Dec 18

Returning from Afghanistan

It’s been a while.  I’m in the States right now, on the way back home.  I’ve intentionally stayed away from politics and blogging in general while deployed overseas as a mobilized reservist.

I probably won’t have much to say about the current deployment — the previous one was far more interesting.  I was able to accomplish a couple of goals on this one, however, so I’ll be happy to describe some of that.

It’s great to be back.

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Dec 18

Powershell Rocks

I have more to say about this, but I am still learning.  My impression so far is that Windows has really grown up and acquired a shell worthy of the term.  I’ve always been a DOS fan in the Microsoft camp, but at the same time really miss the power of a shel like bash.  Well, Powershell may be thought of as an object-oriented shell with much of the power and philosophy of bash.  Note that a huge difference is that is typical unix shells “everything is a file”, whereas in PowerShell, “everything is an object”.  And yes, that means, methods, properties, and an infrastructure for referring to and invoking them.

Yay.

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Nov 28

Clicky Badness

I keep reading about things I am supposed to love about Windows 8.  There are no doubt some features which make it not just a version of Windows 7 that only touch-screen-licking children can use.  Powershell version 3 (available for Windows 7) is integrated seamlessly with Windows 8, so this has my attention.  Also, I recall something about the hypervisor (virtualization manager, I guess) being more capable, and something about encryption being beefed up.

So when I search the web for “Windows 8 Business” and get cruft 2.0 like the screenshot below, I get a little frustrated.  I’m a big-picture guy, see, and while I like the details, for me many details problems *go away* if you can attack the big picture.  So the big picture here is this question:  who benefits from this sort of interface?  You click and click and keep clicking just to read an article.  This one is only five items long, so presumably the seven (count ‘em) slides in this set are the title page, plus five, plus an ad slide.  And guess what?  You are going to click on the ad slide.

Now I don’t know if this is a click-through ad model, click ad model, or no ad model whatsoever, as I didn’t stick around to find out.  If you cannot or will not put your five points in an article using the English language, I am certainly not motivated to follow you around the web.

An example of web design for morons. Keep clicking, just keep clicking...

Not only has this, the payload of the HTML page as rendered, not delivered me any value, neither has anything else.  This page is a content-free zone.  At the top (not included in this screen grab) is a banner with links to sign in or sign up.  Links to other content-free pages on the same site populate the right hand sidebar, and links to content-free pages on different sites round out the bottom of the page.

Now I don’t wish to be too curmudgeonly toward Windows 8.  All the tiles and swiping just leave me cold.  I think it looks like crap, and I don’t get it.  I like XP just fine, but I understand it is tottering on the edge of functional obsolescence.  I adored Windows 98 SE, and for that matter Dos 6.22 with WfW 3.11, Macintosh System 7.x, and several of the now defunct Ubuntu interfaces.  I don’t care much for Unity or whatever it is called now, and don’t get me started on the hostile Pulse audio subsystem.  I liked Slackware when a 28.8 Sportster was all the rage.  I saw that startup sequence so many times that I remember Patrick Volkerding’s e-mail address, despite never having used it.  So the Windows 8 interface is not to my taste.  But apparently there is a lot of good stuff going on under the hood.  Big, important changes that, if better publicized, would probably help shake off the image of being the latest attemt by the Beast of Redmond to bend us toward its will, in this instance to force us to Converge, Converge, damn you! on to some Nokia-pimping, XP-eclipsing, NSA-friendly iPhone-killer.

Most of us looking at this thing from a business (or at least systems administration) perspective are not amused by sliding tiles and “jam your thumb here to get to a useful interface”.  And in fact, there must be a way to get off of that touch-oriented (and ugly) Metro get-up.  But Microsoft seems none too eager to publicize it, and the website from which I grabbed the above shot will never convince me, because that interface is for idiots.

Sorry this post took so long to type up.  My Wordstar 3.3 is acting up again.

 

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Nov 22

Mavericks? Free? What is Apple Doing?

OS Tentative

I have my own ideas as to why Apple is releasing the ridiculously-named “Mavericks” operating system update for free. While my favorite proposed reason, that they are the same stupid people who named the thing, just doesn’t withstand scrutiny, I have a couple more ideas.

1. Stick it to legacy. Adoption of the last two upgrades has been poor. Now I haven’t done a shred of research on this and I don’t have any facts to back this up. I can speak only from my own experience and those of people I know, what I read in magazines, on blogs, and so forth. I can’t understand what Apple is doing these days, and I don’t like it. I’m still on 10.6.8 on my MBP and on whatever my original MBA came with. I hardly use either. I can’t stand the new iTunes interface, and I’m still not going to move to iOS 7 any time soon. It’s ugly and flimsy-looking, and I don’t want its “features”. Nobody I know thinks these things are improvements, and while I’m the most curmudgeonly of the bunch, when I mention this Mavericks thing, nobody is interested in “upgrading”.

Now operating system upgrades accomplish more than eye-candy. They make security improvements and bring the system into better interoperability with other components of the ecosystem, and of other systems. Like the web, and the NSA. So there are many reasons that Apple wants us to upgrade without even wanting us to pay for it. It makes their jobs easier, and the NSA’s job easier/harder, depending on what’s under the hood.

For all I know, the recent cosmetic changes to iOS and OS X have just been window-dressing for urgent security changes, and slow adoption has been more than annoying, perhaps even critical for system integrity. I don’t know; I don’t follow Apple tech anymore. It would explain the apparent rudderlessness of the whole thing, which leaves me cold.

2. Stick it to Microsoft. If Apple can sell a prettier (ahem) interface to their hardware for nothing, while Microsoft must charge because that’s all they have, then Apple may be seen as solving on the side what Microsoft struggles to do as a main dish. For various reasons there are fewer problematic virii on the Macintosh side of things, and heaven knows that great creative and industrial things can be accomplished on Apple’s hardware, with Apple’s operating system. So it seems a tremendous thumb in Microsoft’s eye to unilaterally declare war on the notion of selling an operating system. You bought the computer, it should run, right? And not just this quarter, but next quarter as well, after the next upgrade.

3. Stick it to you. Yeah, you knew this was coming. I don’t know the real angle here, but it would have to be something in the license. If they charge you for the OS, then you have rights, however fleeting they may be. But if the OS is just another component, like the space bar, then it really belongs to them and their willingness or unwillingness to fix or replace parts. It’s their operating system, not yours, and you don’t need to know how it works. Say good-bye to some preferences, utilities, applications?

4. Stick it to application developers. I don’t know why they would do this, but assume they need to. This would be facilitated by making the OS a part of the computer as sold as mentioned above, so that when like Microsoft they wish to claim that the browser is an integrated part of the OS, they can make it stick. If the OS is free and merely a component of the system, and security updates are likewise free, then the browser is easily seen as just one more component with a particularly high need for more of these free security updates.

They wouldn’t even be wrong in this. Microsoft in-housed much of the system protection ecosystem by issuing Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE), and I’m glad they did. Once I changed from various products to MSE, I stopped having malware issues on XP and later on 7. Been running it for years, I let it do what it wants, and I just don’t have trouble. So there’s much to commend a monolithic approach to the stack, right up to the applications. Until it breaks, of course, but this is the big gamble they would be taking. Like a jumbo jet with only one gigantic engine, they would be wagering increased reliability against the relentless arithmetic of parts count in complex systems. What’s the right answer? Time will tell.

For now, Apple can get bent. I don’t like the stuff they make these days, I can’t figure it out and I think it looks like washed-out crap. And apple’s thumb in my own eye is getting a bit much — I can’t imagine why they think I want to buy music from somebody called GORILLAZ with crude, hostile cover art, but they’ve been pounding me over the head with it for years.

So Apple can take their monolith and polish it on their own time. Now, I could be wrong. Maybe the whole thing is great. But I’ve been burned by allowing Apple updates to run free, and wound up with systems that chew on battery and wade through processor like Godzilla through the suburbs. So I’ll sit this one out, trying to figure out why this thing is free. Not because free is bad, but because I have resisted recent “improvements” from Apple at any price.

Free is no bargain when I don’t want it to begin with.

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Oct 20

Voice Recognition Test

This is a test post written using Microsoft Voice Recognition.  I’ll tell you what I’m having a lot of fun with this.

It takes some getting used to.  I’m also having a lot of trouble with Google Chrome.  It seems Chrome uses some other voice recognition scheme.  It seems to not be compatible with Microsoft’s voice recognition scheme.  It doesn’t look like an issue that training that will remedy either.  It seems that Google Chrome doesn’t refer to the Microsoft voice recognition API and will never get what Microsoft is sending it.

That’s why I’m using Internet Explorer to post this.  While the WordPress admin screen will not let me jump directly to the text input form, I’m only one mouse click away from a speaking everything you see here directly into my blog.  Naturally there is a lot of correction to be done.  You may notice I’m not using much punctuation.  You do have to speak all of your punctuation, which is cumbersome not actually to perform a but to go back and locate the cursor to insert punctuation in the right place.  That is a pain in the butt. 

Just now I get to a point where I had to edit things by hand.  You would not believe the trouble you get into trying to refer to the Italics button while adding text.  I have a secret devious plan you see I would like to record blog posts and post them from afar.  And as text recognition stuff is going to be T.  I like the Microsoft approach because it does not rely on anything that external to this machine–no Internet connection, no online service–to do a text recognition.

As I get better at this–even in the course of a single blog post–I find the navigation within text to be rapidly increasing in ease.  Also you may notice my diction that becomes a bit strained.  It is a very different process than writing to begin speaking and have your words taken down verbatim.  If you like I think as you speak you realize that you’re already committed to the beginning of the sentence by the time you’re about halfway through it.  So I imagine this will result in some clumsy constructions toward the end of sentences, for obvious reasons. 

Well, that’s enough for this blog post.  As an aside I was able to say that by saying well comma that’s enough for this blog post period.  And I was able to say that by saying a well literal comma that’s enough for this blog post literal period.

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Jun 15

HP Envy 14 Beats 4-1038nr Disassembly

I seem to be the first person ever to do this. I love the machine, but spilling cheap beer all over it has not made things better. But you probably got here due to the following terms: hp envy ultrabook beats 14 model 4-1038nr cover case bottom disassemble remove open screws damn feet drive battery spare replace remove hell instructions guide howto RAM memory HDD SSD hybrid … So here’s what you came for.
There are only 12 screws to take out. All on the bottom, yes you must take all 12 out. None of them are special, no hinge-clutch-anchor Jesus screw. No, you do not need to remove the feet. No special tools required, I pried the case edges with the back edge of the world’s cheapest tweezers. You can do it with a dime. I fiddled and cajoled a starting point for prying it open on the corner close to the network port.

More:
There are FOUR screws holding the drive cage in place. The fourth is under the battery.
The battery is held down by three screws, but one of those feels and works like a captive screw. That is, you can get it backed out far enough to remove the battery, but good luck removing the screw itself. No prob. The battery comes right out anyway.
The hard drive cage is actually two rails along the edges of a heavy foil sheet. Careful. You’ll probably need to take the “cage” off if you need to plug the standard SATA connector drive into anything.
So my keyboards and hard stove are not seen by the system during boot, although later it will see Kb hits. But by then it’s only accepting “any key” in order to try to boot again. No dice.
Time will tell if I get my machine running again. I did however want to share the particulars of disassembly. Hard-won knowledge.

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Apr 23

Putting iTunes on my NAS

So far so good.

The tools I have used are Dupin2, TuneUp, and an interminable series of iTunes versions. Also in the mix, the embedded iTunes server on my Western Digital MyBook Live.

Briefly, I used Dupin2 to analyze my MacBook Pro iTunes library for possible duplicates.  There were a lot of false positives at this stage, because y library was all hosed from years of dumping and insufficient curation of my stuff.  Turn Dupin2 loose on your library, and then inspect the results — take no action on the first several passes.  This is a laborious process, and I had to get comfortable with tuning the thing in order to start seeing the results I wanted.  Of course, what makes this valuable is that we have the ability to tune it, unlike iTunes.  Eventually, I reached a risk/reward decision point, and pressed PURGE.  Dupes nuked.

Then, I used TuneUp to attempt to fix as many tracks as possible.  TuneUp is an awesome piece of software, and there is a reason it rakes in the dough hand over fist.  They want twenty bucks for it, and they get it every time.  You want something to fix your iTunes metadata?  THIS IS IT.  Pay up or keep suffering.

Then I used Dupin2 once again to detect dupes now that the metadata is right.  This turned up a larger number than I suspected it would, which is a testament to TuneUp’s superior ability to ferret out the true identity of tracks in your library.  Again, there are a lot of false positives, which is fine — tune and inspect, then execute.

Satisfied that the MBP iTunes library was as good as it was going to get for the time being, I restarted the machine and told Time Machine to take a backup.  I hadn’t restarted in several months, so that was a little troublesome, but there were no real problems).

The goal of this is to get my stuff up on the NAS and see if I can have a dedicated MacBook Pro run the library, while clients connecting to the network have the same collection streamed to them by the embedded iTunes server on the NAS; not from the MBP.  One very large reason for this is that I cannot sync my iPhone to the NAS.  I need the MBP as an authoritative central point.

One huge wrinkle on all of this is that I already have a very large collection of music on the NAS.  Several, in fact, with a large percentage of duplicates, many of those duped many times over.  So right now, I have satisfactorily organized the library on the MBP, and am working on the NAS itself.  Why?  I know that there is a lot of music on the NAS which was not present on the MBP, and I would like to keep it.  But only one copy, and without all the stuff that’s already present on the laptop.

So I Option-clicked iTunes to make it start up and ask me about a library, and I pointed it to the existing poorly set up one on the NAS.  If that library had not been there, I could easily have created on at this point.  But it was there, and it sits in a folder on top of a large collection of music which is A) not in the library itself (has not been processed in), and B) not even the majority of what is on the NAS.  So we’re starting small, with about 100GB of music; just the stuff in the folders under the “proper” iTunes folder on the NAS.  There’s a lot more up there, though, including other attempts at setting iTunes on the NAS (I didn’t realize how much of it was already done for me or where I had to dump the stuff), and several dumps of refugee volumes of music rescued from various dying computers.

There’s also a bunch of files collected along the way which have never been in an iTunes library.  I was a WinAmp guy for a while; had a whole shard on a USB stick with WinAmp actually ON THE STICK, so it was portable, metadata and all.  Until the stick came undone, and I lost everything.  Unfortunately, that stick had been the result of about a year’s worth of merging and pruning, so that what remained on the drives which originally sourced that material was three large collections of highly overlapping track sets.  I dug out those drives, dumped it all on the NAS, backed THAT up once to the other NAS, and trashed the drives.  Never looked back until now; hadn’t been able to get my motivation up for the task.

So-o-o-o right now the MBP is chewing through a large part of a much larger collection up on the NAS.  It has “processed” all the files in the NAS’s proper iTunes Library folder, and is now “organizing” them, which I think involves taking each file and poking in a /artist/album/file.mp3 structure.  Whatever, it’s not my problem.

Let the machine do the work.   Been running about six hours, and a thumbnail estimate of the progress bar says it’s  maybe fifteen to twenty percent done.  Tomorrow after work, perhaps it will finish.  If not, no sweat.  It will finish someday, and if it hangs, I can just restart the whole process; since the changes are being written to disk, it should do maybe an hour of “processing” to see where everything is, and then resume wherever it crashed.  if it crashes; which has not been happening recently.

Just a peek ahead: the MBP library is now in a very good state.  I’ll append the text MBPXYZ or some such in the comments field of EVERY track on the MBP as an explicit marker of the track’s “blessed” status.  The NAS iTunes proper library is getting its first cleanup.  When that’s done, I’ll back that up to the second NAS.  Then the NAS library will get the Dupin2, TuneUp, Dupin2 treatment.  This will all be run on the MBP as it administers the NAS library — during the whole NAS grooming process, the MBP’s own local native library is disconnected from the iTunes app.  Then those NAS tracks will get the TENXYZ comment (the NAS’s device name on the network is ‘Tenshi”.  I’ll begin importing the heathen tracks from the trackless wastes in all the wrong places on the NAS.  This will be done in batches (same way I did it on the MBP), which works very well, and then those will be bounced against the TENXYZ tracks; TENXYZ comment wins the dupe contest.

Finally, I’ll have to consolidate the MBP library and newly groomed NAS library.  Notice something?  So far, nothing has moved across the network.  No files, that is, only metadata about those files, which is nominally an order of magnitude or two smaller than the files themselves.  I definitely want to reduce as much as possible the sizes of the libraries involved before i start doing network moves.  I will probably move the MBP library up in chunks (ask me about magic folders, a.k.a. brilliant playlists), and do dupe checking in increments.  but we’ll see how it goes (a long time from now), and adjust as necessary.

Excited about this.  Hope it all works.  So far, so good!

 

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Apr 21

Home Network Progress; Backups and Servage

Been having some fun with my home network.  Fun finally, because it has been not fun at all for quite a while.  I’m now winning on both of my NAS devices, which is letting me feel a bit more optimistic about returning to a sensible backup flow.  Been sort of commando for several months now, and that’s not good.  If you’ve ever been stung by data loss, you know how important backups are.  But there’s a lot of real estate between knowing what you need and getting it to work.

My overall plan has been to do frequent backups to the first NAS, which I also want to serve content.  Then that thing should do weekly backups to a slow, bulletproof NAS.  The NAS-to-NAS backup has never worked.  I have never gotten to the point where it was possible.  I understand it may be difficult, but I’m at least to a point now where both of the NASs are accessible from all of my machines, save a bit of research on NAS-to-NAS of course.

My fast NAS (named “Tenshi”) is a WD My Book Live with 2TB total, and no RAID going on.  so 2TB, and I want to keep a great deal of that free for good luck, which is not a technical term, but will have to suffice.  After all, the objective is to avoid bad luck, which is catastrophic data loss.  Tenshi is where I would LIKE to have my iTunes library, which may still have to be managed by the MacBook Pro, a house-bound machine with a dead battery and a nearly full hard drive.  There’s nothing wrong with the machine other than the battery, and it’s still plenty powerful, but I could not get past some stage of beginner-ism with it, and hence have never really warmed up to actually using the darned thing.    More on the later.  but iTunes is difficult to run as a networked home media server. so i have come up with what I think will work: let the MBP run the library on the NAS from the point of view of making changes.  Let everybody else connect through the embedded iTunes server present on the NAS itself, in read-only.  The only issue I foresee is contention between the MBP and the NAS server for things like play counts.  Finally, I will make an “iTunes_Inbox” folder up on the NAS, and the MBP will watch that as its default “add the contents of this folder to the library”.  Then everything else will dump media into that folder.  This way, only the MBP instance of iTunes is updating the library, even if the media came in through my Amazon downloader on the Windows 7 box.

On both of the NASs, I tried to create role-oriented accounts (guest, itunes_user, macbackup, and so forth), but managing those things rapidly exceeded my give-a-darn, as when it got too complex, I just wiped them out and rebuilt.  At one point, I had forgotten how to log into my bulletproof slow NAS (“Shatura”), which had me stalled on this stuff for a long time.  Then in doing my homework, I learned that doing a factory reset on a Promise SmartStor NS2300N will NOT affect the data on the drives, just wipe out the user / group / admin configs.  Super!  Reset it was, and when I then saw “file system error” messages, I was pretty steamed.  But let’s face it; I was not about to manually backup all the stuff on there just in case a reset would hash it.  After all, that is the BACKUP itself, and I have never had enough confidence in it (that is, in my setup of the system) to remove unconsolidated versions of what I copied up to it.  And as this is supposed to be the slow backup of the backup, I felt that anything present there was already in hand elsewhere.  I knew I was never going to go to the trouble of actually verifying that, so the decision was either plunge ahead or give up altogether.

So plunge ahead it was, I did the reset, got the error messages, and then was relieved to learn that all it wanted was for me to issue the command to recover the RAID.  I used to know more about this stuff; now I just know that RAID 1 works quite well on my NAS.  Everything was there.  All I had to do was create a guest user, turn on Windows file sharing (Mac, Unix, FTP and other options are available as well), apply the sharing service to the recovered shares, and assign the guest user access to them.  Then went back to the Mac and the PC and taught them how to log in as that guest.  So there I am, up and running on both NASs, but with no clue how to automate a NAS-to-NAS weekly backup.  haven;t really done my homework on that yet; I’m sure it’s not rocket science.

About that MacBook Pro…

I’ve come largely off the Mac wagon, and while I still love the hardware and respect the tech, I’ve simply never felt at home on mac the way I did in the days of System 7.  That’s right, 8 was foreign, 9 was incomprehensible, and X should really be called about three different families of OS by now.  I loved Jaguar, which I think was 10.2, and I greatly like the 10.5 – 10.6 era.  I’m writing now from 10.6.8, but I’m coming to it using VNC Viewer from Real VNC, which I heartily recommend.  So while the MBP is running Chrome, through which I’m typing this on the blog, I’m actually typing physically on my hp Envy 14, which I adore, and which runs Windows 7, which is a high point for MS.

I have a MacBook Air, but it’s one of the early small ones, with a stunningly short battery life.  That wouldn’t be so bad except that there remain zero options for mobile power.  Once the chintzy little battery is exhausted, you cannot connect to an external battery, and you cannot swap in a fresh battery.  Sealed unit, Apple power only, put it back in the bag, you’re done.

WELL, I’m just rambling, and I do want to get back to my NAS project, so I’ll simply cut this off here.  I can’t tell you how much the prospect of success on the home server front has brightened my outlook.  Heck, I’m even writing again.  See?  There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is called regular backups.

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Apr 21

Apple Snobs, Quality, and the MagSafe2

I am not alone in my consternation over the ridiculous power situation of the MacBook Air.  Shelley Palmer tells Apple just where they can stick their MagSafe 2 plug in a well-reasoned blog post entitled “Dear Apple – Let Me Tell You Where To Stick Your MagSafe 2 Plug”.

As it turns out, there is a very ugly, non-Apple-like solution available from Apple.  For $9.99 you can purchase a MagSafe to MagSafe 2 converter and stick it into your new, beautiful, extraordinary MacBook Air. Really?  For $2,500 bucks?

I hear you. I have one of the early, small, sucky MBAs, and aside from my frustration at not being able to use my 2009 MBP power at home and leave the new one in the bag so it’s always ready to travel, there’s a strategic mismatch building up here. Apple customers pay through the nose for insanely great products. Not 85% of what you need, and not the latest half-baked nifty shiny junk that will be unsupported roadkill in a year. For that we have Sony.

The execrable Lightning cable for the iPhone 5 is a similar issue to this, and it is just as unwelcome a change. I can see why they want to go to it, and two of the three reasons are fairly anti-customer. But that’s where it is, and they know they have us by the apps, and we’ll suffer along with what may be a necessary “feature”. But the MagSafe2 switcheroo has none of the obvious justifications, and all of the drawbacks.

I can travel with any laptop I want connected to a little battery plate, which is pricy and heavy, but 8 more hours of juice on the go for, say, trans-Pacific flights, which I do a couple of times per year. Any laptop except one. Oh, I’m sorry, two. The MBP also doesn’t play with “foreign” power bricks. But the MBP has a removable battery! Once the MBA is conked, that’s it; you’re done.

We don’t pay for this sort of abandonment. We are paying to have problems solved, and the style is a pleasant badge to connote our focus on quality. Now we drown in style while the functionality of the products goes downward. Those who feel that anger at stupidity is misplaced may be correct in a zen sense, but as paying customers, we expect to use our tools to do great things. Those who think that the correct answer is to pay ten dollars for a piece of junk that’s either going to get lost or epoxied to the original cable probably shouldn’t be reading this anyway. They’ll never understand the quality issue. There is no place for any “Oops, I lost the adaptor and now I’m screwed” assumption in a business relationship such as Apple has with us.

There are two types of snob: one type which revels in their snobbery, and the other revels in denouncing the first type as snobs. The first type pays for quality.

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Mar 21

Dow Jones 14,000 — Sort Of

With all the huh-bub surrounding the Dow breaking its old record set immediately before the last collapse, I haven;t heard one fact pointed out: that in inflation-adjusted terms, it has to get to over 15,500 to beat the 12% cumulative inflation we’ve seen since October 2007. In inflation-adjusted (“2007 real”) dollars, the Dow is currently somewhere around 13,000.
When you take into account the pumping effect of Bernanke stuffing funny money into certain investors’ hands, the apparent value of the Dow is even less.

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