Thursday, 25 September, 2003

Development tool trouble

In 25 years of working with computers, I've rarely been as frustrated as I am today.  At work I'm making some modifications to an old ASP (not .NET) project for a client, and am trying to debug. Visual InterDev debugging is kind of clunky at the best of times, but getting it set up is a nightmare!  I'm running Windows 2003 Server on my laptop here, and have been completely unsuccessful in getting Visual InterDev to stop at a breakpoint.  My biggest success so far has been totally screwing up my project so that I have to re-create it.

I had to fire up Visual Studio .NET and create a new Web project just to remember what it was like to have a reasonable development and debugging environment.  If you've never worked with Visual InterDev, be thankful. If you're lucky enough to have moved from Visual InterDev to Visual Studio .NET, be thankful.  If you're stuck working with Visual InterDev...well, I don't actually suggest that you shoot yourself in the head, but doing so might be less painful.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this experience is the complete lack of information in the MSDN Knowledge Base.  I can't be the only developer who's had trouble getting Visual InterDev to debug on Windows 2003.  The KB articles that do mention VI Debugging are specific to Windows 2000 or Windows XP, and IIS 5.  Guess what? Many settings either don't exist in IIS 6, or they've been moved.  Shouldn't Microsoft update their Knowledge Base?

Monday, 22 September, 2003

Incompatible technical innovations

A couple of notes from the weekend's moving adventure:

In the past couple of years I've made it a point to buy power strips that have the outlets rotated 90 degrees from the traditional way, like this.

That makes it possible to plug in one of those wall wart transformers without blocking three or four outlets.  This particular model is especially nice, because it accommodates the really fat ones.  Imagine my surprise when I opened the package for my new USB hub and found that they'd rotated the prongs on the transformer!

Sometimes you just can't win.

Is it possible to buy a 10 foot SVGA cable?  When we placed Debra's monitor and computer we realized that the distance was more than the 6 feet provided by the existing cable.  I picked up a 10' extension at Fry's, but the ghosting on the screen made it unusable.  A gender changer to turn the extension into a regular cable produced similar results.  I finally broke down and spent $60 on a super shielded 6 foot extension, but there's still a little ghosting.  I don't understand why I can get a 10 foot digital video cable, but not a 10 foot SVGA cable.  I also don't understand why there's ghosting on Debra's monitor running at 1024x768, and none on mine running 1600x1200 and going through 10 feet of cable and a KVM switch.  If you know where I can get a 10 foot shielded SVGA cable, please clue me in.

Sunday, 21 September, 2003

The new office

Finally!  I'm writing this from my new office in what used to be the garage.  The picture to the left is looking at my desk from Debra's desk.  She has the same desk setup.  Here's what it looked like with just the furniture.  The desks are 87 inches on each long side, and 29 inches wide.  That gives me about 4 feet for printer, scanner, phone, and other assorted hardware, 3 feet of space for my monitor, and about 4 feet of empty space for doing desk work.  Or for a piling system.  Hopefully not.  The idea of the hutch above the desk is to hold all the stuff that I used to pile on the desk and floor back when all I had was a 6 foot banquet table.  We'll see how it works.

The room itself is 13 feet wide and 20 feet long.  What wall space isn't taken up by desk, windows, and door is going to host book cases:  20 or 25 linear feet of 7 foot book cases, which will hold almost all of our books.  For now.

What a relief to have this addition project finished.  The kitchen is next.  I don't think Debra will allow that one to drag out even four weeks.  Time to make a schedule and stick to it.

Saturday, 20 September, 2003

Spam slam

I checked my email after dinner last night.  A few hours later I checked it again and had 70 new messages.  PocoMail flagged every one of them as junk mail because all but one of them was a variant of the message claiming to contain the latest security patch from Microsoft.  The oddball was a pitch to sell me $100,000 homes for $10,000.  As of this evening—24 hours after I first got one of those messages—I had received over 250 of those emails.  That's in addition to my apparently meager spam load of about 80 messages per day.  Oddly enough, Debra hasn't received even one of these worm emails.

This has gotten totally out of hand.  I'm surprised that, after the last 3 or 4 years of worms and viruses, there are still so many people who will unquestioningly run a program that they get via email from an unknown person.  Are these the same people who will give their credit card numbers over the phone?

This kind of attack would be much less apt to succeed if the email protocols required end-to-end authentication.  If there was no way to get an anonymous message into the system, then it would be very difficult for somebody to start this without getting caught.  In addition, people opening their messages could easily check to see if the message really was from Microsoft Support before running the attachment.  Laws that prescribes penalties for perpetrators are wholly ineffective at stopping such attacks, because it's very difficult or impossible to prove who sent the message.

Monday, 15 September, 2003

Say what?

An interesting tidbit from a coworker:

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteers are at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.

That's all I have right now.  If I can get a link that describes the research in more detail, I'll post it here.

Sunday, 14 September, 2003

Garage conversion complete

It's hard to believe, but after 4-1/2 years, the garage remodeling project is done.  The window coverings went in last week and the installers finished replacing the carpet on Friday (third time's a charm), and this morning Debra finished touching up the walls and baseboards.  This afternoon we went to Eurway and brought home the new office furniture, which we will be assembling throughout the week.

Pictures after the furniture is finished.  With white walls and a very light colored carpet, there just isn't enough contrast to make a picture worthwhile.  At least, not with my camera and meager photography skills.  The furniture is a faux cherry veneer, which will provide some much-needed color.  Once we get the furniture in and situated, we'll measure out the remaining wall space and contract with the Bookcase Store for book cases.  If all goes well, we'll have the furniture built and set in place by the end of the week so that we can start moving in there next weekend.

The most important lesson I learned through this whole ordeal is to have a plan and a schedule.  Otherwise you're just screwing around, and the project will drag on and on and on and ...

Saturday, 13 September, 2003


Several people have asked me why I haven't tried out Lindows or written anything about it.  The answer is simple:  I can't download it.  Normally I like to try something before I write anything about it.

Lindows is a Linux distribution designed to look and feel very much like Windows.  It has a simple and fast installation, and includes everything you expect when you buy an operating system today:  Web browser, email client, instant messaging, games, networking, multimedia support, etc.  I don't know what all else comes with the distribution.  I suspect there's an office productivity package and probably some other stuff.  I've had a number of people tell me that they really like the system.  It's $60.00, though ($50.00 for the digital-only version), so it'll be a while before I give it a whirl.

One other thing.  If you buy LindowsOS, you get a "free bonus LindowsCD."  LindowsCD is a CD-only distribution similar to the Knoppix distribution that I've mentioned before.

Friday, 12 September, 2003

New Tires

I was hoping to get 100,000 miles out of the tires on my truck, but the rainy season is approaching and the tread was getting thin.  So off to Discount Tire today to replace the tires.  The guy at the tire shop was not at all surprised that I had put 93,000 miles on the stock tires (Uniroyal Tiger Paw radials).  Apparently, those tires are rated at 80,000 miles and he regularly sees people get 100,000 miles or more.  I find that very surprising, considering how inexpensive the tires are:  about $320.00 for a set of four, including mounting and balancing.  And I remember being surprised the first time I got 40,000 miles on a set of tires.

Wednesday, 10 September, 2003

Changing the Food Guide Pyramid

The USDA is on a mission to revise their silly Food Guide Pyramid (warning, it's a PDF file) in an attempt to effect a "behavioral change".  Imagine, a government agency coming up with a pretty-sounding but obviously ineffective way to solve a growing problem.  Who woulda thunk it?.

The problem they're trying to address is the 60% of obese or overweight adults in this country.  The idea of the modified Food Guide Pyramid is to help consumers tailor their diets to their own special needs.  Sounds great, right?  I wonder, though, how many people have even heard of the Food Pyramid.  There's an idea.  Stake out McDonald's and ask the first 100 adults you see whether they've heard of it.  Those who have heard of it probably can't describe the contents although I'll bet they can rattle off the four basic food groups (or a variant, like Beer, Sugar, Caffeine, and Fried Stuff).  It's painfully obvious that people don't care about the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid.  If they did, McDonald's wouldn't still be in business.

Monday, 08 September, 2003

What makes a good programmer?

I started a new consulting project at work last week.  I and a coworker are implementing an internal logistics system for Tokyo Electron America.  The project is an addition to a system that Catapult created for them several years ago.  Unfortunately it's ASP rather than .NET.

Today I was creating use cases for the design document when I ran across the following note written on one of the prototype screen shots:

ES need to see a list of denied NCDR with parts shipped  (auto-approved but denied later)

There is an incredible amount of information and assumed knowledge in that quote, and I'll need to discuss it with the users before I can fully understand what it means.

This is a perfect example of the kind of thing I tell high school and college students when I speak to them about programming.  "Bankers," I tell them, "don't speak programmer.  Worse, they will talk to you in banker's lingo and expect you to understand what they're saying.  Worse yet, they'll tell you what they think they want or need, but they often don't understand the implications of what they're asking or take into consideration all the possible situations.  As a programmer, it's your job to gather the domain knowledge so that you can understand the problem that users are trying to solve, and to ask questions that help you and the user solidify the requirements for a system that will meet those needs.  Being good at writing code isn't good enough."  I elaborate on that quite a bit, of course, but that's the gist of it.

The need to communicate effectively with clients and understand their business needs is why I encourage would-be programmers to study something other than computer science in college.  Very little of what's taught in a computer science course is actually applicable to most programming jobs.  Trade schools are better teachers of programming for business.  The most important skills--critical thinking, writing, and diplomatically giving somebody else your idea--are taught in other fields of study.  Of the best programmers I've worked with, none, to my knowledge, majored in computer science.  I won't say that I can teach a monkey to write good code, but I can much more easily teach programming to an English major than I can teach effective communications to a cowboy code slinger.

Saturday, 06 September, 2003

Budget crisis?

Everybody's screaming about the proposed budget, with a projected deficit of $480 billion.  That's a helluva lot of money, no doubt, representing almost 17% of the total expected outlays of $2.7 trillion.  Historically, it's a little on the high side, but not totally out of line.  In the last 20 years, we've seen deficits as high as 25% (1983) and surpluses as 13% (2000).  The more telling number, I think, is the percentage of Gross Domestic Product that this deficit represents.  By that measure, the projected 4.7% for fiscal year 2004 is the same as the 1992 budget.  Again, it's a little on the high side for the historical average, but hardly unmanageable.  All the screaming and crying by Democrats in Congress (and in the race for the Presidential nomination) is just a bunch of political hoo-ha.

That said, I still find it unconscionable that our government can't be a little more responsible when it comes to spending money.  Rather than plan for the lean times by saving surpluses, all branches of government increase spending whenever possible, and go deeper into debt when income doesn't meet projected outlays.

Tuesday, 02 September, 2003

A coworker today introduced me to  Tired of trying to email or link big, long, ugly URLs?  Go to the TinyURL Web site, enter the URL, and receive a new, permanent, and much shorter URL in return.  All through the magic of redirection.  For example, the URL to my main Random Notes page ( is also

This assumes, of course, that the TinyURL service remains available and that the servers are online.  Cool stuff, regardless.

Monday, 01 September, 2003

Writing Again

It's been almost two years since I last published an article.  My article Automatic Memory Management and Unmanaged Resources in .NET appears on the InformIT Web site.  Another article, on .NET Isolated Storage, is scheduled for publication next month.

I've also taken over the .NET Reference Guide duties for the site.  As the Guide guy, I'll post an article in the Reference section, and make three or more Weblog entries each week.  If you're into programming for .NET, come check it out.  I'm always interested in what other people would like to see covered.

The InformIT site, by the way, is chock full of good stuff:  Reference Guides for Certification, Photoshop, XML, .NET, Linux, Security, C++, Flash, Java, and SQL Server contain a wealth of information that is continually being expanded and updated.  In-depth articles on these and other topics appear weekly, and Weblogs discuss current topics of interest.  The site's primary purpose, of course, is to sell books, and there are plenty of good books on offer.  Even so, the site provides an incredible amount of useful information for free.

The best deal on the site, though, is the Safari Books Online.  Here you have over 1,500 technical books all online and available instantly for as little as $10.00 per month.  It's an incredible deal, and well worth the price (even with the restrictions) if your book outlays are anything like mine.