare; since 1980, there have been only three splits bigger than that; all were ten-for-one splits.

By the books in Finance, a stock split adds no value to a person’s shares, because it’s simply a redivision of their current holdings. Consider someone holding 100 shares of Apple at yesterday’s closing price of $524.75 per share:

  • Pre split: 100 shares * $524.75/share = $52,475.00 value
  • Post split: 700 shares * $74.9643/share = $52,475.00 value

The Finance books look at that, and say “no change in value, ergo, a stock split has no intrinsic worth.” And they’re right; there’s been no change in value for any investor’s holdings. But studies done over the years have shown that stock splits do have a positive impact on investor’s holdings:

A 1996 study by David Ikenberry of Rice University measured the short and long-term performance of stock splits. His research included all the 1,275 companies whose stock split 2-for-1 between 1975 and 1990. Mr. Ikenberry compared the split stocks to a control group of stocks for similar-sized companies in similar sectors that had not split. His results were startling. The split stock group performed 8% better than the control group after one year, and 16% better after three years.

Why might that be? I’m sure the studies have detailed financial models to back up their findings, but to me, it boils down to two things…


Behind the scenes: WordPress plug-ins, take three

This marks the third (one, two) in a continuing series of occasional posts about the plug-ins I use to run the site. Since the last update, things have changed a bit.

  • For various reasons, I’ve had to disable GrowMap Anti-Spambot and Stop Spammers. Anti-spam services are now provided by Akismet, JetPack’s comments plug-in, and Sabre.
  • Sliding Read More also bit the dust, because it wasn’t compatible with WordPress’ built-in Gallery feature.

So much for out with the old…read on to see what’s been added…


Watch It: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride Blu-rayThe Princess Bride (1987) tells the tale of a stable-boy-turned-pirate’s journey to rescue the love of his life; it’s based on the 1973 book of the same name.

The film touches on almost every subject imaginable, including pirates, princesses, sword fighting, adventure travel, large evil creatures, good guys and bad guys, true love, death, giants, and even logic-based drinking games. In short, this is not your average kids’ fairy tale—and because it’s not your average fairy tale, it’s a very fun and interesting movie.

There are many wonderfully quotable lines and short tidbits of dialog (You may have heard the most-oft-repeated one: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” … but there are many others. I suggest you not visit that link until after you’ve seen the movie, though; there are many spoilers in that collection.)

The cast includes a number of faces you’ll recognize, even if you don’t recall their names—I found Mandy Patinkin, as the aforementioned Inigo Montoya, particularly entertaining. Cary Elwes, Chris Sarandon and even the late great André the Giant also do a fine job with their roles. Peter Falk narrates (I could listen to that voice all day), in his role as a grandfather telling this tale to his grandson, played by 11-year-old Fred Savage.

It’s hard to describe everything you’ll experience in this movie, but it’s worth experiencing. So if you’ve been avoiding it (thinking perhaps it was just another kids’ film), stop doing so, and give it a look. If you have seen it, but not lately, perhaps it’s time to renew your acquaintance? That’s what I did over the weekend, in fact.

iTunes Store Amazon Details Reviews

How I create digital versions of Blu-ray discs

As I recently wrote about, I’m weird in that I prefer to buy my movies on physical media, versus electronic only. But I also enjoy the benefits that come from having an electronic version of the movie. The recent Frozen Blu-ray release, for example, was perfect: In the box was a Blu-ray, a DVD, and an easy-to-use redemption code for the iTunes digital version.

Other studios, though, want to force me outside the Apple ecosystem, and into the hell that is Ultraviolet. More and more, in fact, this is the norm. Which means I need to make my own digital versions.

For DVDs, this isn’t too troublesome (and well documented), but I’m only buying Blu-ray discs now, and that makes things a bit tougher. (Kirk McElhearn discussed Blu-ray viewing/ripping for Macworld last year. Kirk focused on playback; I’m ignoring playback, and expanding on the ripping tutorial.)

If you’re interested in creating your own digital copies of your Blu-ray discs, read on to see how I do it.


A simple URL tester for WordPress

One of the issues with blogs is that, over time, links embedded in posts can break. Sometimes they break in graceful ways (redirecting to an acquiring company’s site), sometimes in not so graceful ways (“Site not found!”), and sometimes in downright horrid ways (a porn spammer takes over a URL).

I wanted a way to test any URL in entries I’ve posted here, so a buddy wrote the basics of a tool to query the database and extract URLs from the posts. I took his core, then did some digging on the web, and mangled together a simple PHP app that will scan all your blog posts for URLs, and test to make sure each one still connects.

The results are displayed in an ugly-but-usable table form:

The first column is the URL being tested, and the second column displays the post numbers where that URL can be found. Any highlighted rows reflect dead links; no highlighting means that the URL opened as expected. Read on for the code and a basic how-to…


A physical media guy in a digital media world

By today’s standards, I’m a throwback, a relic, a technological luddite. Why? Because I enjoy owning movies. No, not “owning” the right to watch a downloaded movie—as you might “buy” from iTunes or Amazon—but owning the actual physical disc that stores the movie’s encoded bits. But why, you might ask?

First off, I like everything about the physical product itself, from the case’s design to the cover art to the inserts in the case. Many are boring and bland, of course, but some are truly wonderful.

Consider The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition Trilogy; the image at right doesn’t do the case justice, as it’s stunning in person. And when you open it up, you’re treated to a wealth of extra content, as seen in these customer photos on Amazon.

Sure, you can get the same thing on iTunes, for the same $49.99…but you can’t experience the product’s physical extras, nor easily share them with someone else. All you can do is share the onscreen experience with others. Try using the Lord of the Rings maps while watching the movie, for instance. It works, but only if you’re using a computer while watching the movie on a TV or another computer.

Or consider the three-disc Blu-ray edition of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone that comes in a very nice case, with printed inserts. (Again, the customer photos show more than does the stock Amazon photography.) You won’t get this experience with the digital-only alternative.

I guess I’m just hooked on the tactile feel, appearance, and “solidity” of the physical media. But that’s not all.

I also like that many movies offer multiple versions; so for movies that appeal to adults and kids (i.e. Pixar), we keep the DVD version with the kids’ stuff, and the Blu-ray version in the “parents only” collection. I also like taking discs to friends’ homes for movie parties, or just loaning them out. None of this is easily possible with a digital-only movie.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Just another luddite, afraid to make the digital jump,” right?

Actually, that’s not it at all: I love the digital versions, too, because of their flexibility. I can “take” them almost anywhere, and watch them almost anywhere. But I want those versions in addition to the physical versions, not in lieu of the physical versions. That way, if something happens to the authorizing agency down the line, my movies won’t all vanish in a puff of digital smoke. If I can’t buy a movie with a usable digital version, I just make my own (but that’s a story for another day).

I do make exceptions at times, of course. When Apple sold a bunch of movie collections on the cheap, I took advantage. And recently, I discovered that I can get an HD version of the not on Blu-ray Real Genius, but only via the iTunes Store. So I’ll be purchasing that, as it’s not likely we’ll see a Blu-ray version any time soon.

But outside of those exceptions, I will always (until there’s no way to do so) prefer to purchase the physical version of a movie over the digital-only version. Call me a throwback, a dinosaur, a stuck-in-the-00s guy if you must, but I love my physical media plus digital versions; I really find it’s the best of both worlds.

The Apple tax Apple laws Apple are Apple the Apple problem

Sorry for the bizarre headline, but I wanted to make sure I got the proper clickbait, er, SEO, er clickwhoring, er, credit for the following insightful observation. Which is this:

The author, one Lisa Sanders, states that she’s now boycotting Apple due to their tax avoidance strategy:

Apple, it’s over. I’m breaking up with you. Because of your tax-ducking ways, I won’t buy another phone or computer or tablet or even song from you.

I hope Lisa is just as willing to give up products from Microsoft—I guess she’s going to Linux?—which sheltered over $60 billion dollars in 2012, more than Apple’s $54 billion that year. And she better not buy that Linux box from Dell, which sheltered $16 billion in 2012. And she better not use MySQL on that machine, because Oracle sheltered $21 billion. Also, no Western Digital hard drives ($5 billion). Oh, and those shoes? Better lose the Nikes, as they sheltered $6 billion. Credit cards? Citigroup ($36 billion), Bank of America ($19 billion), and JPMorgan Chase ($22 billion) are out; I guess Lisa is going cash-only.

All of the above data was found within 30 seconds of starting to search the web; the source for the numbers is Which Fortune 500 Companies Are Sheltering Income in Overseas Tax Havens? by the Citizens for Tax Justice.

Yes, Apple shelters taxes. Yes, it’s very good at it. Yes, it sucks that they aren’t paying their fair share. But the reality is that nobody in the Fortune 500 is paying their fair share. Why? Because they owe it to their shareholders not to do so. Lisa almost got that with her mention of Rand Paul:

At last year’s Senate hearings, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said that it would be malpractice for Apple to pay a penny more than the minimum its accountants say it owes.

That’s exactly it, but not just for Apple, but for any publicly-held company. Just when I’m thinking she’s going to get it, she…goes 100% the wrong direction:

Perhaps Paul feels that the company’s fiduciary obligation outweighs its obligation to help support the nation that made and continues to make its profitable activity possible.

That’s how he feels because he’s correct: The company’s fiduciary obligation comes first, at least when compared to “voluntarily paying more tax than required.” Companies like Apple already benefit the country to a tremendous degree. How? By employing people and paying them good wages. Those wages are taxed. The things people buy with those wages are taxed. Add up all those impacts, and Apple (and the others) are definitely helping the economy.

Any public Fortune 500 company is tasked with returning maximum value to its shareholders; that’s why the list of abusers is so long and deep. Any company not taking advantage of legal tax reduction strategies isn’t maximizing wealth for shareholders.

The problem isn’t the companies, it’s the tax law.

If we want to fix the problem, we need to fix the law that’s allowing the behaviors. Period. Boycotting Apple because they’re very good at taking advantage of legal loopholes isn’t going to make them pay more in taxes. Change the law, though, and Apple (and everyone else) will do so, because none of these companies are willing to break the law to lower their tax bills.

A look at the first eight years of

I was cleaning out some old images from the site, and found over 150 apparently unused images. Whoops, that’s what nine years of bad housekeeping will get you.

One of the leftovers, though, was kind of interesting. At some point in time, I graphed the number of hints published each day on, from launch through 2008—a total of 12,051 hints.

Even if unlabeled, it’d be pretty easy to figure out where the major OS X releases occurred (except for 10.1, not sure what’s up with that?). And you can see a general downward trend in hints per day, as the OS became more established (and more locked down) over time.

In any event, I thought it was an interesting chart, and figured I’d toss it into a quick post instead of just sending it to the dustbin.

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