Random Thoughts

Tech, words and musings from an Englishman in Seattle

A Wonderful Round

This morning, CJ, Tim and I hit the links at Snoqualmie Falls for a wonderful round of Golf.

I hadn't played in almost a year and was feeling fairly rusty, but nothing was going to stop me from enjoying the morning.

Yesterday's horrendous rain had me worried, but I'd told CJ that I'd be there rain or shine and so it was to great relief that I woke up at 6.30 this morning to be greeted with glorious sunshine.

The drive to the course along 202 was great, and shortly after I pulled in, Tim arrived with his “caddy” - his nine year old son, Austin.

Then CJ arrived and we headed to the Pro shop to check in.

Everyone was in a great mood - I felt good about my crummy swing.

I had left all my woods at home other than the three, so that I wouldn't be tempted by my driver, aka “house-on-a-stick”, and my first tee shot - my first swing in almost a year - was a thing of beauty.

Two bogeys and a par over the first three holes - that just doesn't happen for me, but nonetheless I was hoping for a “career” record.

That record being 112. As a golfer, I'm an eternal optimist.

It was all actually going pretty well for me over the front nine which I finished for a 54, but when Tim and Austin left us at the turn my game collapsed a little, but I was at 100 going into the last hole.

At which point I completely lost the plot.

I walked off the eighteenth green with a 12 for that hole - I hadn't shot anything worse than a snowman for the entire round up until that point.

Ah well. So I tie my career record.

Not bad for the first time out this year, and one of my most enjoyable rounds of all time.

Which, of course, is really what it's all about.

Nineteenth Hole

Being In Control

Back when I was at Microsoft, it was a pretty much a regular weekly occurrence that I'd have to massage my Exchange server mailbox as I'd blown through the pitifully small limits that the IT group had set for us.

Then, when we started the new company and I set up the email server I was really happy that I'd never again receive the annoying Exchange nag mail.

Except, of course, when I got it today from my own Exchange server.

Damn!

It looks like I hadn't actually nuked the default limits!

At least this time, I could connect to the server and blow the limit away… Well, I didn't exactly blow it completely away - I set it to a reasonable limit.

There's something to be said for be reminded about a little mailbox hygiene…

Zoo Time!

Sunday brought another trip to one of my favourite places in Seattle Woodland Park Zoo. The Ingrams called us in the morning to see if we wanted to come along with them and the Wheeler family, and indeed we did.

This time though, I got to bring along the new camera.

Hippo

A fine time was had by all, and man was it hot!

There is something vicerally good about this zoo - you know that the animals are well taken care of; it's incredibly well laid out (even if it does feel like the Hampton Court Maze at times; and Julian always has a blast.

I get such a kick out of the awe displayed on his face when he sees a real giraffe and is astounded by it's size.

Giraffe

The quantity of poo emitted by certain animals equally astounds him.

“Daddy, Hippo need a diaper?”

Windows Printer Sharing Woes

Not having a printer was driving us insane at the office, so Joe took a run to Costco and picked up a nice multi-function laser printer - the Brother MFC-8640D. It's pretty fast; the output is nice; the scanner and copy function work well.

Setup was also a breeze, we connected it via USB to the Windows Server 2003 machine and it printed fine after installing the drivers.

A sweet feature of Windows printing is that you can store the make available drivers for various OSs and the client will download the appropriate driver from the server when you connect the printer to it.

So we shared the printer out and the Windows XP clients worked perfectly, as did the Mac OSX clients.

Now for the kicker.

Our development machines are Windows XP 64bit. No for x64 driver came with the printer, and even though Brother's website states that they have native x64 support for the printer, I couldn't find it anywhere.

So for the first time in a very long while, I called the company's tech support line.

It has to be said, the guy I spoke to went to extreme lengths to resolve the issue, but at the end of the day, he admitted that they don't support x64 even though the website states that they do.

Then came the unbelievable thing.

Because my problem involved printer sharing, he couldn't help me any further.

Apparently Brother does not support printer sharing!

This is kinda funny as a bunch of their advertising says “…ideal for home or home office printer sharing…”

Isn't that probably the highest use scenario for their business customers?

Freaky.

Anyhow, after that unhelpful interlude I thought “what the hell, I'll just use the x32 driver.”

No such joy. Couldn't get Windows x64 to recognize it.

One thing the support guy did suggest was to tell Windows that the printer is actually a Brother HL730. That driver comes as a pack-in driver for Windows.

That didn't help much because at no point during the printer setup did I get the option to pretend that it was another type of printer - presumably because the server had told the client the exact ID of the printer.

Then I had a sneaky idea.

The PowerMac G5 server found the printer and was working fine, so I just shared it out again, this time from the Mac.

I pointed the Windows x64 client at the Mac and it found the printer - this time though, it asked me what type of printer it was, so I said “It's an HL30. Honest Guv!”

Printer installed.

How amusing is that! To print from my Windows x64 dev machine, the has to be routed via a Mac, which then sends it on to the Windows Server box and to the printer.

Maybe it would have been easier to have just hacked the x32 driver's installer inf…

NewsGator/MarsEdit/FeedBurner Interaction Issue?

I'm seeing that NewGator (which provides the synchronization server for FeedDemon) isn't showing new content since I started trying MarsEdit.

MarsEdit pings the blog ping servers when I post that the content has updated, but I'm wondering if there's a disconnect because I use FeedBurner to provide the actual RSS file (so I get some stats).

Here's what I see happening.

  1. I post, my local RSS feed updates.
  2. FeedBurner picks that up at some point later.
  3. The RSS readers pull my feed which is actually redirected to FeedBurner.

At point (1) MarsEdit does the ping to NewsGator, but as the content in the RSS feed hasn't changed yet, I think NewsGator thinks it's just a spurious ping and doesn't check again.

I think I need to have MarsEdit just ping FeedBurner, and let them ping everyone else once they've updated their copy of the feed.

Anyhow, that's what I'm trying with this post. Let's see if it works.

Update: That seemed to do the trick. Configure MarsEdit to ping FeedBurner, and configure FeedBurner to ping everybody else.

MarsEdit - You Need It

Up until now, I've been editing my posts online using the MovableType interface.

This generally sucks, due to the lack of spell checking and everything that an offline editor can give you.

On the other hand, I'm not much of a wysiwyg guy as far as editing text goes. Give me troff any day. So I use the wonderful Textile 2 plugin from Brad Choate - a great and simple markup language.

Every now and then though, I try out the 'latest and greatest' offline editor, all of which generally suck either by forcing the source of the post to be HTML (and doing a very bad job of it), or having very little functionality.

Now though, I have a MacBook sitting in front of me, so I thought I'd give MarsEdit a go.

Am I ever glad I did!

Other than the great UI, I clicked on the preview button and saw that it offered markup using Textile. Hmmm, I wonder if it can do Textile 2?

A quick web search later yielded this post by Jon Hicks, and now I am able to create posts and preview them offline.

I can even have the live preview running as I type.

Nice job guys, and great job to Newgator for building a stable of great blogging and blog reading tools.

Update on Windows on the MacBook

I just posted a comment over on the G'Day World Blog, and thought you guys might find it interesting…

Hiya Cam,

I picked up a MacBook Pro because of the bootcamp announcement. I was debating what laptop to get for th new business, and wanted a Mac, but like you was thinking that it might be a waste if OSX just didn't do the job for me - I'm still a Windows nut at heart.

Anyhow, bootcamp works great - am doing dev work, runing the usual apps and GuildWars runs perfectly :-)

I'm also using the Parallels workstation beta when booted into OSX to run Outlook and MindManager.

Anyhow - great laptop - with two caveats.

  1. No second mouse button - you gotta ctrl-click in Parallels and install a hack for bootcamp to get one.
  2. No delete key. Yes it says “delete” on the keyboard, but Windows sees it as backspace. That makes doing ctrl-alt-del a problem when logging in! Parallels has a menu option to send a ctrl-alt-del, but bootcamp has no option. You need to plug in a usb keyboard to get logged in, then use a key remapper like the one in the Windows resource kit to map another key to delete. I just remapped F12.

Anyhow, no regrets. The machine is ultra-sexy. It's all worth it for the backlit keyboard :-)

Cheers,

Steve

And there ya go…

A Brit Abroad - April 16, 2006

Good Lord, it's been way too long! Five months since my last podcast.

Well, this afternoon I decided enough is enough and I locked myself away in the office to put this together. Of course, I was a little bit rusty and forgot to check all the myriad of settings, so the latency of the audio hardware had somehow bumped itself up to around sixty milliseconds instead of the usual four, combined with the fact that I left the processing effects running whilst recording, resulted in some weird stuttering in the audio recording.

Sorry about that.

Also, the PC wasn't as isolated as usual, so there's a bunch of hum.

Anyhow, you can still hear me, and I'm back! So welcome to another edition of A Brit Abroad! In this solo edition I chat mainly about the setting up of the new company - SwitchGear Software.

Today's music is by “My Morning Jacket”, “One Big Holiday”, taken from the Wired “Rip. Sample. Mash. Share.” CD.

At just over 22 minutes and weighing in at 15.3MB, It's A Brit Abroad!

Things talked about in the show:

Enjoy!

Bad Web Form Design

I'm seeing this pattern appear more and more on consumer web sites that I have to interact with (e.g. my cellular company and the bank) and it's driving me insane.

I talking about input boxes that automatically move focus to the next box when you have entered enough letters and/or digits into them.

The most common use of this pattern is when entering phone numbers.

Assume (for the audience in the US) that there are three boxes - the first two accept three digits and the final box accepts four. Focus initially starts in the first box and then once you have entered three digits (e.g. 425) the focus automatically moves to the next box.

The problem occurs if you enter something incorrectly.

Say I incorrectly entered 426. Focus is now in the second box, and being a keyboard kinda guy I hit Shift-Tab to move to the previous box.

Ping pong!

As there where enough digits in the first box, focus moves forward again to the second box without giving me a chance to correct my mistake. On some sites, if I use the mouse and click back in the first box, the same ping pong problem occurs.

The only way out of the problem seems to be to double-click or drag-select to select all the text in the first box, and then the focus stays there allowing me to reenter everything.

I understand that the point of this pattern is to allow the user to type '4254669305' without having to click in each box, but it seems to me that the website designer just wanted a pretty page. Why not just have a single input box?

Does anyone else have this issue? Or am I just being pendantic :-)

Btw, Here's a website that shows you how to implement this bad pattern and exhibits the shift-tab problem that I describe above, though not the click problem.

Telemarketers

I can't remember the last time I got a cold call from telemarketer at home, so I'd forgotten about that particular communication pain.

Well, so far today I've received four calls at the office from companies trying to sell me credit card merchant machines and services!

“Do you take credit cards?”, “Why do you not want one? How will your customers pay you?”

Enough.

I'm now filling in the forms at the Do Not Call registry…

Startup Data Management

Will Price's post Post-close on the value of getting your financial and projection processes in place is a great read.

I'd add that I think it's never too early to get a large part of this process up and running, and it's a lot easier to do right at the beginning when you don't have a lot of data to go back and find, re-enter, etc…

Flagged Articles #14

Three weeks in one this time… Here's my links of interest for the three weeks ending April 8th, 2006…

As always, not necessarily the most interesting stuff this week, but I flagged them for some reason…

Flight Simulator on a Mac

Kudos to Nick Whittome, Flight Simulator MVP, for trying out Flight Simulator on a Mac under Windows XP and the newly released BootCamp.

Hehe - no port needed :-)

On a sidenote, I picked up a 2.16GHz, 2GB, 100MB/7200 rpm MacBook Pro yesterday. It is a wonderful piece of hardware - Dell, Toshiba, etc… need to take note - there's a very tasty new Windows laptop out there now…

The 1995 DirectX Party Doom Video

Somehow the video that I mentioned talked about last July, the video that had Bill Gates playing the protagonist in Doom, has finally seen the light of day.

I thought that video had been destroyed or locked up in the bowels of the PR department.

Before you view this, remember this was late October 1995, DirectX had yet to be released and Doom was the game. The video was shown at a party (Judgement Day) thrown by the DirectX team. The next day was the “Aftermath” event, where we revealed the initial implementation of Direct3D.

Check it out over on YouTube.

[Thanks to Mick Stanic for the link.]

XP on a Mac

Thank you.

I've been having an internal argument with myself over what laptop to get, and after using WinTel based laptops since my first one in 1993, I decided that it was time to try the “other” operating system on my laptop for a while.

You may remember that I attempted this last year, but I've got over my previous objections to the platform after switching backwards and forwards between a PowerMac G5 and a Windows PC at home.

My main problem is that on my laptop I need Outlook, MindManager and FeedDemon.

For Outlook I can use Entourage, for MindManager, well, I don't know. Virtual PC might have to suffice (but an Intel OSX, running a PowerPC VirtualPC, running an Intel Windows XP might be interesting…). For FeedDemon, I can use NetNewsWire.

My problem has been, what if I just doesn't work for me? Have a just wasted some cash and some really nice hardware?

Well, now I can just boot Windows XP on the MacBook. I wonder if anyone has tried a Vista beta on it?

Thinking about it, you can call an Intel based Mac running Windows a “WinTel” box too!

Progress…

So the phone lines and network cabling are in, so we did a run to Frys to pick up a gigabit switch, wireless router, a few five-port gigabit desk-side hubs and a UPS for the servers.

The monitors arrived a couple of days ago and the main Windows server will be arriving from Dell any day. The Windows box will be serving domain controller and exchange server duties, and we're adding a PowerMac G5 as a server for source control via Subversion, the Bugzilla bug database and the internal Wiki.

The Mac is already up and running in my house serving those duties and has been for a few months - it should simply be a matter of moving it.

The next thing will be development machines for the office. We'll probably build these ourselves - it'll be quicker and probably cheaper.

Oh, and the Ikea furniture all arrived yesterday - it was a “fun” afternoon putting all that together.

Anyhow, back to coding…

© 2001 to present, Steve Lacey.