November 13, 2007


It's good to ship.

Posted by Mike at 12:00 PM | Comments (3)

February 18, 2007

Pseudo-HD: why resolution isn't everything

Last December, I finally bought an HD set. It's a Sony Bravia 46" LCD. The picture is gorgeous. Sony may be writing the book on how not to launch a game console, but their televisions are still quite nice.

For Christmas, Meredith got me the first season of Battlestar Galactica on DVD. A few weeks ago, we watched the miniseries from the DVD using my Xbox 360's DVD player. The DVD is in standard-def, of course, but the 360 does a decent job of upscaling it to the 1080i output. You'd never mistake it for HD, but it was passable.

The day after we watched that, I noticed that Universal HD on Comcast was showing the same miniseries from BSG. I started watching it to see how much better it looked in HD.

It didn't.

High-Def just defines the resolution. Universal HD / Comcast (not sure who compresses the signal; probably Comcast) was broadcasting the show at 1920x1080 pixels, but they were some awfully fuzzy pixels. Crank the bitrate down far enough, and the detail that can go into those pixels drops dramatically, making the picture look worse or no better than something with less resolution.

This isn't just about HD vs. SD. Some digital TV providers broadcast SD signals in 480x480, then scale them up to full SD (640x480 if you assume square pixels). This will often look better at a given bitrate than sending the signal with the same bitrate at 640x480, because the available bits/pixel is so much worse in the full-resolution case. This is more true at lower bitrates; at sufficiently high bitrates, you should definitely use the higher resolution.

But Universal HD is a joke at the bitrate they're using on Comcast.

Posted by Mike at 12:55 PM

February 16, 2007

Zune CPU usage

Gizmodo recently posted an entry noting that Zune seemed to be "using abnormally high amounts of CPU on Vista" compared to iTunes.

The entry reads:

Is it just our machine, or does the Zune software use a hell of a lot more CPU on Windows Vista than iTunes? They were pretty equal back on Windows XP SP2. Readers?

I have no idea what they were doing when they saw this (music playback? video playback? sync? finding the 19381837184627364th digit of Pi?), but, hey, I can try.

On my home Vista machine (Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz), here's the report from Process Explorer on CPU usage for Zune 1.2 vs iTunes 7.0.2 while playing a 128kbit stereo AAC file (Idiot Wind off Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks album). Obviously, CPU usage varies during playback, but I set the refresh rate on Process Explorer to 10 seconds to try to smooth out the bumps, and didn't grab the screen shot until the song had been playing for a while (so the startup effects aren't measured).

Sitting in the library view, no visualizer running:

With the visualizer (default options, roughly same window size, unclipped window):


Posted by Mike at 05:09 PM | Comments (1)

January 26, 2007

Sony endorsement of Xbox 360

The Sony PSP Connect site recently featured a banner ad for the upcoming Gran Turismo 4 HD game for PS3.

Only the image they used is actually from Project Gotham Racing 3, released on the Xbox 360 in late 2005.

It's nice to see Sony endorsing the 360 as the state-of-the-art for HD gaming. ;)

Posted by Mike at 09:43 PM

January 25, 2007

Wikipedia: The Encyclopedia that anyone can edit...

Wikipedia: The Encyclopedia that anyone can edit, as long as they don't actually know what the fuck they are talking about.

Posted by Mike at 10:04 PM

December 13, 2006


The wind gusts were close to 40 MPH or so earlier today. When I went out at about 6 PM to check the mail, the utility company was busy working on a pole that was leaning about 15-20 degrees. They're done with that pole, but as I write this, they're still outside working on others. The guy waving traffic around their truck told me that it was going to be a long night for them, and that tomorrow is supposed to be even worse.

Posted by Mike at 10:40 PM

December 12, 2006

The ubiquitousness of MP3 players

In Toys 'R' Us today (shopping for Nathan's birthday and for Christmas), I noticed that almost all of the remote control cars (which Nathan is not getting) advertised that they included a hookup to plug your MP3 player into. Yes, into the toy car. Which therefore, presumably, includes an amplifier and speakers.

MY car doesn't have a direct hookup for an MP3 player. I have to use a cassette tape adapter. But that was bought 3 years ago. And now, even toy cars all have direct audio jacks. Amazing.

Posted by Mike at 05:50 PM

November 26, 2006

Gears of War

OK, this game really is as cool as everyone says. I have had so much fun playing this. In its first two weeks, it sold a million copies.

Playing it with the volume cranked up and surround sound is truly creepy. The sound effects are amazing, from the sound of the Locusts crawling up through the ground to come get you to the Berserker's shriek just before charging at you.

Posted by Mike at 10:25 PM

November 18, 2006

Zune Launched

Zune Ship GiftZune launched this week. It's been a lot of fun. I'm celebrating by taking this coming week off :)

To the right is the ship gift that I picked. Everyone who was on the launch team got to pick an orange or pink Zune.

If you have a Zune, I hope you're enjoying it.

Posted by Mike at 05:04 PM

Call of Duty 3 review

Now that Zune has shipped, I've been spending more time playing video games again. First was Call of Duty 3. On the plus side, the graphics are great. The game play, not so much. The game is set in France, post-D-Day, as you play various Allied soldiers fighting towards Paris. The fighting takes place in the French countryside or in towns.

The first problem is that the maps aren't that big, and the game severely limits where you can go. Most attacks are pretty linear -- you have to follow a prescribed path, because there is a six-inch high hedge in your way the other way that you can't climb over. (Germans can spawn on the other side of the six-inch hedge -- or whatever is used -- and come over it. But you can't.) I understand the need to limit the map size -- it makes designing the campaigns much easier. But other games (e.g., Halo 2) do a much better job of making it feel like a natural limitation instead of a completely artificial one.

The second problem is that most homes in small French villages have armor-plated walls. Seriously -- you can't shoot through them. Some German soldier will be standing on the other side of a window shooting at you, and the only chance you have of nailing him is to hit the tiny portion of his body that's actually exposed. One of the rounds involves driving a Sherman tank. Even the main gun on the tank is incapable of putting so much as a dent in the houses. Who knew that they were made of such sturdy stuff back in the 1940s?

I haven't tried the online play, and so maybe that's more fun. But in the single-player campaign, the game play is too limited to be that much fun.

Posted by Mike at 09:11 AM | Comments (6)

November 02, 2006

Zune web site live


12 days until it's in stores.

Now I can start sleeping again :)

Posted by Mike at 01:18 PM

October 26, 2006

Competing fact sheets

Sony recently created a rather interesting fact sheet (read: full of lies sheet) comparing the Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and Sony's PS3.

In response, Gamerscoreblog from Microsoft has posted a fact sheet of their own, where you can learn, among other things, that the PS3 weighs 243 pounds. No, really.

Posted by Mike at 08:14 AM

September 28, 2006

HRC Corporate Equity Index & Microsoft

I'm happy to see that the Human Rights Campaign has given Microsoft a perfect ranking in their annual Corporate Equality Index, which "examines and evaluates corporate policies affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees throughout the country."

Click here for the full report (PDF), which lists 138 US-based companies that scored 100.

Posted by Mike at 08:44 PM | Comments (1)

September 19, 2006

Printing multiple pictures from flickr

I'm trying to print a bunch of photos from my flickr account. As far as I can tell, the only way to do is to click on each picture and choose print, at about five or six clicks per photo.

It seems like I can also print all the pictures from a set, but I don't really want to have to add all of my pictures to a set just to print.

Is there really no way to do this in a batch mode without using a set?

Posted by Mike at 03:01 PM

August 25, 2006

Promise TX4300 RAID card is torturing me

A couple of months ago, a bunch of us in my team installed Promise TX4300 RAID cards and a pair of fast SATA drives in RAID 0 configuration to help speed up builds. And it has.

Except when the drivers freeze up my entire PC, forcing me to power-cycle the system. Then it does not really speed up my build. For bonus points, it will do this when I am trying to work from home with Remote Desktop, at which point I send out a plaintive email to the team asking if anyone is around who can please kick my PC.

When I go to the support page for the TX4300, it lists one BIOS version:

"FastTrak TX4300 BIOS V2.00.0.31"

and two driver versions, the latest of which notes:

"This driver is to be used with BIOS version v2.5.0.3115 or newer or newer and Windows WebPAM version or newer. It is not compliant with BIOS v2.00.0.31..."

The older version will work with that BIOS -- but I have that BIOS and that driver version, and it turns my machine into a brick every couple of days.

On a whim, I tried downloading the BIOS updater for the TX4310 card, since the support page for the TX4300 says that that card is no longer sold and the new version is the TX4310. The 4310 does offer BIOS v2.5.1.3116, so I tried downloading that.

The instructions for that insist that the BIOS updater must be run from a floppy disk. I thought maybe the instructions were out of date, but no, the updater refuses to run from a hard drive, even a hard drive that's not connected to the Promise card.

It turns out we don't actually stock floppy disks in the supply rooms here at Microsoft anymore, but my admin was helpful enough to bring one in that she dug up at home for me.

At which point I realized that my PC doesn't have a floppy disk drive.

I filled out the web form on Promise's site last Friday and explained all of this. I immediately got the auto email response, and then nothing. Tuesday night, I emailed to ask about the status of my request. Nothing.

So, to recap: my RAID drivers hang my machine (even worse than crashing, since at least if it crashed, it would reboot automatically), I can't get a new BIOS that's required for the new driver, and even if I could, it would require a floppy drive that I don't have. And their support staff is ignoring me.

Anyone have any recommendations for a SATA RAID card that doesn't suck?

Posted by Mike at 02:21 PM

August 21, 2006

Biting the hand that fed you

Scoble sure seems determined to rag on Microsoft as much as possible after having left the company. His newest rant is to attack Windows Live Spaces because many of the spaces hosted there don't meet his definition of "blog".

Scoble is fond of saying that resumes are an outdated concept since employers can just read someones blog to find out about the person. If I were a prospective employer, I'd certainly be reluctant to hire someone who is evidently going to spend such a large amount of energy attacking his former company as soon as he leaves. Evidently his "say nice things about [competitors]" rule doesn't apply to Microsoft, perhaps because we aren't a competitor?


Posted by Mike at 11:38 AM

July 26, 2006

Moderating comments

Comment spam is overrunning my blog, so I've turned on moderation. If the current bout dies off, I'll turn moderation back off.

Posted by Mike at 08:03 PM


Now on Xbox live arcade.

Oh yeah...

Posted by Mike at 07:52 PM

July 24, 2006

Another take on the Apple ads




Posted by Mike at 09:16 PM | Comments (1)

July 19, 2006

I do miss the Aquarium

I got our membership renewal reminder today from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

I had a little pang of regret that we can't go there anymore. Nathan loved it whenever we went. We've been to the aquarium in Seattle, which, while a fine aquarium, just can't compare to Monterey.

Posted by Mike at 08:09 PM

July 11, 2006

port shutdown and Flash

At work, if you don’t keep your computers up-to-date with the latest security updates, the IT department remotely shuts off your port. Since the machines all get automatically updated anyway, this doesn’t generally happen unless something goes terribly wrong. Such as has evidently happened to me.

I called the helpdesk to figure out why I had no network, and he explained that one of my PCs was missing some security update, and gave me the intranet site to go find the patch. Then he turns my port back on so I can actually get the patch, and I go to the web site.

No mention of that patch.

OK, so I go looking for it on the web. It turns out that the update, APSB06-03, is an Adobe Flash update. The web page for the security bulletin says, under the heading ‘Solution’, “Adobe recommends all Flash Player and earlier users upgrade to the new version”

But when I follow the download link, I’m taken to a page that lists the latest version as 9.something. But that page also informs me that my Flash version is So I click ‘download’ (after turning off the annoying ‘also download the Yahoo toolbar’ option), agree to install some new ActiveX control, and get to the page telling me “Congratulations, you have version now.”


After trying a few more times, I thought I’d try just uninstalling Flash completely. Only it’s not listed in Add & Remove programs.

So, before I left, I unplugged my PC from the network so that at least the IT scanners won’t shut down my port again. Hopefully tomorrow I can actually fix this.

(Edit 7/12 9 AM) This morning, I tried rebooting my PC. After reboot, I magically had version of Flash installed. So at least it’s fixed, but it would have been nice if the Flash installer had told me that I was going to have to reboot.

Posted by Mike at 08:01 PM

Long wait at Panera

Nathan, Meredith and I ate lunch at the Panera Bread in Redmond this weekend, and the food was really good. Then yesterday, I was in the area around lunch time, so dropped in there to eat rather than face the cafeteria.

The food was still really good, but from the time I paid to the time they had my food ready was 20 minutes. If this is normal during the week, I’m pretty sure I won’t be going there very often.

Posted by Mike at 06:56 AM

July 04, 2006


Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

I finally finished all the main story line quests in Oblivion a couple of days ago. While the game is open ended, and I could presumably play forever, the main quests are all complete. This was one of the best games I’ve ever played on Xbox. The graphics are gorgeous. I think I spent over 100 hours playing this. (Meredith is thrilled that I’m essentially done.)

Posted by Mike at 10:17 AM | Comments (1)

June 20, 2006

China space program is using scrum?




Posted by Mike at 10:52 AM

June 04, 2006

Doesn't get much less British than this

Heard on a local radio station today:

“All this weekend, we’re celebrating the Bristish invasion. Next up: Simon & Garfunkel.”

Posted by Mike at 08:57 PM

June 01, 2006

Galaga no more

In the building where I work, on my floor, there was an old Galaga arcade machine set up. Most days, I would take a five-minute break (well, sometimes much less than five minutes if I sucked) and play a game.

No more — sometime in the last week, the machine died. It's very sad.

Posted by Mike at 08:49 PM

May 31, 2006

Sparrow season

When we returned home Monday night from our weekend visiting Uncle Steve and Aunt Sue in Salem, we soon found a dead sparrow deposited onto our living room floor. It wasn’t there when we first got home, so one of the cats clearly brought it in after finding us home.

Yesterday, Meredith came back from running errands to find another dead bird in the kitchen.

This morning, I went downstairs with Nathan and heard a bird. I heard it very clearly, because it was fluttering along the floor by our stairs, with Pippin stalking it. I got Pippin and Nathan back upstairs, then managed to get the bird outside, where it flew away in spite of having a wing that looked, well, somewhat modified from its original form.

Then, while Nathan sat in my lap this morning watching Sesame Street, Jake came inside and hopped over the gate, clutching bird #4 in his mouth. To my surprise, that one also turned out to be alive, although certainly the worse for wear.

They’ve never done anything like this before. Must be hunting season for sparrows right now. Today, they will be indoor cats until Meredith can buy a new set of collars with bells for them to warn the birds off.

Edited 6/2 to change 'swallow' to 'sparrow'

Posted by Mike at 08:14 AM

April 27, 2006

Andy Warhol's bugs

Raymond writes about getting stuck with a bug because he had once re-assigned the bug to another developer (the tar-baby approach to bug assignment). He suggests that perhaps the solution is an alter ego that he can use for such cases, but then asks, “What should I do if somebody asks the alter ego to investigate the bug?”

Back at Apple, when I used to help run the bug reviews for QuickTime, we used a fake account for just that reason. The name on the fake account? Andy Warhol, so named because QuickTime 1.0 was codenamed Warhol.

All this meant was that every few months, one of us would get an angry phone call or email from soneone at Apple demanding to be put in touch with Andy, who they couldn’t find anywhere in the Apple address book.

Posted by Mike at 09:31 PM

April 26, 2006

"Help" Desk

I started an online chat with the IT helpdesk at work this morning to report my problem.

Me: “My email server is down. I can’t connect to it from any of my machines, but the IT status page says it’s fine.”

Helpdesk: “It’s a known issue. We’ll send you an email to let you know when the problem is resolved.”

Right on.

Posted by Mike at 09:33 PM

April 17, 2006

Verbing weirds language

Raymond comments on new signs in the Microsoft cafeteria that read “Merchandise your food with pride.” (I haven’t actually seen these signs; perhaps they aren’t in the cafeterias that I frequent, or perhaps I haven’t been paying enough attention. But they totally fit.)

The trend of turning nouns into verbs still seems very strange to me. Of course, the reverse also happens – it’s pretty common at Microsoft to hear someone refer to “the asks”, as in, “What are our asks here?” I guess you save valuable time eliminating that extra syllable that the word “request” has.

One phrase I’m happy to have not heard in years is “Let’s double-click on that.” In fact, I haven’t heard that since Apple. I have no idea if anyone there still says it or not. The first time I heard it in a meeting (from the QuickTime evangelist at the time), I had no idea at all what he was talking about. I eventually figured out it meant, “Let’s get into the details of this”, and was promptly so disgusted by just how nerdy that phrase was that I wanted to throw up. One day while in a particularly bad mood, my boss said that in a meeting, and I just went off on him – which then prompted all of the other managers in the room to start listing the other annoying phrases our boss used that they never wanted to hear again. He was gracious enough to take it with good humor. And I never heard him say that again ;)

Posted by Mike at 10:12 PM | Comments (3)

April 13, 2006

Those are some complicated keys

Yesterday Meredith called me in the middle of the day to say that the car dealer had called to say they needed all copies of the keys to her car, including the one I had on me, because they needed to reprogram them to work with the new instrument panel.

“Couldn’t I just take it in when we go to pick up the car?”

Evidently not, as the mechanic had explained to Meredith that it took an hour and a half to reprogram the keys.

Umm … OK.

I can reinstall an OS and quite a few applications on a PC in less time than that.

Posted by Mike at 08:45 PM

April 05, 2006

Music to snipe by

I finally got my Xbox 360 recently, and this weekend, managed to connect it to my PC with all of our music on it. One of the new features the 360 has is the ability to replace the in-game music with your own music, streamed from the PC.

So last night, I played Perfect Dark Zero, running around sniping people in the head with a silenced rifle, while listening to Norah Jones.

It sure weirded Meredith out.

Posted by Mike at 08:40 AM

March 24, 2006

Verizon Wireless: how not to change your address

I called Verizon Wireless today to try to understand why they were still sending mail to our California address, even after I had changed the address through their web site weeks ago.

"Oh, when you want to change your address, you need to call us. The online thing is completely separate, and all you're changing there when you enter your address is the address the online department might use to mail you things."

Of course, it's online, so the whole point is to not mail me things, so ... uh ...


Posted by Mike at 09:28 PM

January 30, 2006

Important safety tip

From the TSA's page on traveling with children:

"Babies should NEVER be left in an infant carrier while it goes through the X-ray machine."

Thanks, Egon.

Posted by Mike at 03:40 PM | Comments (1)

January 29, 2006

Find the green marks


Meredith and I have been looking at Seattle-area homes on Redfin, a realty site that uses Google’s mapping service to show the properties.

Once you sign up for an account, you can create a list of your favorite houses. Normally, it shows the houses from a search in red, but for the ones you’ve already looked at, it uses green.

On a satellite map. Of Seattle.

What an outstanding choice of colors.

Posted by Mike at 10:45 PM

January 28, 2006

"Girl" as a bad word

Meredith and I took Nathan to the aquarium today. Nathan loves it, and it’s probably our last visit there before we love, so our last chance to use our membership.

Towards the end of our day, we went into the acrylic tunnel they have set up with waves going overhead. It’s neat to see (click on this link to the Monterey Bay Aquarium site, then cycle through the pictures and you’ll see it), but it’s very loud and startling when a ton of water suddenly erupts into view and washes overhead, and the last time we were there, Nathan nearly jumped out of his skin and then tried to crawl into mine when it hit. We thought we’d try it again this time because he loves playing with and being around water so much, and he did much better, but clearly this is not an experience for everyone – startled or scared kids are not an incredibly rare sight.

And, sure enough, today there was what looked to be a somewhat distraught four-year-old boy being hustled out of the tunnel by his mother, who was angrily telling him, “OK, come on, little girly girl. Just be a girl about it.”

(a) One hopes this woman has no daughters.

(b) It somehow seems worse that he was getting this from a woman.

Pretty sad.

Why is it that women are sometimes the one pushing the bad stereotypes of women?

Posted by Mike at 09:30 PM

January 22, 2006

Best Show on Television

I’m so happy that new episodes of Battlestar Galactica have started airing again. This has to be the best show on television, by far.

Posted by Mike at 09:12 PM

Ben & Jerry's Body & Soul: yecch

Meredith picked up a pint each of Ben & Jerry’s new Body & Soul Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Body & Soul Chocolate Fudge Brownie. In a word: yecch. The premise is that it’s 25% less fat, sugar and calories than the original flavors but without using artificial sweeteners. Part of this is clearly because the ice cream is just lighter (more air whipped into the mix) than normal B&J ice cream. But that’s clearly not all: it just tastes bad. Not only is the taste off, but it leaves a nasty after-taste.

Frankly, grocery-store brand ice cream tastes better than this, and is certainly far cheaper.

Posted by Mike at 08:44 PM | Comments (4)

January 03, 2006

When toys are too realistic

Waiting tonight in SJC for my (late) flight, I wandered into the gift shop and found 'plush' toy airplanes that you could squeeze for 'realistic airplane noises'.

I left after a while, because as far as I could tell, the intent of the toy was to replicate all the noises, in real time, from push-back until take-off (or later).

The noise of an airplane taxiing is not actually very interesting.

Posted by Mike at 08:22 PM | Comments (1)

January 01, 2006

BlogJet problems

BlogJet has a new version out (1.6.1 build 55). Unfortunately, it still doesn’t fix the bug I had reported several months ago with the last version, which makes it essentially unusable for posting images. It has a feature that lets you upload pictures just by adding them to your entry, then it gets uploaded when you publish. The bug is that it mangles the URL at post time when posting to Movable Type. I have it configured to post in <>. It uploads the file correctly, but then drops the trailing slash from the URL, so I end up with something like <>.

The spell checker also still has the bug where it can’t deal with apostrophes. For example, if it seems the word “Nathan’s”, it suggests “Nathan+'s”. You can click ‘Add’ on “Nathan’s”, but it won’t help – the next time it sees “Nathan’s”, it will once again say that it’s not recognized and suggest “Nathan+'s”.

I’m pretty disappointed in this update and the bugs it still has. I think it’s time to find a new blog editing program.

Posted by Mike at 02:50 PM

December 31, 2005

More RAM, or a new PC

My desktop PC at home is getting old and annoyingly slow. I had originally thought to just try upgrading the RAM, since it has only 512 MB and seems to spend a lot of its time paging, but it turns out that my PC uses Rambus RAM. As far as I can tell, this means that upgrading it to 2 GB would cost somewhere around $900.

For not much more than that, I can just buy a brand new PC with 2 GB of RAM.

Posted by Mike at 12:09 AM

December 30, 2005

Technically, this is correct

Meredith picked up a Sunbeam humidifier at Walgreens tonight to help Nathan breathe better through his cold. On the box, it advertises “Fits under most bathroom sinks for easy filling.”

Then, inside, the instructions note: “Fill tank with clean, cool, distilled or filtered tap water. … [unfiltered] tap water may cause a ‘white dust’ to appear on your furniture, etc.”

It turns out that our bathroom sink doesn’t have a built in filter.

Posted by Mike at 11:40 PM | Comments (1)

December 28, 2005

Photoshop Elements 3.0 and Shutterfly

I started playing around with Photoshop Elements recently. I’ve seen a bunch of things on the web about how you can upload directly to Shutterfly from that, but it looks like they’ve dropped that for some Kodak service.

Does anyone know if it’s still possible?

Posted by Mike at 09:38 PM | Comments (1)

December 25, 2005

The weird orb(s) on the hill

This is on top of the hill behind my in-laws’ house. Rick says he thinks it used to be part of a radar installation. We drove up to the top of the hill, but the road ends in a giant fence before you get to the orbs.

Posted by Mike at 09:46 PM | Comments (1)

December 11, 2005

Blog spam hell

I am rapidly losing my ability to keep up with the overwhelming amount of blog spam I get here. This is absurd. I should try Movable Type 3.0 to see if it can deal any better. Failing that, maybe I’ll just give up on MT completely and try to find something new. But there’s only so much of my day that I care to spend deleting this crap.

Posted by Mike at 05:16 PM

December 05, 2005

Go Vols

OK, so the Tennessee football team hasn’t exactly had a stellar year. In fact, it sucked.

But at least about the time football season winds down (or at least winds down if you sucked so much that you don’t even get to go to one of the 163 bowl games), basketball season starts up. And when you’re the Lady Vols basketball team, a terrible season is defined as one where you only make it to the Sweet 16, and not the Final 4.

This past week, they played Texas, a team they had lost to the last few years in a row, and wiped them out, winning 102–61. Then on Sunday, they played Stanford, and beat them 74–67. I like to remind Meredith, who got her masters at Stanford, that UT hasn’t lost to them since 1996. Meredith long since stopped making bets with me about the outcome of that game.

The only sad thing is that I didn’t get to go to the Stanford game, since we were driving back from LA during the game.

Tennessee is now 7–0, including four victories against ranked opponents.

Posted by Mike at 10:41 PM

November 27, 2005

Update on phone

Verizon insisted that I do a hard reset of my phone to see if that fixed the problem. It turns out, too, that it wasn’t just the three arrow keys that were dead, but also *, 0, and #. It further turns out that doing a hard reset without those keys is challenging, but not impossible.

To my utter shock (OK, not at all), the keys still failed after the hard reset. So they are mailing me a replacement phone, to arrive in a few days.

The good news is that Verizon’s customer service has always been great for me. The bad part is that I am having to use it so often – this will be the third phone (same model) I’ve had since I switched to Verizon 18 months ago. But still – when I was a Sprint customer, I had to use their customer service rather frequently, and it was beyond wretched.

Posted by Mike at 09:23 PM

November 26, 2005

My fubar phone

My Verizon Samsung I600 phone just decided to stop responding to left, up, or right arrow presses. Down arrow still works.

This is going to make this phone fairly useless.

Posted by Mike at 10:37 PM

October 31, 2005

Sony's new DRM: a rootkit

A few years ago, Sony released a version of DRM that could be blocked by use of a magic marker.

It seems that they’ve now gone to the other extreme. New Sony CDs install hidden software onto your machine to protect their content. If you try to delete the code, it disables your CD drive. Mark Russinovich writes about his experience finding this and the pain of removing it from his PC.

The music industry really is just completely out of control.

Posted by Mike at 08:05 PM | Comments (4)

October 05, 2005

Serenity, and the Narnian Uruk-hai

Meredith and I saw Serenity last night (thanks to meriko coming over and babysitting). It was great! If you’ve seen Firefly, you definitely need to see this. If not, go watch Firefly, then go see Serenity.

Before the movie, we saw the trailer for the upcoming Disney version of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I had forgotten the part in that book where an army of Uruk-hai fought for the White Witch. I guess they took a wrong turn between Isengard and Helm’s Deep somehow. Maybe they stepped through Saruman’s wardrobe instead of marching out the front gate. Stupid Uruk-hai.

Posted by Mike at 08:59 PM

October 03, 2005

No plumber am I

Happiness is coming home, starting to do the dishes, realizing that the kitchen sink is clogged, so clogged that Drano won’t even dent it, then washing your son’s bottles in a bucket in the sink, a bucket that you then have to carry into the bathroom to empty out.

Wait, that’s not it. Happiness is something else.

Before we got married, I explained to Meredith that while I might be many things, I was not a plumber. An degree in Electrical Engineering had, if nothing else, taught me that water is bad (m’kay?), and while I would work on A/V pipes for years to come, water pipes were an entirely different beast.

Over the years, I’ve bent slightly, being willing to dry basic things to unclog drains (Drano, pulling everything under the sink apart, plunging), but anything that’s stuck behind where the pipes vanish into the walls is clearly beyond my ability.


Posted by Mike at 10:15 PM | Comments (1)

Now that's what I call an upgrade

Calling to make an appointment for Nathan to see the orthopedist:

"The hospital has recently upgraded its computer system, so you may experience longer than usual waits. We thank you for your patience."

Posted by Mike at 03:48 PM

August 14, 2005

Cat: 1, Keyboard: 0

Right after I wrote my last entry, about the control key being stuck, it suddenly stopped happening. Yay :)

And then last night, Pippin jumped up onto the counter where I had my laptop open. Only he didn’t quite land right, so he grabbed on with his claws to hold on and snapped the F6 key off.


Posted by Mike at 04:32 PM

August 11, 2005

Incredibly annoying keyboard problem

My laptop (Toshiba M200) keyboard has suddenly decided that I am usually pressing the ‘Ctrl’ key. It’s like the key is stuck. If I keep pressing it over and over and over again, it will finally clear – for a few minutes. Then I’ll be in the middle of tying and suddenly I’ll be reformatting text, opening new windows, closing them again…

This sucks.

Posted by Mike at 10:24 AM | Comments (2)

July 18, 2005

July 11, 2005

I give up

Dear Spamming pond-scum:

(My apologies for slandering pond-scum.)

You win. The number of spam trackbacks I’ve been receiving lately has boggled the mind. The rich variety of URLs, many of them off by just a few characters, has overloaded my ability to keep the spam blacklist up to date. And since I’ve only ever had a handful of legitimate trackbacks, I surrender. I’ve killed trackbacks for all the entries on mohea.


Posted by Mike at 09:21 PM

April 10, 2005

Fun with searches

It’s always fun to read the search queries people use to find mohea. Here are a few recent good ones:

  • is lube oil is good bussiness – no, is not.
  • pantyhose blog – truly, there are blogs for everything these days. Just not here.
  • oil sucks – actually, it’s really a good thing, in moderation.
  • jake s nude picture – you’ll be happy to know that every single picture of Jake on our web site is sans clothes. We find that cats usually don’t like clothes.
  • diaper save target as – can you save straight to the trash can?
  • black tea benefits penis – um, ok.
  • green tea penis enlargement – wait, I thought black tea was better. I’m so confused.
  • tree boring – shrubbery exciting.
  • what s the proper way of wearing a wedding band ring? – insert finger.
  • sucky wheat – yeah, wheat is so lame.
  • how to shut down ford engines after 5 min – turn the ignition off?
Posted by Mike at 09:29 PM

April 03, 2005

Final Four

I couldn’t believe that the Lady Vols lost tonight to Michigan State, especially after being ahead by 16 points. It certainly was quite a game.

Oh well :( It was quite a run, at any rate, and I’m glad that they at least made it to the semi-finals. Go Vols!

Posted by Mike at 10:36 PM

April 02, 2005

Best Sci-Fi series ever

Meredith and I just finished watching the season finale of Battlestar Galactica. Wow. The entire season was amazing. The writing has been great, the acting superb.

This is the best Sci-Fi series I’ve ever seen. It’s that good.

Posted by Mike at 10:02 PM

March 26, 2005

Nissan's 'You Really Got Me' was better

So Chevy has a new commercial out featuring “You Really Got Me”. First of all, it’s not actually the Van Halen version (the song was originally written by the Kinks), even though it’s evidently trying very hard to sound like it. The cover isn’t that good, and the commercial is boring. And, in a twist that I doubt Chevy’s advertising department had in mind, every time I see the commercial, I think of Nissan.

Anyone remember the Nissan commercial sometime in the mid-90s that featured the real Van Halen version of You Really Got Me? It featured GI Joe hopping into a Nissan and driving off with Barbie ditching Ken. (They weren’t really those dolls, but they were clearly going for the similarity – so much so that Mattel later sued Nissan over the similarity to Barbie & Ken in the commercial.) That commercial was brilliant. I laughed every time I saw that ad.

So, Chevy: thanks for reminding me of Nissan.

Posted by Mike at 07:39 PM | Comments (1)

March 10, 2005

Sorry, you have lost a connection to something you never cared about anyway

For the last several days, AOL’s AIM client has decided that it needs to tell me that I’ve failed to connect to its Alerts Server.

I can sign on, and 10–20 minutes later, I suddenly get a dialog box popping up to tell me:

“Sorry, you have lost or were not able to obtain a connection to the Alerts Server, and AIM was not able to reconnect after several attempts. You will not receive Mail and AOL Alerts. All other AIM services will continue to function properly.”

That’s fascinating. It’s just that, you know, I don’t care. I don’t use AOL Alerts, I don’t have AOL Mail, and I don’t understand why I’m now doomed to get this message popping up all the time.

This never used to happen to me, and now it happens all the time. Arrgggh.

Posted by Mike at 07:19 PM | Comments (2)

March 03, 2005

Best cat toy ever

Laser pointer + Pippin == hours of fun

The funniest part is that at some point, I turned it off while it was pointing into a corner of the living room that Pippin had chased it into. About 15 minutes later, I realized that Pippin hadn’t moved – he was still facing into the corner, looking around, trying to find it.

Posted by Mike at 09:36 PM | Comments (1)

February 20, 2005

My gay church?

I’m on the webmaster email alias for our church. The other day, someone sent an email to that address that was addressed “To: Homosexual Churches.’

Who knew that churches could be gay? (And is it a choice, or were gay churches born that way? Such questions…)

The writer of this email included two Bible verses, presumably to remind us of our sinful ways. Helpfully, the author highlighted the (presumably) relevant portions. Interestingly, though, these portions of the included scripture passages were not highlighted:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1)


For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” (Titus 2:11)

Perhaps the author of this email should try thinking about what the scripture means, instead of trying to find a few words in it here and there to bash those that s/he disagrees with.

Posted by Mike at 06:52 PM | Comments (2)

February 18, 2005

So sick of comment / trackback spam

I am just about to ban any comment / trackback where the word 'poker' appears anywhere in the entry.

Someone really needs to come up with the spam-sender seeking missile.

Posted by Mike at 01:10 PM | Comments (2)

January 15, 2005

KOTOR II, babies, and bugs

Lately I’ve been playing a lot of the new Knights of the Old Republic II (KOTOR 2) game. It’s turn-based combat system is perfect for playing with a sleeping baby, since if the baby wails, you just set the controller down, instead of dying instantly in twitch games like Halo 2. (Russell says that Tad made essentially the same comment about playing EA’s “Battle For Middle-earth” game and holding a sleeping six-month-old.)

Anyway. I’ve been having lots of fun with it, as I did with the first KOTOR. I’ve been playing through as total dark side. I’m nearing the end, and my Force powers are now sufficient to wipe out a room full of soldiers in about two turns. Go Force Lightning.

Today, though, I ran into an incredibly annoying bug. There’s a part of the game where you go back to Dantooine into the ruins of the old Jedi academy. And everytime I walked in, it would start to show a cut-scene … then hang. Try again: hang. Hang, crash, freeze, whatever to call it – it sucked. (Not completely hung, though, since the music kept playing.) The only workaround I found was to change the party so that Kreia was in my party before walking in. With that, it worked fine. I couldn’t find anything on the web about anyone else running into this, so it’s probably just some bug that got triggered because of my state. But I was starting to worry that I wasn’t going to be able to get past that point in the game.

Back to slaying Sith Lords.

Posted by Mike at 06:01 PM

January 05, 2005

Changing headlights on a Passat

The passenger side low-beam headlight on Meredith's 2002 Passat died recently, so I went out and bought a replacement bulb, popped the hood of her car, and, after staring dumbly at the inside for a minute, decided that there was almost no chance I could do this without the manual. Which we had lost.

Fortunately, I found a link to this 15-page PDF that someone created, complete with pictures, on how to do it: Replacing headlight bulbs for the VW Passat.

Posted by Mike at 11:48 AM | Comments (78)

January 01, 2005

Less spam in December

December email spam: 3170 (down from November), blog spam (that was caught): 2370 (less than half of November!). Weird.

Posted by Mike at 09:36 PM

December 31, 2004

In The Night Kitchen: not a cookbook

Al came to visit today and meet Nathan. He told us his story of trying to buy Maurice Sendak's "In The Night Kitchen" at a local Barnes & Noble.

Al: "I'm trying to find In The Night Kitchen by Sendak."

B&N clerk in the children's book department: "Who?"

"Maurice Sendak"

"Who? ... In The Night Kitchen? That's probably downstairs in cookbooks."

"No, it's not a cookbook."

(looks book up on the computer) "Well, it says we have one, but I don't know where. Maybe it's in the children's cookbooks section."


Posted by Mike at 04:44 PM

December 27, 2004

Trillian is disappointing

I paid for Trillian 2 Pro a couple of years ago. Trillian 3 was just released, and I downloaded it hoping it would fix some of the problems I was having.

It's pretty disappointing. My two big complaints:

  • It still doesn't support the Tablet Input Panel (TIP) for the Tablet PC. TIP is the feature on a Tablet PC that lets you open a pop-up input panel for handwriting when using a Tablet in slate mode. I was always disappointed that Cerulean never released an update for Trillian to support this, but releasing Trillian 3 without TIP support is just inexplicable.
  • Still no support for MSN Alerts. MSN Alerts lets you sign up for various notifications that are sent to an MSN Messenger account. I get stock price updates and Xbox Live notifications this way. For the last year, I haven't been able to use Trillian for my MSN Messenger account because of this. Still not fixed with Trillian 3.

My other problem with Trillian 2 is that file transfers on AIM are completely unreliable. They work occasionally. They often do not. I didn't try with Trillian 3, but I've read reports that file transfers aren't any more reliable -- or, in fact, are even less so.

Honestly, I can't really figure out what's better with Trillian 3. The UI is certainly different. I suppose it's better in some ways, although the new preferences panel gave me a headache trying to figure out how to navigate it.

So, at this point, I think that I'll just give up on Trillian and use Messenger and AIM separately. I don't really care for AIM (the UI is lame, and the ads are annoying), but at least it supports TIP and file transfers work.

Posted by Mike at 12:35 AM

December 15, 2004

The latest in horrible TV ideas

Fox is airing a show where a woman given up for adoption as an infant tries to guess the identity of her birthfather for $100k. 

What a horrible and exploitive idea for a television show.

Posted by Mike at 04:44 PM

December 05, 2004

Sony Vaio Type U

So Sony has a new tiny Vaio out -- the Type U has a mere 5" screen, is only 1.2 pounds, and basically looks like a cross between a PDA and a laptop. No built-in keyboard, but it has a touchscreen. It runs Windows XP Home or Pro.

Not Windows Tablet PC Edition.

What was Sony thinking? This device looks perfect to run the Tablet software. This would seem to rank right up there with Sony's decision to release a music player that played only their weird Atrax format, and not even MP3.

Posted by Mike at 07:14 PM | Comments (1)


I keep seeing ads on TV for the current Survivor series (Vanuatu). I should note that I've never watched Survivor -- except for 20 minutes of one episode in the original or second series of Survivor. In those 20 minutes, I decided that if I were on an island with people that annoying and stupid, I would slay them all. This told me that I would not want to keep watching.

But anyway -- Survivor is always in these warm places. Islands near the equator, the Australian outback. etc. I think Survivor would be a lot more interesting someplace that is freezing. "Your first job is to start a fire. Unfortunately, all the trees are frozen solid. Have fun." At least that would be more of a challenge.

But it'll never happen. Why? Because then you couldn't have all the men running around with no shirts on and the women running around in bikinis.

Posted by Mike at 05:04 PM

December 04, 2004

Ticket machines inside the security zone

Here's something I don't understand: why, after 9/11, airports still have those machines that let you print your own boarding pass located past security. It made sense before, because you didn't need a boarding pass to get through security. But now, in theory, you can't have gotten that far without one.

So why are they still there?

(Also: we are in Salt Lake City now.)

Posted by Mike at 05:52 PM | Comments (4)

December 02, 2004


November email spam: 3543, blog spam: 5375.

Still going up...

Posted by Mike at 07:17 PM

November 28, 2004

Happiness is a Wraith tank

I love playing defense with the Wraith tank on Waterworks in Halo 2. I've gotten better at aiming the gun, and am getting better and better at using the speed boost to run over enemies -- on foot, in Ghosts, in Warthogs, whatever. I went 14-1 on one game -- and the one death I had was when someone jumped on top of my tank, popped the hatch, and punched me out of the tank.

This is the genius of Halo 2.

Posted by Mike at 01:37 PM | Comments (2)

November 27, 2004

Paintball as video game??

So this I don't get -- there's now a Paintball video game that you can buy for the Xbox.

Paintball is a game that people play to simulate real combat with "bullets" that don't actually inflict real harm.

Video games are a way of simulating real combat...

So a video game that lets you play paintball is ... baffling.

Posted by Mike at 04:35 PM

November 04, 2004


Spam emails I received in September: 2552

In October: 3126

Spam blog comments blocked by MT-Blacklist in September: 1886.

In October: 4599.


Posted by Mike at 10:13 PM

September 19, 2004

Can't DirecTV spring for some decent contribution feeds?

Meredith is watching a show on UPN 44 right now. I'm used to seeing pretty bad MPEG artifacts on DirecTV, since they seem to be trying to squeeze the bandwidth lower and lower over time, but this channel has horrible analog noise. The ghosting is really bad. It seems like DirecTV could figure out how to get a high quality feed of UPN before they compress it. Bleh.

Posted by Mike at 07:06 PM | Comments (1)

September 18, 2004

Vols Win!

Wow -- what an amazing game. After James Wilhoit (right) missed the extra point after a touchdown, Tennessee got the ball back after a Florida punt, drove to the 32-yard-line, and Wilhoit got to redeem himself by kicking a 50-yard field goal.


Posted by Mike at 08:57 PM | Comments (2)

September 13, 2004

The cure for all your troubles

Today I got spam that promised this:

Kills ALL known deadly Viruses & Bacteria in the body that keep diseases, namely: Influenza, SARS, Cancer, HIV etc.

A disease must be made DORMANT to stop infection.
'The ANTIDOTE' is the answer.

I'm thinking it must be Iocaine powder. That would certainly make any other diseases you have dormant. Or so I hear.

Posted by Mike at 05:15 PM

September 10, 2004

Another IPTV partner

Today, Microsoft announced another partner for our IPTV services: Telecom Italia.

The list now includes Bell Canada, Reliance (in India), SBC, and Swisscom.

Posted by Mike at 09:23 PM

September 06, 2004


Meredith and I saw 'Hero' today at the movies. Wow -- it's a beautiful movie. The cinematography is outstanding. The story is great. The sword fight scenes are stunning. It was totally worth seeing.

Posted by Mike at 07:07 PM | Comments (2)

September 03, 2004

Who made that neat Finding Nemo movie, anyway?


Executives at Apple continue to downplay the importance of both music subscriptions and portable video. "The video market isn't really something that customers have shown an affinity to," said Greg Joswiak, vice president of hardware marketing at the Cupertino, Calif., company.

... In an interview this week with BusinessWeek magazine, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates rejected the notion promoted by Apple CEO Steve Jobs that portable video isn't important.

"Ask kids in the back of a car on a two-hour trip, 'Hey, would you like to have your videos there?' My kids would," Gates said. "I guess Steve's kids just listen to Bach and Mozart. But mine, they want to watch 'Finding Nemo.' I don't know who made that, but it's really a neat movie."


Posted by Mike at 11:17 PM

September 01, 2004

Spam statistics

In the last two weeks, my spam filter has caught 1062 spam emails.

In that same two weeks, MT-Blacklist has blocked 916 attempted spam comments in my blog or Meredith's blog.

This number has been steadily increasing. For example, there were a mere 108 spam comments caught by MT-Blacklist in all of July.

That CAN-SPAM act sure has helped. Not.

Posted by Mike at 11:07 PM

August 26, 2004

Misunderstanding computer security

PCMagazine is running an article claiming that "Windows XP SP2 Has a Dangerous Hole." The premise is that XPSP2 has a new feature, "Windows Security Center", which displays the status of your firewall, automatic updates, and antivirus program. The "security hole" that PCMagazine is reporting is that it's possible for code running as an Administrator on your box to spoof these settings, and thus present a false picture to the user about what's actually going on.

Here's the thing, though: code running on your system as Administrator can do ANYTHING. Once you let code run on your box, it's game over: the attacker owns your computer. Yes, it can tell you that your firewall is still up, when in fact it's turned it off. Or, since it's running as Administrator, it can just bypass the firewall altogether. It can send spam from your PC, turn on your webcam, reformat your hard drive, or whatever. It's not a hole that code running as Administrator can do bad things -- it's how computers work.

What XPSP2 does do for you is make it much harder for you to be tricked into running malware (worms, trojan horses, viruses, whatever) by mistake. But still, if someone emails you a malware executable in a ZIP file and you unzip it and run it, your machine is no longer yours. No operating system on the planet can stop that.

Another thing you can do is not run as Administrator. Unfortunately, this isn't necessarily as easy in Windows as it should be, but it's definitely possible. For about two months now, I've been running as a LUA (Limited User Account) on my laptop. Even if I am tricked into running a program that I shouldn't, that program can only mess up my user account on this PC -- it can't take over the operating system, because my account doesn't have Administrator privileges. For more information on how to run as LUA on Windows, check out Aaron Margosis' excellent blog.

Posted by Mike at 09:55 PM

August 01, 2004

Trying to get a Verizon cell phone

A week and a half ago, I ordered a new cell phone from Verizon to replace my dying Sprint phone. It took a week, and a phone call from me asking if they had forgotten about me, but then I got it last Thursday. The email confirmations told me that it was already activated with my cell phone number ported from Sprint.


After a half-hour conversation with Verizon on Thursday, they said they'd put in a trouble ticket, and the phone should be working soon.

After a one hour conversation with Verizon on Friday, they discovered that I didn't have an account set up, which is why my phone number couldn't be ported. But all would be fixed, and it would be working soon.

After 105 minutes on the phone with them on Saturday, they reset the phone and the account, and finally got it to the point where I could make phone calls -- but not receive them. If you call my cell number, it still goes to the Sprint phone. Oh, and when they reset my phone, they couldn't find the service plan I had originally ordered -- so I need to call back on Monday and fix that. But they put in a new order to fix my phone and said I should be able to receive calls within another 24-48 hours.  

Any guesses as to how long I'll be on the phone with them tomorrow?

In fairness, everyone I've talked to at Verizon has been very nice and very friendly. But I still can't receive calls.

Posted by Mike at 10:51 PM

July 24, 2004


The IE team started a blog on MSDN. It touched off a firestorm of comments from trolls that make slashdotters look tame. I'd say that the Microsoft-hater camp sounds like a bunch of 14 year olds, but that's insulting to teenagers.

Posted by Mike at 02:12 PM | Comments (6)

June 19, 2004

Video geek

There's a car at work with a license plate of 'MPG DBLR'. For months, every time I've walked by that car, I've tried to figure what 'MPEG doubler' would mean and why someone would put it on their car.

Then this week, it suddenly hit me. The car is a hybrid electric vehicle. MPG didn't mean MPEG, it means Miles Per Gallon.

I am so lame.

Posted by Mike at 10:10 AM | Comments (1)

May 28, 2004

Trying Thunderbird

I love Microsoft Office Outlook. It is an outstanding piece of software. The UI is easy to use, the integration of email, contacts, and calendar is great -- it just works.

Well, mostly. It just works great with Exchange email accounts (and probably with POP accounts), but the IMAP support is, well, less than great. It basically works, but then has weird connectivity problems sometimes. It also, like most IMAP clients I've ever used in my life, has fairly miserable offline support (you can read and write email, but can't move from one folder to another).

Recently, after reading a post from another MS employee about IMAP, I tried Mozilla Thunderbird. The fact that almost all of the shortcut keys are different than Outlook was annoying, but I could probably live with that. The things that really drove me nuts were:

  • You can configure it for offline work, but then it doesn't actually seem to download any of the email. Instead, you can right-click on each folder you want to download, choose 'properties', choose 'offline settings', and then click 'download mail'. Umm ...
  • The email server I use has a self-signed SSL certificate. Outlook whines everytime I open it about how it's not signed by a recognized authority and asks if I want to keep using it. Thunderbird whines when I open it, then whines again periodically. I can send an email, it pops a dialog warning me that I might be using a bad cert, then I can send a few more emails without any dialogs, then I'll send another one and get the dialog popped up again. Umm ...

So ... back to Outlook for me.

Posted by Mike at 11:20 PM

May 24, 2004

Full RSS

I changed my RSS feed today to contain the full text of the entries, instead of just the excerpt and a link. I had meant to a long time ago, but since I don't, of course, subscribe to my own RSS feed, I had forgotten that I had never done it. Oops.

Posted by Mike at 10:32 PM

May 13, 2004

Writing code vs. managing

From an email tonight from one of my employees after I checked in a bunch of new code to fix some bugs:

"What the hell are you doing managing?  You should be writing code full time J"

I told him that conflict had pretty much been the story of my career for about the last five years...

Posted by Mike at 12:14 AM

May 11, 2004

The eerie quiet of a power outage

Today we lost power at work (PG&E is still trying to figure out why).

As you walk the halls during a power outage, the most striking thing is the quiet. Nothing is making noise. Even late at night, when no one else is around, there's noise from the computer fans, the buzzing of monitors and lights, hard drives. But with no power, there's absolutely nothing.

It's very weird.

Posted by Mike at 07:07 PM

May 07, 2004

Parking at SJC

Last night, by the time my flight from Seattle finally arrived, San Jose Airport had closed all but one of the exit gates from the Terminal C parking lot. Consequently, it was literally 17 minutes from the time I turned on my car to the time I was able to leave the parking lot.

For having some of the most expensive airport parking around ($30/day -- more than SFO, I believe), it seems like they could afford to pay more than one parking attendant.

Posted by Mike at 11:00 AM | Comments (1)

May 05, 2004

Another great Tablet / Office moment

Yesterday, I had to fax a signed form off to Fidelity for something. Normally, this involves printing the form, signing it, faxing it, and then remembering to keep a copy of that form somewhere for my records. Then, if I want the confirmation that the fax went through, I either wait around at the fax machine for it to finish, or go back downstairs later and find the confirmation page for my fax.

Yesterday, it involved printing the form to a file, opening it in Microsoft Office Document Imaging, signing my name on the Tablet with the Tablet's pen, going to the File menu, and choosing Send To Fax. And then it was still saved on my hard drive for my records. The confirmation was emailed back to me. All without getting out of my chair.

Yes, it's a small thing -- it probably saved a total of five to ten minutes out of my day. But it's the small things like this that can add up.

Posted by Mike at 08:54 AM | Comments (1)

April 30, 2004

SpamBayes: the anti-spam

I've been using SpamBayes for about six months or so now, and it has had a profound affect on my life. It has almost no false positives (and the false positives it does occasionally have are always things like receipts for things I actually ordered -- I've never seen it have a false positive on, say, a personal note), and it rarely misses spam. You can download an SpamBayes plug-in for Outlook (not Outlook Express) on Windows for free.

As I'm sure that all rational people would agree, spam won't truly cease to be a problem until we legalize setting packs of ravenous, rabid dogs on the people who send email filled with visions of hot teenage girls with instant University degrees and cheap Rolex watches getting it on with viagra-enhanced goats, as featured on free pirated cable TV. But until that glorious day, SpamBayes is the next best thing.

Posted by Mike at 11:49 PM

April 18, 2004

Baby Goslings

We were in Reno this weekend visiting friends and found this family by the river.

Posted by Mike at 04:45 PM

April 13, 2004

24 hours in Redmond

I'm on the flight back home from Redmond from meetings at Microsoft. This is my second trip in two weeks, and I'm probably coming back again in two more weeks.

The good part is that it's only a ~2 hour flight each way. But still -- it adds up pretty quickly. Right now I'm just tired.

Posted by Mike at 10:55 PM

April 10, 2004

Unplanned remodeling

Meredith and I ate breakfast at Hobee's in Mountain View yesterday. We eat there about once a week or so. This time, we noticed plastic sheeting covering the front windows, and the area around it was roped off.

We asked the waiter if they were remodeling. He explained that no, it was that an older driver was trying to park, made a "mistake", and wound up driving her car through the front of the store.

Good grief.

Posted by Mike at 08:57 PM

April 08, 2004

Printing sucks

When I joined Apple as a summer intern in 1990, working in the group responsible for printer testing, I was told numerous times of the print engineering team's motto of "save, then print." It was widely (and correctly) viewed that this was an honest assessment of the quality of the print code in Macintosh System 6, and even more so of the quality of the not-yet-released print code in System 7.

That was fourteen years ago. How times have changed.


Eric Raymond, a long-time open source and Linux advocate, recently wrote a rant on how unusable Linux GUI design was in some cases. His example? Trying to share a printer.

The time in the last two years that I was most infuriated by OS X's user experience? Also, coincidentally, trying to share a printer.

At work, we use HP printers. I frequently print long documents with 50% reduction, fitting two pages to a piece of paper to save on paper. The print setup dialog that the HP driver supplies has a tab where you can save frequently used settings. Except that for me, I instead get a helpful balloon help icon that, when clicked, explains that I don't have sufficient privileges to save settings on my computer. Never mind that I'm an administrator user on all of my PCs.

Earlier this week, a print job of mine failed because the printer reported that it was out of paper in Tray #6. I opened tray #6. It had at least three reams of paper in it. I decided that I didn't actually need to print anything anyway.

Earlier this year, Meredith and I wasted about two hours trying to print something at Kinkos's on 11x17 color paper. We never got that to work -- it refused to print on the entire page.

Today, my boss was trying to print a web page, and it kept cutting off the right quarter-inch or so. He kept trying to figure out how to make it print correctly, then said, "aha! I'll set it to print at 50% reduction, and that way it will fit." I told him I'd bet him a dollar that it printed the same cropped image, but at 50% size. Sure enough, I was right. He never did get it to print correctly.

It's amazing that anything ever gets printed from computers. How is it, in 2004, that printing is still such a disaster across multiple OS platforms and multiple printer manufacturers?

Posted by Mike at 10:08 PM

April 07, 2004

Excel: destroyer of batteries

I don't use Excel that often, but have been having to use it more and more lately. I keep learning that I don't actually know anything about it. After spending most of the last few days cursing at it, last night I found yet a new thing to hate. I shut my laptop, went home, watched my team lose, and then pulled my laptop out of the bag.

And noticed that the laptop was on fire, because it had never actually gone to sleep.

I opened it up to find a dialog box from Excel telling me that it couldn't let the system go into standby when it had a workbook open that was on a network file share.


I swear, the decision to allow apps on Windows to abort system standby was just not a good idea at all.

Posted by Mike at 10:13 PM | Comments (2)

So close...

I still love the Lady Vols. To close the gap to just two points after trailing by 17 was amazing. For a few minutes, it really looked like they would pull out another miracle. But 17 is a lot, and Connecticut was, in the end, just too good.

It was definitely a good game, but I'm sorry that UT lost.


Posted by Mike at 08:14 AM

April 04, 2004

Another great game

Wow. Now that was an amazing end to a game. The Tennessee Lady Vols just beat LSU 52-50, shooting the winning basket with just 1.6 seconds left on the clock after stealing the ball.

I love this team.

Posted by Mike at 07:19 PM

April 03, 2004

Interviewing @ Microsoft

For the last couple of months, I've been trying to fill an open position for a software engineer in my team to work on servers for our new IP-based TV system. One thing I've noticed is that there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of web sites about interviewing at Microsoft. Almost all of them are based around listing all the 'trick questions' that people at Microsoft ask and tips as to the correct answer. But we don't ask trick questions. I'm sure some groups do, or did, but we don't. If you actually want helpful information about interviewing at Microsoft, you should read the blog that Gretchen and Zoe, two of the technical recruiters at Microsoft, keep.

One thing I've noticed is that a lot of people are really reluctant to ever say, "I don't know" in response to a question. That's not actually the worst answer you can give -- a completely made-up answer is. For some questions where you don't know the answer, it probably makes sense to talk about how you would figure out the answer. What are the steps you would take? After all, almost all bugs start out like this ("why is this crashing?"). On the other hand, if it's a question about some obscure C++ feature you've never used (for me, that would be almost anything involving the word 'template'), just say you don't know. When I interviewed at Microsoft, I knew almost nothing about C++ -- almost everything in QuickTime at that point was written in C -- so I admitted up front that I couldn't answer C++-specific questions. I still got the job.

Another thing that seems to throw people is the simplicity of some of the programming questions. You can actually tell a lot from the answer to even a simple question. One person, when asked one of these simple questions, explained to the interviewer that the question was beneath him. While this was certainly an interesting interview strategy, it did not turn out to be a successful one.

My favorite phone screen moment: when I asked someone an algorithm question and, behind the noise of his hemming and hawing, I could hear the clacking of computer keys. A few moments later, he suddenly had the answer. Google is so great, isn't it? This, too, did not turn out to be a successful strategy.

Posted by Mike at 10:24 PM | Comments (1)

March 26, 2004

Knowledge can be a wonderful thing

One of the easier things to find on the web is someone extolling the virtues of the Macintosh and why it is more secure than Windows. Every list that I see of the 'top 5 reasons Mac is safe and Windows sucks' includes some variant of this item:

"No Macintosh e-mail program automatically runs scripts that come attached to incoming messages, as Microsoft Outlook does."

Hmm. Sounds very dire.

I would now like to state a reason why Windows is more stable than Macintosh:

The Macintosh doesn't have protected memory, so a small bug in a single program will cause the entire computer to crash, unlike Windows.

Wait -- what's that you say? That's out of date? You say that any version of the Mac OS in the last three years has had protected memory?

You mean, just like how every version of Outlook for the last three years has blocked all executable file types? Or, even more broadly, even older versions of Outlook that have had any security patches installed in the last three years?

This is a lot like the Slashdot morons that mention in every third post that Windows sucks because you get a Blue Screen Of Death about 47 times a day. This was arguably true with older versions of Windows, but since using Windows XP, I have seen that a total of less than ten times. In almost three years, using numerous different machines. And about eight of those times were all from one specific video capture driver. But, hey, it used to be true that Windows crashed all the time, and it's just so hard to update the tired old arguments.

Learn something, people. When one of your primary arguments is years out of date, it makes it impossible to take anything else you say seriously.

Posted by Mike at 10:56 PM | Comments (1)

March 24, 2004

Waiting for parts

I'm still waiting for the parts to come in to fix my laptop. What's frustrating is that the LCD screen and mask came in within three days of my reporting its rather unfortunate fall, but the latch (to latch the screen shut) is on back-order and isn't expected until sometime next week -- after my planned trip to Redmond.

So, today, I resurrected my old laptop. It's amazing how quickly you get used to something new. I basically can't believe how big this thing is, or how slow.


Posted by Mike at 10:30 PM

February 03, 2004

Helpful error messages

I spent a while today trying to make an appointment for something online. After filling out the 234 fields describing all aspects of this appointment, I finally got to pick a location, date, and time. Then I got this note:

Unable to service request. Some error occured!

Error: java.sql.SQLException: Io exception: Broken pipe occurred in TimeslotEntryNew pos 2 empty URL

Oh. That's just great. Very helpful.

Posted by Mike at 11:47 PM

January 31, 2004

Everything has bugs

My amplifier in our living room locked up this morning. I thought the remote was dead, until I tried hitting buttons on the front panel, and that didn't work, either. Had to pull the plug so it would restart.

Who'd have thought that we'd one day wish for reset buttons on home appliances?

Posted by Mike at 11:35 AM | Comments (1)

January 28, 2004

Virus hell

Like most people, I lost count of the number of virus-infected emails I got yesterday. (See this Microsoft page for more information on the virus.)

Adding insult to injury in all of this was the number of well-intentioned auto-replies I got from other mail gateways, saying that the email I had sent to one of their users was infected. Typical was this one:

A message containing a virus was sent from your e-mail address. It is very likely this machine (or any other you use for e-mail) is infected!

At one time, this was indeed how viruses were often transmitted. A user would inadvertently pick up the virus, and then might email the infected file to another user.

But those days are pretty much gone. Now, viruses forge the 'From' address all the time. I didn't send a single virus-infected email out yesterday, but lots of infected PCs sent out dozens or hundreds of emails claiming to be from various addresses. The odds of getting a virus with a legitimate 'From' address are virtually nil.

Until we have authenticated-sender in email, I think it's past time for the mail gateways to give up on the bounce messages to infected emails. I bet none of the bounce emails actually got to anyone really infected, but they probably scared a lot of people who weren't. And they certainly didn't help reduce the deluge of useless emails flying across the Internet yesterday.

Posted by Mike at 07:59 AM

January 25, 2004

Mac OS X adoption rates

You hear a lot from Apple these days about how great the OS X adoption rates have been. At Macworld Expo this month, Steve Jobs went as far as to announce that, "the transition [to OS X] is officially over."

And certainly this is true with the people I know. I can think of just one person offhand that I know is still running an older version of MacOS — and that's on an iMac that his (little) kids use.

So I'm always surprised, then, whenever I look at the web logs for — consistently, Mac OS 9 and earlier versions account for 30-50% more hits than Mac OS X. If anything, I would expect the numbers to be skewed even more heavily towards OS X on my site, since every Mac user I personally know that's accessing this site on a regular basis (a list that includes Meredith) is using OS X.

So — who knows. It's obviously silly to draw conclusions on OS adoption rates based on the statistics of one seldom-visited site, but it's a little curious nonetheless.

Posted by Mike at 09:08 PM | Comments (3)

January 10, 2004

Details matter

On the MSNBC home page, it shows the local weather. Right now, it displays:

Mountain View, CA
Updated 12:56 a.m. ET Jan. 11, 2004

That's nice. What would be even nicer, of course, is if they could figure out that Mountain View, CA is not in the Eastern time zone, and show me the time it was updated in my actual time zone.

Attention to detail really does make a difference.

Posted by Mike at 11:18 PM

January 05, 2004

Referrer spam

I'll give spammers this: they think of ways to spam people that haven't even occurred to me.

In case you don't know, web logs usually contain a link to the referring site -- i.e., if you clicked on a link on site A that takes you to site B, then the log for server B will show that that access came from site A. It's an interesting way to see how people are finding your web site.

Recently, though, I've been very puzzled by some of the referrers that have shown up in the web logs for I've started seeing more and more porn sites showing up in the logs. It seems reasonably safe to assume that none of these sites are really linking to our web site, so why the link? It was obviously spam, but what was the point? The server logs are private -- no one but Meredith or I ever see the logs.

But, of course, that's not always the case: a lot of web sites (and blogs) now include links to the most recent referrers to their site. So, by spamming the referrer logs, they get their porn sites to show up on other people's sites and blogs. To stop this, people are starting to develop referrer blacklists, similar to Jay Allen's MT-Blacklist that blacklists blog comment spam.

(You can read more about this phenomenon here.)

I really hate these people.

Posted by Mike at 10:27 PM

January 04, 2004

I need that problem

Bank of America kept airing an ad during tonight's Sugar Bowl broadcast for their 'private bank', with some guy talking about how great it was to help him with the complexity of managing all his weath: oil fields, paintings, real estate...

I know it's hard for me to keep track of all of my oil fields. I really sympathize. As do many people who watched the game tonight, I'm sure.

Posted by Mike at 09:16 PM

How to detect hype

Search for Bluetooth. The results:

86 items in Electronics
22 in Wireless Accessories
9 in Cell Phones


555 in Books

Posted by Mike at 09:02 PM

January 01, 2004

Why targeted advertising would be an improvement

Meredith and I just finished watching a episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The episode was all about a 14-year-old girl who had been raped and then later tossed down a flight of stairs by her rapist. Cheery stuff.

In every single commercial break, there was an ad for a phone sex hotline. Literally every break.

Who watches a show about a 14-year-old getting raped and thinks, "Damn, I'm horny. I need me some phone sex"?


Posted by Mike at 10:14 PM

November 22, 2003

Matrix Revolutions

Last week, Meredith and I went to see Matrix Revolutions. It's worth seeing on the big screen, because the effects are really good (although some of the scenes should have been 1/4 as long as they were). And it's better than Matrix Reloaded. Not that that's saying much -- that particular bar is so low you can trip over it. It benefits from leaving out the ten minute orgy/MTV dance party scene that Reloaded had.

But, really, Revolutions is a disappointment. The story is just weak. It's especially so compared to the original Matrix movie, which was so amazing.

Ah well...

I still like Agent Smith.

But, speaking of Hugo Weaving, here's something to look forward to: it's only 24 days until Lord of the Rings day.

Posted by Mike at 10:14 PM

November 20, 2003

FM radio data services

My car stereo has RDS capability. Basically what that means is that if a radio station broadcasts a data stream, the radio will display text. All I've ever seen this used for is broadcasting the call letters and genre. For example, 'Jazz' and 'KCSM'.

Recently, KSJO started using it for something much more interesting: they broadcast the artist name and song title as they are playing a song. Now that's useful.

Posted by Mike at 01:01 AM

November 16, 2003

Quick Links

I often find myself wanting to post a link to something I've found on the net that, while entertaining or interesting, doesn't really seem worth an entire post just for the link.

So, towards that end, on the right side of the main page for my blog is a new section: "Quick Links". It's actually set up as a separate blog that this blog copies from. I mostly followed the directions I found here. I didn't get all of it working -- in particular, the 'pingtorebuild.cgi' isn't working for me, so if I post a quick link, this page isn't automatically rebuilt. I tried for a while to fix it, and gave up when trying to install a new perl module was causing the server to become completely unresponsive. Sometime later...

Posted by Mike at 11:01 PM

November 15, 2003

Duplicate comments

Recently I've been getting a slew of duplicate comments on my blog. I suspect it's mostly because the web provider for has been unbelievably slow lately, which leads people to hit 'Post' over and over and over again until suddenly there are five identical comments.

Today I found instructions on how to modify Movable Type to block duplicate comments (defined as same name, same url, same comment text). The instructions even specified how to make it work with the MT-Blacklist plug-in that I'm using to block comment spam.

Posted by Mike at 09:36 AM

November 08, 2003

One connector to rule them all

I'm typing this entry on a laptop PC that has the following ports: Sound out, sound in, modem, Ethernet, TV, Monitor, Serial, Parallel, Docking station, USB, and AT mouse/keyboard.

Across the room is our TV/entertainment system. We have an amplifier. It connects to six speakers, S-video and S/PDIF from the Ultimate TV, S-video and S/PDIF from the Xbox, stereo audio from the CD player, composite video and stereo audio from the VCR, and S-video and composite video to the TV. This is in addition to the Ethernet running to the Xbox for Xbox Live.

In my backpack is an iPod. It uses a FireWire (aka IEEE 1394) interface for power and for data. In my pocket is a cell phone with a custom power / data connector, and a PocketPC with another. My wife has a different cell phone, with a different custom power / data connector.

I could go on.

The point is that there is an insane number of different connectors. Not only that, but there is an insane amount of wiring necessary to support all this. The area behind our entertainment console looks like a small animal could get trapped in there. And when we go on a trip, we end up taking enough different cables to fill a small bag.

Many modern PCs today have Gigabit Ethernet. Gigabit Ethernet can transfer data at 1000 Megabits per second. Uncompressed 6-channel 16-bit sound uses only 4.4 Mbit/sec. Uncompressed full-resolution SD video content is only 140 Mbit/sec, and modern video compression can reduce this dramatically (DVDs, for example, are usually at 4-6 Mbit/second -- and MPEG-2, which DVDs use, is hardly state-of-the-art anymore).

So why doesn't everything use Ethernet? Ethernet switches are so cheap now that you practically pay more for the box they come in than for the switches themselves. Ethernet cable is similarly cheap. It is the single most ubiquitous data connector around today. A mouse should use Ethernet. Same for a keyboard, digital camera, printer, stereo, TV, etc. No more having to have 75 different types of connecting cables, and instead of dozens of wires behind my TV, there would be just two per device: Ethernet and AC power.

Obviously, there are some problems with this scheme. My cell phone, for example, isn't even big enough to support an Ethernet port. Ethernet also can't carry power, which USB and FireWire can. That poses problems for the small devices like a mouse and keyboard, which need some power to run.

But it seems like the right idea. We are getting overrun with different connector types. Putting everything on an Ethernet network solves lots of problems. It is the right direction to move in.

Posted by Mike at 07:05 PM | Comments (7)

November 02, 2003

Spammers: die

Over a two day period, I spent a total of about six hours working on our church's server to make it do a better job filtering spam. This all started because one of the persons on that domain started getting literally over 300 spam email messages per day.

That's basically one every five minutes, although I swear that when I was monitoring the mail logs, it was even more often than that.

In the end, I wound up IP blocking a bunch of them, then using about three different spam filtering approaches on the mail that did get through. That's reduced the flow from 300/day to about 20/day -- which is still stupid, but at least not completely overwhelming.

Here's a quote from the web site of one of the companies that was flooding the server (until I banned their IP block): "Email marketing is why we get up in the morning. No joke. No hype. We love what we do. And so will you." Umm ...

I would like to find some of these spammers and bill them for six hours of my time. It's one thing when I spend six hours on the church web site, making it better, because then I am adding some value to the world. All I did with this six hours is take back some of the value in the world that the spammers stole.

Posted by Mike at 08:10 PM

October 21, 2003

AOL doesn't like handling AOL email?

This is one of the more surreal errors I've seen from a mail server lately:

SMTP error from remote mailer after RCPT TO:<>:

I wonder what domain it wanted??

It worked the next time...

Posted by Mike at 11:45 PM

October 19, 2003

Not quite the best Windows installer ever

This was the error message that greeted me when I tried to install the new iTunes for Windows: "1607: Unable to install IntallShield Scripting Runtime."

I tried following all the directions that InstallShield provides on their site for how to fix this error. None of it helped. (My favorite step: "Install the Windows Installer engine." The InstallShield installer needs to use the Microsoft installer engine to work?)

The step that finally did work? I created another administrator user on my XP box and launched the iTunes installer as that user. Then it worked fine.

This is, unfortunately, fairly typical of my experience trying to install products built with InstallShield. Why Apple picked that as an installer is beyond me.

Posted by Mike at 01:30 PM | Comments (6)