Computers are Getting Weirder

Note: Double-click top border of Task Manager to get your tabs back!

I used to joke with people that some day computers would need psychologists to help diagnose their problems.  I think it is actually going to happen, though, because now, more than ever, computers are behaving inconsistently.

I can have 2 identically configured systems that behave differently.  That’s the first sign of moving from an engineered fix to a psychiatric fix, right? 😀  Now, I know that…at SOME level, the machines are not identical, just like people are not identical.  All it takes is one brand of capacitor not regulating power the same as another one, and I think that is the beginning of a ripple effect.

Some literalist probably read that and said “capacitors don’t matter as long as the specs are the same.”  That’s not the point… the point is there are thousands of hardware configurations – manufacturers changing their chips, board designs, etc.  Then the system integrators build a machine from any mix of these parts, and then the operating system, which used to live on a single floppy disk and now arrives on a DVD, gets applied and tries to bridge the gap between everything.  Add to that the “cascading cache” that a lot of these systems utilize everywhere and twice on Sunday… it becomes amazing that any of this stuff works at all!!

Anyway, this is more a random piece of computer era ponderance than a solution.   Today I turned on my Droid and my car dealership’s website wouldn’t render, so I went to my desktop and before I made it to the web I saw Skype was left open…so I tried to close it and it wouldn’t close.  This prompted me to open Task Manager – it opened and I closed Skype, but then I noticed task manager was missing all the tabs and it was missing the icon to close it :

Is this your Task Manager? Double-click the top border to bring back tabs and stuff

That’s when I realized that these kinds of inconsistencies have become common place, and people just tend to accept them as normal.  Cars can’t be built this way, neither can airplanes, so why is it OK that computers muddle through life and for all their “I am a computer, I don’t make mistakes” they are built imperfectly and contain enough man-made mistakes that they can’t function reliably? Rhetorical… but just kinda fun to think about.

So a quick Google query on the above screen yielded a post that explained “small footprint mode” for Task Manager.  But who mad that choice? Let’s just add a feature that we don’t explain and give the user ZERO visual context clues as to what happened.  Kee Kee!!  Serious? I thought it was a leap of faith when Droid pushed away from text to these weird icons that don’t mean anything to me… but once again Microsoft has to nuke the ambiguity fridge to retain market dominance.


Bacon Jam (or TSA Bacon Jam Carry-On Restrictions)

Hey, it wasn’t my idea… but maybe it coulda been, if I would’ve been a smarter entrepreneur! Anyway, I was just helping my daughter ship some boxes at the UPS Store in Castle Rock, when this couple starts wheeling in stacks of jars.

This clandestine moment was my introduction to Kay Wolfe, the owner of a small business that manufactures Bacon Jam! And, this interesting concoction has actually made the radar for, who placed an order for 1200 jars. Score one for small biz!

Now you might think Bacon Jam is just some crazy novelty. A passing phase…. but, I have learned through many life lessons: Never underestimate the power of bacon.

In fact, Kay assured me it is quite delicious. She even gave me a jar to try. I took it home, and showed my wife. I thought for sure she would react negatively to such an invention. Nope. She eagerly accepted the jar and read the ingredients, excited to try it out.
Behold, the power of bacon.

Unfortunately for me, I had a plane to catch and the bacon jam was exactly ONE OUNCE over the TSA approved amount for bacon on a plane.  Drat.

Anyway…stay tuned. I should have a critique soon. If you can’t wait, and must try a jar for yourself, Kay informs me that the bacon lovers at ThinkGeek will have the product available starting next week.

In closing, I can only site the all too familiar quote: mmmm… bacon. And check out Kay’s Kitchen for other goodies!

BlackBerry PlayBook Paperweight

Yeah, the title kinda sums up my experience trying out a BlackBerry PlayBook.  Maybe it is a bit unfair an assessment, but reality can be a harsh judge.

At least the Playbook works at Hooters in Chantilly

FOSE 2010
I didn’t have time to attend the whole expo, but I made time to attend ONE of the free classes – I wanted to see what the PlayBook had to offer.  The presentation was very insightful, as it explained how the PlayBook was truly set apart from its competition because it had a seamless user experience, but under the hood it was separating enterprise data from personal data. It also had security and encryption baked in via the BlackBerry Bridge to the user’s smartphone which would pick up all the BES policies and apply them to PlayBook.  All in all, that was fairly impressive – enough for me to actually be excited to try one out.

PlayBook Arrives
So, about 3 months later, my office did a trial with a handful of PlayBooks.  I was one of the lucky recipients…or so I thought.  I unboxed it, hooked it up and the ride went south from there!  Come with me down disappointment lane:

  • First thing Playbook did was demand a Wi-Fi connection.  Wi-Fi connections are not permitted at my office, so I had to pack it all up and wait until I could leave work.  If a customer has to leave the office to get their office-issued equipment working, that kinda sets the stage…don’t it? Yup. It do.
  • I took the unit home, and hooked it up to the Wi-Fi at my house.  Luckily, it connected… it downloaded the latest OS and worked whatever 20-30min of magic it needed.  Finally, I thought, I could start using it as intended.
  • I got into the car and drove to a location with a free Wi-Fi hot spot… I figured, the PlayBook should be ready to work on the go, right?  Wrong.  It couldn’t connect to the hotspot.  My cell phone connected.  My laptop connected. Playbook didn’t even SEE the network, and when I tried to connect manually it would complain that it timed out trying to connect.  Fail.
  • I then decided to try my cell-phone as a tether. PlayBook should be able to handle that. Nope. I tried a Wi-Fi tether, and PlayBook couldn’t see the network.  My laptop did, and connected without issue.
  • So, I made zero progress that day and went into work.  I contacted our mobile computing department and told them I was testing a PlayBook. They said, that was nice.  I asked if I could install the BlackBerry Bridge software on my phone.  They said no.  OK, for all the marketing at FOSE, there isn’t much people can do if the folks in charge of the BlackBerry phones say NO to the BlackBerry Bridge.  Again, this is reality…and in reality, not everyone can  install what they want.
  • This left me in a lurch whereby I have a device that depends on wireless in order to be productive, and it doesn’t readily tether or recognize Wi-Fi networks, nor can it be connected to the enterprise.  And this raises another issue… even if I COULD use the bridge software, 3G is not the fastest cat on the block.  It would be better to use Wi-Fi, but then how is BES policy enforced over Wi-Fi?  Answer… it probably isn’t.
  • I didn’t give up yet…I used the PlayBook to take notes in several meetings… but ran into yet more frustration because, there was no way to get my notes to my office network.  No wireless, no bridge, not even a USB port for a thumb drive.  As if that wasn’t enough, PlayBook’s keyboard ANNOYS me because to type numbers and symbols I am forced to go to a completely different screen instead of hit Shift or ALT like other devices allow.
  • Over the next couple of days, I tried the PlayBook at a number of venues.  It basically has a 50% chance of connecting to Wi-Fi.  I was thankful it worked at Hooters… “Sorry dear, I have to go to Hooters, it is the only network that is compatible with the Playbook.”  That’s worth SOME points.  But 50% is pretty abysmal, and to not have it work with my tether is pretty-much a showstopper.
  • Then there is the application selection.  PlayBook does not have nearly the inventory that iTunes and Android have on tap.  In fact, i would bet that Palm has more apps than PlayBook.  What apps are available are sometimes pricey – not uncommon to see price tags of $3 or $6… really?
  • Last but not least is the super stable OS they tout. I was playing Tetris. The OS locked. Nuff said.

The End
In the end, even though the base navigation seems intuitive, the GUIs seem responsive, and the potential seems impressive,  I think PlayBook is too little too late. I’ll be returning mine to the pool – maybe someone else will have better luck with it.  Until then, I am pretty happy with Android or my SSD-equipped Laptop which boots in about 10 seconds.  Better luck next time, RIM.

Goodbye oBout, Hello DevExpress

My experience with oBout (and lots of businesses)

Back in 2010, I was searching for ASP.NET controls for our team.  One member of our group had used oBout and said they were inexpensive and effective.  He was right… for an enterprise license, they are extremely inexpensive.  And, as long you didn’t try to do too much with them, they could be quite effective.

Problems set in when we started needing to nest the controls, trap some java script events, and have a more fine-tuned control over these controls.  So in 2010, I can say when we wrote to oBout (which we are convinced is, like, one dude camped out in a studio in New York somewhere) , they did eventually write back.  We got help a couple of times.

But in 2011, oBout stopped responding to any help requests…for months! So, we were in a bit of a lurch. I sent them an email stating we would even be willing to pay more money if we could get support. Nothing.

Last month we did some research and have decided to give DevExpress a try – we got their ASP.NET AJAX control subscription.  It’s not like we are a huge shop, but when we have a question, we need an answer.  DevExpress tools seem a lot less wonky, they sport a Visual Studio plug-in, and they seem a bit bigger an organization! Now, we’ll have to see what happens when we contact support!

Have you tried DevExpress? What luck have you had?

Stopping the Hackers

OK, so I was at work and tried save a web-conference event to my Outlook calendar.  This was denied. It got me thinking… really? So denying folks from saving stuff to their calendar must be saving us from some HUGE security hole, through which hackers could destroy the very tubes that make up the internet!!

Google and Bing Search Redirects… try ComboFix

You do a search via Google or Bing, you click a result…next thing you know, you are looking at some weird advertisement and the URL says “Fast-Find” or one of several other URLs including just freaky IP addresses.  If you go back and click your search link again, it takes you to the expected result… but then you find yourself having to play this game of trying search results more than once.

If the above is true, you have a nasty installed on your machine.  Don’t worry, I won’t judge you because…I visited that same website and got that same nasty also! Hahaha.

I have Symantec… I did a full scan, it found nothing
I have Spybot Search and Destroy…I did a full scan, it found nothing
I have Malwarebytes… I did a full scan, it found nothing
I have HiJackThis… I deleted all the registry keys I could safely remove… to no avail

So I did a search, and eventually found a product called ComboFix.  You can get it here at Bleeping Computer – It Worked! So I donated $10 to the guy and posted this article, in the hopes it will help you too.

Please note, once you run ComboFix it tells you what to do and what not to do.  Please follow the instructions.  Keep in mind, there are over 50 phases that it goes through – so just be patient, LET IT restart your machine and finish properly.

Use this or any similar software at your own risk.  Just because it worked for me, doesn’t mean it will work for you (although I hope it does!).  And, even though it didn’t break my machine doesn’t mean it won’t break yours (although I hope it doesn’t!).

Happy Hunting!!

Requirements? I Lied!…

So, today I took a moment to contemplate what makes a bad software project REALLY bad.  There are lots of reasons, but as a lot of books will tell you, most people simply don’t know what they want… and sometimes it feels like they are too busy to keep you informed!  I used that wonderful sense of despondence, coupled with the “I Lied” internet meme to create a truly heart-warming comic about it all.

To enjoy it, click the image to my DeviantArt page and then click on the image there to zoom it to 100% –  otherwise it is hard to read 🙂

Link to :Requirements I Lied" Comic

"Requirements, I Lied..." Comic Link

Can Radiation from Japan Hurt Me?

True, there is no SAFE level of radiation, but if I contract brain cancer, I am going to be looking angrily at my cell phone…or I might remember that day I visited the Star-ship Enterprise and mooned the dilithium crystals.  That probably wasn’t my smartest maneuver.

Paradox of being concerned about radiation when being irradiated by tons of stuff in our own countryINTRO
OK, for serious, I think this question deserved an answer because I am getting correspondence from people that show all kinds of data, but very little explanation of how to interpret the data.  I am NOT in the radiology field, so what I have researched here represents what I am willing to accept as my personal truth, and I am sharing in case someone else wants to save themselves a little time sifting through the underbelly of radiological equationimuhfications!

There is no such thing as a safe level of radiation. The radiation you get from just living on this planet COULD kill you.  Now, once you’ve accepted that, understand that the radiation reaching you from Japan is barely measurable comparative to the amount of radiation you receive just by walking around inside your house (unless your house has radon gas…in which case, your house poses a much greater threat than Japan’s radiation).

The first thing I wanted to do was determine a measurement of radiation that is reaching the United States. It varies based on where you are, but the numbers I kept finding were…well…non existent.  As a rough guideline, it seems like a number between 100-200 Counts Per Minute (cpm) is considered “background noise” when measuring radiation.  All the measurements I saw, fluctuated between 50 and 150.  Then there would be text NEXT to the measurement saying “this is elevated!”

So, let’s pluck a number. Let’s say they see a 10% or 20% elevation… that would be between 5 and 30 cpm.  I will go with 15 cpm (see how scientific this feels?).  Let’s pretend (because I haven’t been able to quantify) that the amount of extra radiation reaching the average US populace from Japan is 15 cpm.

The next thing is to relate a cpm to some level of safety.  For example, 200 is the starting point before some folks would even begin to research if there MIGHT even be contamination.  200 – 400 is “suspected” contamination… but let’s say we wanted another number to compare to, just so we can feel extra snuggly wuggly about the radiation reaching the US.

So I read this article that talked about Sieverts.  This is a magical representation of radiation’s potential impact on a living thing.  If a living thing is exposed to 1 Sievert (Sv) of immediate radiation, it’s pretty-much guaranteed that it will experience radiation sickness, but may not die from the exposure.  If you want more than that, then I have references you can peruse down below.

For perspective’s sake, if you get a medical procedure done such as an x-ray or CT scan, you could be exposed to anywhere from .1 to 20 millaSieverts (mSv) of radiation. It takes 1,000 mSv to equal 1 Sievert (and at 1 Sv, you will more than likely get sick, but it may not kill you) .

So, now that we have a basic understanding of the mSv, I need to convert 15 cpm to mSv so we can get an idea of the “hypothetical” threat level coming from Japan’s reactor.  Well, I did a bunch of reading and my calculations lead me to this: 15 cpm is about .0625 mR/min or about .625 mSv/min.

Thusly and Therefore, if you compare the 100 cpm (or 4.2 mSv/min) that comes into your life just by existing on our planet to the .625 mSv/min that MIGHT be coming from Japan… Japan doesn’t even stack up to the background noise, much less pose a threat.

And I ain’t talking stars…yet. If you have a background in this stuff, please check my math.  If you don’t have a background in this stuff, please feel free to check my math.  But, what I am seeing is, this amount doesn’t seem like it matters.  And so I repeat: True, there is no SAFE level of radiation, but if I contract brain cancer, I am going to be looking angrily at my cell phone…or I might remember that day I visited the Star-ship Enterprise and mooned the dilithium crystals.  That probably wasn’t my smartest maneuver.


Conversion of 1 rem = 10 mSv

Conversion of 200 cpm = .05 mR (millirems)/hour and also interpreting the meter readings

Radiation Network sites “elevated readings” which lead me to pretend 15cpm was coming from Japan, but that is a total wild guess at best

More info on radiation

Some pretty deep web scribbles on radiation (too thick for me!)

Link to Harvard Health Blog (medical procedure mSv exposure table and hey, any link to Harvard improves credibility right? hoo hoo haa)