Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category.

2001 Toyota Camry bumper cover support

Although I am not a gear head I took on the job of replacing my 2001 Toyota Camry’s front bumper myself. This involved navigating a maze of little plastic parts, the most confounding of which was the “bumper cover support”. This part sort of plugs in to the either side of the car, providing a resting place for the top of the bumper.

I knew what this part looked like in real life, but I didn’t know what it was called. I kept researching online, always ending up with this ridiculous cartoon drawing:

camry bumper cover support cartoon

The problem is that the part looks nothing like the drawing. Here is what the actual part looks like:

camry bumper cover support top

camry bumper cover support outer rotate

camry bumper cover support inner

I eventually took a chance and ordered the part because I thought it had to be the one. For anyone else messing around with old Camries, hopefully this helps to decode the images you see for this part. Enjoy your kanmuri!

Apple backstabs customers with MacBook Pro 2011 GPU flaw

UPDATE: Apple has finally responded to this problem with a repair program. I was able to work with Apple to refund the $350 I paid to have my MBP fixed.

Apple really does not want to admit that its entire batch of Late 2011 MacBook Pros are lemons. In addition to the change.org petition, there is now a class-action suit which has been making the media rounds:

A massive thread in the Apple forums contains a huge gathering of unhappy customers. Here is one illustrating Apple’s stonewalling:

Called Apple Care today for the first time, and they’ve never heard of this problem. This is not a known issue. I pointed them to this forum and to the recent Time magazine article about the issue, nope, they’ve never heard of it. Even reached the head VIP tech support supervisor dude. Nope, never heard of any problems with the Macbook Pro 2011. So the answer to all your questions is “we’re all dreaming”.

Obviously Apple has done the calculations and decided that their best interests are served by settling a lawsuit (which I assume will be the eventual outcome) rather than admitting that hundreds of thousands (millions?) of their “pro” laptops have a hard expiration date.

There is no simple fix for the problem. What if we’re talking about one million laptops at $2,000 apiece – are they going to refund $2 billion dollars on machines that are out of warranty? No, they will stall, delay, and let the lawsuit play out. So years from now there will be something in the news about Apple settling some lawsuit on machines made way back in 2011, and that negative PR and settlement will be much less impactful than if they were to own up to the problem here in 2014.

Apple is one of those companies that you want to love, that you want to believe is not evil. But when put in a tight spot, the corporation has no qualms about snatching your wallet with one hand, and burying a knife in your back with the other.

MacAuthority customer service fail

One month ago I purchased a new 15″ MacBook Pro from MacAuthority. I then promptly dropped about $300 at crucial.com to bump my RAM to 8GB, and (more importantly) upgrade to an SSD. And yesterday I find out that the new MacBook Pro with Retina display is released.

If I had waited one month, then I could have spent the same amount of money to have a MacBook Pro with a better CPU, 512MB more VRAM, and the Retina display.

So I talk to the MacAuthority guys who tell me that Apple is my best bet for recourse. Apple tells me that maybe they would have made an exception for me, but since I didn’t purchase the MacBook through Apple, they won’t consider the possibility. I go back to MacAuthority and relay this information, my main argument being: if Apple is willing to work with me in situations like this while you are not, why would I ever purchase from you again?

I managed to go up the MacAuthority management chain a little bit and they made me the following offer: Nothing.

I understand from a business perspective of course. If MacAuthority accommodates me in some way, then they are left potentially needing to accommodate everyone they sold a Mac to in the past X months. The trick with getting your way in customer service is to explain that you are an exception and should be treated differently. MacAuthority decided not to treat me as an exception, which is certainly reasonable. The only downside for them is that I know a lot of programmers/techies who are Apple fans. I will do what I can to make sure that they never shop at MacAuthority.

If you are considering a purchase from MacAuthority, do NOT buy from them – this is coming from a person with many years of education and experience in IT. Never purchase anything from MacAuthority. Ever.

Fatal flaws with TalkSwitch TS-850i IP phones

I was initially excited at the chance to install and configure a TalkSwitch 240vs PBX phone system. With twelve TalkSwitch 850i cordless phones spread across four base stations, I figured I would have my work empire bathed in telephony goodness. And the price was very low for an IP phone system… too low, as it turns out.

FLAW I: the TalkSwitch Management Software runs on Windows only. This isn’t too big of a deal since I can use VirtualBox on Linux or Parallels on Mac, but the PC-only requirement is still a hassle. I had originally hoped that configuration could be accomplished via a web interface, but apparently not.

FLAW II: conference calling is only 3-way. You can’t have 4+ 850i’s on the same call, nor can you have more than two 850i’s talking to the same outside line. I just assumed that, like a traditional phone system, any number of phones could pick up on an outside line simultaneously. To TalkSwitch’s credit, the system isn’t designed that way because you don’t want people to be able to eavesdrop on conversations. That’s fine, except we need a way to have a “conference” that includes more than three people. You could get around that with a speakerphone, but…

FLAW III: the speakerphone is choppy and cuts in and out due to an overly sensitive mic. This was revealed to be a known flaw when I talked to tech support on the phone. This renders the speakerphone useless, and also takes away a means of working around the 3-way conference limitation (i.e., by having people sit around a speakerphone).

FLAW IV: tech support is painfully slow. I was having trouble updating the firmware on the 850i’s so I filled out a support ticket. After five days I got this response:

This issue would be best dealt with over the phone. Please contact us at 866-393-9960 option 3.

Of course option 3 wasn’t the correct option, and sometimes the tech support line sends you to voicemail instead of queuing you up. Support is not 15-30 minutes away – you’ll wait hours to get any help.

FLAW V: this one is personal. An online vendor who shall rename nameless (because they’ve been decent to me) sold me these phones. They will not take the TalkSwitch system back because I’m past the 30-day return policy limit. But the vendor did contact TalkSwitch and got their VP of sales to call me. I assumed that the call would result in TalkSwitch placating me in some way, even if just some free headsets or something. Instead, the guy said basically nothing and simply confirmed that, yes, conferencing is limited to 3-way, and yes, the speakerphones suck. He was being so useless that at one point I just blurted out, “So… why are you calling me? Are calling to console me?” What a terrible waste of time and money this has been. I thought I’d done my homework on this system before I bought it, but obviously I didn’t dig deep enough. Hopefully this post will help any IT brethren who are considering TalkSwitch; if you’re thinking about buying TalkSwitch, think again.

The League: a television flop

The League is a sitcom about a group of 30-something adults who are in a fantasy football league. After seeing the promo (and being a fantasy football addict), I raced to the DVR to acquire some League action. I’ve since slogged my way through six episodes and am now at the point where I just cannot bear to punish myself anymore.

I thought I was going to get a comedy that satirizes both fantasy football and the people who are involved with this national obsession. Instead, The League is a poor attempt at TV-for-guys-who-like-TV, composed of painful caricatures, pointless vulgarity, the occasional NFL player cameo, “zany” scenarios that have nothing to do with fantasy football, and a few flat jokes about the game itself.

The premise is solid, the acting is fine, but the plot lines and writing are miserable. Every now and then the show gets a chuckle out of me, but that’s just kind of like how a stopped clock is right twice a day. At the moment when the characters were in a car, screaming and yelling as a monkey was jumping frenetically around the interior, I hit the stop button, deleted the episode, and decided I was done with The League.

If you really want to bring out the comedy in the fantasy football craze, you can’t just toss together a crappy sitcom, make a few fantasy football references, and expect to bask in rays of accolades. If I had the resources and the opportunities, here is how I would do it:

Ditch the sitcom paradigm and move to something closer to sketch comedy – a Daily Show or SNL model, if you will. The drama of the NFL and weekly fantasy impact hold so much material that you could put out a show every, say, Wednesday. If actual NFL footage could be incorporated into the show, then you could have something really huge. The point is that the comedy would be focused on fantasy football and it would be current – the show would be extremely relevant to the millions who are playing this game.

A number of blogs exist that combine humor, analysis, and fantasy football fallout, but for a medium like television, The League should be disbanded.

Heyyyy-oooo!

I hate licensed software

Speaking as the “IT guy” for my workplace, I hate obtaining/installing/upgrading licensed software. This hatred has little to do with the monetary cost or purchasing process; it’s the backbreaking overhead that one incurs when dealing with licensing. The pain is even more acute when you compare it with the ease of open source software:

zypper in OpenOffice_org

The above command installs a fully-functioning office productivity suite on an openSUSE system. Of course you could do the equivalent through a GUI if you aren’t comfortable with the command line. You can probably guess that obtaining and installing Microsoft Office takes quite a few more steps than that.

Back to the subject of licensing overhead, I can slot my complaints into a few categories:

Hiccups

I’m defining “hiccups” as all the little stumbling blocks toward obtaining licensed software even after you’ve gone through the purchasing process. Example:

  1. Purchase a volume license for MS Office.
  2. HICCUP! I need an eOpen account.
  3. HICCUP! I have to use Internet Explorer.
  4. HICCUP! The eOpen account that I created months ago, and even have a confirmation email for, does not seem to work.
  5. HICCUP! Create a new eOpen account and associate my volume license with said account.
  6. HICCUP! No product keys found.
  7. HICCUP! Call the original vendor; they suggest problem is due to <NONSENSICAL REASON>; they email me the product key.

Can you see how much time this wastes? I have so much stuff to do – I just want to toss MS Office on this person’s computer and move on, but I’ve got to grind through all these obnoxious problems.

Another example:

  1. Purchase downloadable copy of some chemistry software.
  2. HICCUP! I don’t get the email containing the download link until over two hours later.
  3. HICCUP! The link doesn’t work; yes, I’m very carefully copying the URL.
  4. HICCUP! Call customer service; am told to forward the email to them.
  5. HICCUP! After one hour, still waiting on a reply.

And there are plenty of other examples. Maybe the problem is that vendors are still struggling to streamline their digital distribution procedures. All I know is that their efforts to protect their product are burning my time into ash.

License tracking becomes my responsibility

Yeah, this is probably part of any IT guy’s job, but I have to make sure that I keep track of all software versions, product keys, and installations. Some licensing sites will do that for you, but then you just have more places you need to look.

My gripe is that because the software happens to have a license associated with it, I have to do extra work. For whatever reason, this is far more annoying to me than the work I do to track a physical item, like an LCD monitor. Perhaps the reason is that I can move the monitor anywhere and use it for any purpose – without worrying about entering a product key or thinking about previous installations.

User education/enforcement

No, just because we have a copy of Photoshop doesn’t mean that we have an infinite volume license. The license agreement is for a single user. Yes, it allows you to install multiple places because 1) a single user often has a desktop, a laptop, and maybe a home computer, 2) that single user may need to reinstall the software, and 3) trying to limit installs with some sort of copy protection is probably more trouble than it’s worth.

In my small workplace with many computer-savvy, independent thinkers, I’ve had to work to pull the reins in on licensed software. Example:

CONVERSATION BEFORE ME:

Person A: Where are the install disks for software X?
Person B: Here.

CONVERSATION AFTER ME:

Person A: Where are the install disks for software X?
Me: We have a single license for software X that is currently in use. If you need software X, then I can purchase a license for you.

Conclusion

This is a rant so maybe not everything I’ve said is entirely rational. Or maybe I’m just venting over the nature of the beast. Certainly I’ve had some good experiences with licensing; for example, AVG has consistently been trouble free. My hope is that we begin to see a greater adoption of open source software, and perhaps a homogenization of the way licensing is done. Perhaps software vendors, especially the smaller ones, could outsource their licensing needs to external companies, much like they do with digital distribution (I see lots of companies using DigitalRiver). They’d simply add the “E-Z License” module to their code or something. I don’t know… just blowing some steam while I wait to hear back about that broken download link.

Norton Nightmares: Windows cannot connect to the Internet using HTTP, HTTPS, or FTP

The Problem: following a Norton Internet Security uninstall, I could ping IP addresses and hostnames, but not browse to either. Running XP’s Network Diagnostic gave me something like: “Windows cannot connect to the Internet using HTTP, HTTPS, or FTP”. The problem went away when running in Safe Mode.

I tried everything, including:

The Solution: run the Norton Removal Tool.

After 10+ hours of debugging, the problem was that my initial uninstall of Norton Internet Security had left severed limbs of that wretched beast still clawing at the vital organs of the WinXP laptop. I could hardly believe it. I did find Symantec remnants scattered around the system during my trials, but I dutifully removed them all. Yet somewhere, somehow, Norton was still doing what it does best: grinding computers to a halt. Reminds me of a Haiku that a wise man once wrote

Mac OS X (10.5.6) Spotlight search results are crippled

Open a Finder window, run a search, and you’ll see that the results are presented in three sortable columns: Name, Kind, and Last Opened.

You might expect to be able to adjust those columns to include/exclude whatever file attributes you wish. After all, you can certainly do this when using Finder to browse the file system. What you wouldn’t expect is for Apple, a company known for slick GUIs and user-friendliness, to leave you standing alone on the freezing tundra with your pants around your ankles.

Sorry, I’m not sure why that particular imagery popped into my head.

I won’t spend too much time griping about this because others have already done the work for me:

The take home points are: 1) you cannot customize the search results, 2) “Last Opened” is a silly attribute to use, and 3) no one seems to know when/if Apple is going to correct this usability issue.

I submitted an enhancement request to Apple through their Bug Reporter and I suggest that you do the same. Blogging about the problem also couldn’t hurt.

A competent programmer who is familiar with the software could add customizable columns to the search results in about a day. Maybe figure a few weeks of testing/QA and Apple could push an update out the door. Or maybe this feature will be included in 10.6 as a way to get people to buy Snow Leopard. Either way, it’s a perfect example of the shortcomings of proprietary software.

UPDATE: Apple’s predictable response…

This is a follow up to Bug ID# 6778875. After further investigation it has been determined that this is a known issue, which is currently being investigated by engineering. This issue has been filed in our bug database under the original Bug ID# 5981948. The original bug number being used to track this duplicate issue can be found in the State column, in this format: Duplicate/OrigBug#.

Thank you for submitting this bug report. We truly appreciate your assistance in helping us discover and isolate bugs.

PHP zlib.output_compression fails to set Content-Encoding

This is what the PHP docs say about the zlib.output_compression INI directive:

Whether to transparently compress pages. If this option is set to “On” in php.ini or the Apache configuration, pages are compressed if the browser sends an “Accept-Encoding: gzip” or “deflate” header. “Content-Encoding: gzip” (respectively “deflate”) and “Vary: Accept-Encoding” headers are added to the output. In runtime, it can be set only before sending any output.

Seems pretty straightforward, except that enabling this directive on an openSUSE 10.3 server (and an openSUSE 10.2 server) resulted in a bunch of gibberish as output. Meanwhile, the compression worked just fine on my MacPorts-enhanced MacBook.

After flailing around on Google and php.ini, I eventually eliminated SSL and the firewall as reasons for the problem. During this process I wasted a good amount of time on this bug. Basically, the docs say that you can set zlib.output_compression in your script at runtime, but in reality it doesn’t work.

I finally got down to business with Live HTTP Headers and figured out that enabling zlib compression on my openSUSE servers certainly compressed the content, but did not send the requisite “Content-Encoding: gzip” response header. Sending the header manually within my script (e.g. header("Content-Encoding: gzip");) would correctly turn the gibberish into uncompressed form.

Having already spent hours mucking around with this, I went with a quick and dirty solution:

ob_start('ob_gzhandler');
echo $page->toHtml();
ob_end_flush();

I hunted around Google for this problem, but only found PHP4 references from years ago. Maybe it’s time to ditch openSUSE on my servers… Ubuntu LTS might hit the spot.

Mediawiki extension WTFs

Had a number of WTF moments when looking for a wiki2pdf type of Mediawiki extension. I came across Pdf Export which seemed to be what I wanted. But as I looked over the extension, the WTFs began to pile up:

  • The required version of Mediawiki is 1.14, but the current version of Mediawiki is 1.13.3. WTF?
  • Okay, let me download the source… WTF? I’m supposed to copy-and-paste this into four different PHP files?
  • Interesting… there are edit links next to each block of code. Can I, an anonymous user, just edit this code? Ah, yes I can. WTF??

Looks like most extensions seem to be in an SVN repo, but Pdf Export does not appear to be among them. The main page for this extension lists the version as 2.0 (4-Nov-2008), but I’m not sure what that means if the distribution code is a publicly editable moving target.

I think what’s happening here is that the extension ecosystem is far more “organic” than I had anticipated. They seem to have made the task of collaborative programming as quick and open as wikis themselves. The concept is actually kind of cool.

Still, I’d rather install an extension with a pdf_export-2.0.tgz or something than copy code off a wiki that may or may not have just been modified by h4CK3R420.