Friday, December 30, 2005

Blog Feed Experiment

I got a little free time today, so I started looking into some ideas that I've been developing.

Can you do me a favor? I'd like to see how this fieldset element comes across in the various RSS aggregators.

If you subscribe to my feed, could you email me a screenshot showing this post in your particular RSS reader? Thanks.
One involves some look-and-feel issues with this blog. But, I don't want to possibly screw up people who read the blog using RSS feeds.

So, this post is an experiment to see how various aggregators handle certain HTML elements (specifically: FIELDSET/LEGEND).

PSA: MediaPlay Going Out Of Business

I'm probably the last person to know this, but Media Play is closing all bricks-and-mortar stores across the country (online presence will remain) effective some time in January 2006.

A co-worker and I walked through the store in Ann Arbor yesterday, and there was still a few decent things on the floor at a 40-60% discount.

I'm personally going to keep an eye on the inventory of guitars, and wait to see if they will increase the discount any further (most of their electric guitars of varying styles were originally $199, marked down to $119 as of yesterday). I figure that if by some chance they hit 75% off, and the inventory remains as high as they were, that I could make a low-cost jump into electric in the near future!

I'm not quite sure what their reason for going out of business is. But, at one time, the store nearest to me had a great selection of books, but that went downhill after they remodeled or something. I was never really compelled to purchase a lot of things from Media Play, so maybe that has something to do with it.

See if there's a store near you:

Einstein Riddle

I love logic problems. This one took me about 25 minutes to solve.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Copying Messagebox Text

Here's a little nugget of information that I think is not widely known:

What do you do when you're testing a program, and a message box pops up to display an error condition? Well, most of my testers will ALT-PrintScreen and email the whole screenshot to me. Then, I must manually type the message into a textbox if I'm searching the Internet for information about the error.

Well, it seems that there's been the ability all this time to just hit CTRL-C when the messagebox is modal, and onto the clipboard will go a text-only version of the messagebox contents, including title, message, and buttons!

For example, I'm currently being forced to create some Crystal Reports (I'm sorry for using such obscenities) for a client. Of course, something is not installed or configured correctly, because the designer is showing an error via a messagebox. Well, CTRL-C on that error gives me the following:

Crystal Reports ActiveX Designer
Failed to load database information.
Details: The database DLL 'crdb_adoplus.dll' could not be loaded.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

ZMachine.NET Workspace

I have fulfilled a promise to the community by establishing this workspace for my ZMachine.NET project. I have uploaded the ZMachine class library code, as well as the console application code.

What is a Z-Machine? Refer to the following:

Where does the project go from here? Well, I would like to see support for later versions of the Z-Machine added (currently, only V3 is supported). And, there's got to be better ways to do things, like saving games, etc.

What's the buzz all about?I looked at my referrer logs, and noticed a large spike in the number of hits landing on this page from search engines. Is there a Z-Machine buzz that I'm missing? Please leave comments!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Squeaky Wheel Gets The Greasin'

Mike Judge, creator of the cult classic Office Space also produced another little cult classic called Beavis and Butthead. Now, there's not much that you can take away from that show, but I did get a one-liner stuck in my head:

The character Tom Anderson (who sounds remarkably like Hank Hill on another MJ production, King of the Hill) said, "If you get bad service, you've got to complain. Squeaky wheel gets the greasin'!"

And what better way to complain about bad service than through a blog read by tens of people!

Being the Christmas season and all, we decided for the second year in a row to take a family portrait and have it printed onto a Christmas card so that we can send it out to friends and family. This way, we think, everyone can see how big the kids are getting, and how much older we're starting to look. You know, all that fun stuff that a cheesy family portrait printed on a Christmas card provides.

Well, the portrait session itself was a nightmare. You see, procrastinating until right before Thanksgiving (which is like 4-5 weeks before Christmas) was a bad idea. We could not get an appointment at Photo Innovations (great place to take pictures, btw) or anywhere else in town before we left on a little vacation over the T-giving break.

We did finally book a photo session at the Sears Portrait Studio in Findlay, OH, which is maybe 45-minutes from my house, and was on the way to our destination. How lucky were we??!!

Well, as it turns out, we weren't all that lucky after all. You see, we started on the road driving in the first major snowstorm of the season, so the drive between our house and the store was extended. And, our appointment was right in the middle of the twins' naptime. And, Sears was running like 45 minutes behind (we had gotten there about 30 minutes early--seems the drive wasn't that bad after all). And, the twins did not want to get dressed (after we arrived at the store).

When we finally got into the studio, the twins did not cooperate. And, the photographer had a quota of shots that she had to take in order to try to upsell us on all of the great photos that are always taken after the boring "package" photo.

After about 20 minutes in the studio, we told the photographer that she had to give up because the babies did not want to be there any more. So, she had us sit in the lobby area so they can show us the pictures, and we can put together an order.

Well, maybe a half hour after that point in time, the temporary employee who was assigned to show people their pictures and take orders finally got around to sitting down with my wife (I was outside in the store walking the kids, trying to keep them from crying). And according to my wife, the temp didn't know what she was doing, and had to keep asking the supervisor questions.

So, two hours after our appointment time, we finally got back on the road, sans Christmas cards. You see, Tina specifically made an appointment at this Sears because they offered in-store printing of pictures (like Photo Innovations). What they don't tell you is that it's an extra per-sheet fee to have them printed on-site, and that Christmas cards are not included. Yup, we would have to wait about a week to get them.

Well, one week came and went. My wife gives them a call, and they insist that the order should be shipped and we should receive them before December 7 (which is like 2 weeks after the appointment).

December 7 comes. No pictures. Tina calls Sears. They will ship that day.

December 8 comes. Tina calls to confirm that they have shipped. Sears has no idea. No, wait. Sears says that they haven't even been printed! WTF!

December 9 comes. Tina calls to confirm. Sears has no idea. I've got a pissed off wife onhand.

December 12 comes. Still no cards. Christmas is two weeks away and we've still to receive the cards (and then mail them) before the holiday comes and goes. Tina goes over the store manager's head and calls the Sears customer service center. It seems that they can somehow force the store to print them on-site (albeit, the resulting cards will be of a smaller dimension) and then the store can overnight them to us.

"Heh," I think to myself. "If only the store would have printed them that day, then I wouldn't have to blog about HOW CRAPPY OF SERVICE WE'VE BEEN GETTING!" No wonder K-Mart owns Sears...

December 13 comes. Findlay Sears swears that they're going to "Overnight Air" them to us. I wonder how that's going to work, since the store is a 45-minute drive from my house. They'll probably ship them UPS, truck them to the air hub in Louisville, KY, and then realize that they don't need to go onto an airplane, truck them back to Toledo, OH, and place them onto a local truck. Oh, and we're supposedly getting a 20% discount.

December 14 (today): NO PICTURES! But, they were "definitely" shipped out this morning by "Next Day Air". Oh, and get this: the customer service rep refused to escalate Tina's phone call to a manager because "there's nothing more that they would be able to do for [her]". Umm, here's a note for anyone in a customer-facing role: That was definitely not the right thing to tell an upset customer.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Windows Live Local Bird's Eye Imagery

I was playing around with's Bird's Eye view again, and noticed that they have multiple sets of data online at the same time. That is, you don't always get the exact same photo each time you view an area.

I would expect that as you change the view to spin around North, East, South, and West that the times of day, and even maybe the time of year might change. But, I noticed while spying on my house that sometimes the year itself that the picture was taken for any given view changes! I can't figure out when it decides which picture to show, either.


All three of these are "South-facing" views of my house.

This one was definitely taken before the fall of 2004, because the big spruce tree between the two houses was cut down then.

This one was taken on a Friday morning (garbage day--see the cans by the street?) in what I would say the spring of 2005 (the spruce tree is gone, but leaves are not on any of the trees yet. Also, my red-roofed neighbor had not yet let himself into my backyard to clear away the leaves that I left there over winter).

And this third one was probably taken on the same day as the second picture, only in the afternoon (no garbage cans, and the shadows are casting eastward).

XBOX 360 as a Media Center Extender

I finally got around to enabling the XBOX 360 as a Media Center Extender ("Bobsled" device). The process was pretty straight-forward from the PC Setup side.

However, the whole experience, while positive, was without a few disappointments:

1. I could not find a way to view videos that are located on a fileshare (i.e., not locally saved on the MCE PC). In my case, I use GB-PVR to schedule and record shows on a less-powerful machine, and then just play them back on a more powerful machine across the network. I had hoped to be able to do the same from the XBOX connected to my TV (using the Media Center PC as a bridge).

2. There are times where the Media Center experience seems to be hung, only to take off again 10-20 seconds later. For example, when the XBOX first connects to the MCE PC (using RDP, which I think it just the coolest use of technology, BTW), the main menu will appear. But, if I use the up/down arrows on the remote, nothing appears to happen. But, 10-20 seconds later, those "keystrokes" are finally processed and the menu selection changes. Similar unresponsiveness was witnessed after stopping a video.

3. This one was expected, but a little disappointing nonetheless: XViD/DivX encoded videos apparently cannot be played. :( I need to investigate this a little more to see what codecs are actually supported, because I don't want to keep MPEG2 files around (1.8 GB/hr is what I record them at) when I can transcode to a more compressed format.

UPDATE (12/13/05): Chris Lanier makes the case for why DivX is not (and will not be) supported on the XBOX:

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Windows Live Local.... WOW!

The battle between Google and Microsoft over mapping continues. I was a little skeptical when the big announcement about Windows Live Local was made. I mean, we've already seen everything, right?

Well, I went to the site, typed in my address, and then saw a notice that a Bird's Eye View was available in my area. "What's this?" I asked myself. I didn't get a reply.

Now, both Google Maps and, Google Earth... have pretty sucky imagery for my neck of the woods. So, I was expecting pretty low-res results.

Lo and behold, there's actually kick-ass aircraft imagery of my neighborhood!

SQL Server 2005 Editions Comparison

I found the following buried in a document (SQL Server 2005 Product Guide), but I could not locate it on the Microsoft site.

UPDATE: The link was staring me right in the face on the SQL Server homepage! Think of the table below as being a summary for this:

$24,999 per processor
$13,499 (server + 25 users)
$5,999 per processor
$2,799 (server + 10 users)
$3,899 per processor
$739 (server + 5 users)
Fully integrated data management and analysis platform for business critical enterprise applicationsComplete data management and analysis platform for medium businesses and larger departmentsMost affordable and easiest to use database solution for smaller departments and growing businessesFastest way to learn, build and deploy simple data-driven applications
Unlimited Scale and Partitioning1-4 CPUs
Unlimited RAM
1-2 CPUs
3 gigabytes (GB) RAM
4 GB database size
Advanced database mirroring, complete online and parallel operations, and database snapshot

Advanced analysis tools including full OLAP and data mining

Advanced reporting with customized, high scale, and ad-hoc reporting

Advanced ETL with complex data routing and transformation capabilities

Available in native 32- and 64-bit editions*
Database mirroring

Basic ETL

Standard OLAP server with Analysis Services

Standard reporting with Reporting Services

Data mining

Full replication and SSB publishing

Available in native 32- and 64-bit editions*
Management Studio


Limited replication publishing


Back-up log shipping

Basic reporting
Simple Management Tool

Simple reporting

Replication and SSB Client

*Supports Itanium 2 and x64

Why Didn't I Think of This?

I can't add much to this, so just read Alex's blog entry:

WIndows XP MCE

I've finally rebuilt the "family" PC. The last time I built it was when Server 2003 came out. It's funny to see how much stuff accumulates on a hard drive over time.

Anyways, I installed MCE this time primarily because I want to see what the XBOX 360's Bobsled capabilities are all about. I personally use GB-PVR as a VCR alternative (running on a different machine), and MCE is able to connect to a file share on that machine and play recorded TV shows. So, it should also be able to send audio/video to my XBox, allowing us to actually watch those TV shows on, well, a TV. (Up until now, we just used WMP to view the shows).

Stay tuned for more of this saga!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

My Addiction

I don't do drugs. Never touched the stuff. I don't smoke, and really only drink every 1-2 months. So, when I mention that I'm addicted to something, it's not a chemical dependency that I'm talking about.

Rather, I am addicted to Qdoba Burritos. There, I said it.

In the last week, I've eaten at a Qdoba Mexican Grill three times. And the closest one is an hour's drive from my house!

I've got a menu in my truck that I use to track which items I have tried (I'm working towards eating everything at least once). Let's just say that there are more items checked than unchecked.

If you've never been to a Qdoba (which is very similar to Chipotle), then what are you waiting for? The burrito is the size of your head, yet when you are finished eating it, you become sad that there is no more of that yummy goodness to devour.

Placing an order is sort of like being in the Soup Nazi's line: there's a sequential workflow that takes place as the burrito is assembled before your eyes.

First, you decide which of the burritos you want. Throw a dart--they're all delicious. But for the sake of argument, let's say that you want a Steak burrito.

They'll steam the 12" tortilla, and ask you what kind of beans that you want (black or pinto). I always go for the black beans myself. Onto the flour tortilla goes a heaping scoop of cilantro rice and your beans. Then your meat is added, and you are asked what kind of salsa you desire.

Here's where you can order in spanish, because the salsa names are, well, en español. There's the Pico de Gallo, Roasted Chile Corn Salsa, Salsa Verde (my favorite), Salsa Roja, and finally the hottest: Fiery Habañero Salsa.

Further down the line, you'll hear a question asked of you: "Cheese or Sour Cream?" This sounds like an exclusive or, but just say "Both, please" and they'll top the burrito with a glob of sour cream and a handful of shredded cheese.

If you want some Guacamolé, here's your last chance. Because someone will soon fold the burrito into it's familiar shape, wrap it in foil, and serve it to you.

What can I say: ¡Muy delicioso!

12 Subscribers!

Ladies and gentlemen, a new record milestone has been reached. We now have a whopping 12 people who subscribe to this blog's RSS feed (through Feedburner)!

What can I say, but I am truly honored. I mean, a true dozen of you actually care enough to add the feed link to your aggregator. /me wipes tear.

Watch out, Robert Scoble and/or Joel Spolsky: I'm catching up to your readership levels!

720p vs 1080i

Rory provides some insight into what goes on inside of your HDTV, and exactly what role Oompa Loompas and Hobbits play in displaying your picture:

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My own take on the 720p vs 1080i debate:

720p has an addressable pixel resolution of 1280x720. If you want to show 60 frames a second of this resolution in a progressive mode, then you need to have bandwidth capable of addressing 1280*720*60 => 55,296,000 pixels per second.

1080i has an addressable pixel resolution of 1920x1080. If you want to show 60 frames a second of this resolution in a progressive mode, then you need to have bandwidth capable of addressing 1920*1080*60 => 124,416,000 pixels per second.

But, if you interlace the 1080's resolution, then you only need to have bandwidth capable of addressing 1920*540*60 => 62,208,000 pixels per second.

So, for roughly the same bandwidth, you can have a higher resolution image, but it takes twice as long to load each complete frame. This is great for still shots, but when you have fast movement on the screen, you can have motion artifacts (I suppose that the quality of your monitor's deinterlacing abilities will dictate how much artifacting is perceived by your brain).

However, 60 fields per second (30 complete frames per second) is not a terrible thing, though. That's what you see when you watch normal television (NTSC). Do you notice motion artifacts? Probably not, unless you're standing 1-foot away from a 27" television set. You see, your eyes and brain tends to merge the fields together into a fluid motion picture. It also helps on regular television sets that the resolution is lower so that individual pixels tend to blur with their neighbors, which in turn helps to hide the combing (motion artifact).

Now I don't own a HDTV set, but I've stared at them in Best Buy on occasion, wishing that Santa Claus would just mistakenly load an extra one in his sleigh, realize that fact while in-flight, and just leave it at my place. And here's what I can say to people debating 720p vs 1080i: Waah, waah, waah.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Little Annoyance with XBOX 360

Here's something that kind of annoyed me:

When I fired up the XBOX 360 for the first time, I had to create a HDD (local) profile in order to play. This is the profile that I used to get past many bosses in Kameo (and unlocked many elements).

Deleting Xbox 360 ProfilesA lot of people landing on this post have been searching Google for ways to delete profiles from their Xbox360. This is done through the dashboard.

Be sure to sign out of Xbox Live, and then navigate to the following:

System -> Memory -> Hard Drive -> Gamer Profiles

Select the profile that you want, and then you'll have the option to Move or Delete it.
Well, I also created a second profile when I signed up for XBOX Live (gamertag: JasonMF). I did this primarily because I didn't really understand how Live worked, so if it was something that I needed to continue paying for, or any other reason why I didn't want it, then I could just delete the profile without disturbing the HDD-only profile.

Turns out that now I can't find a way to transfer all of my achievements from the HDD profile to the XBL profile. So, I probably have to play Kameo from the beginning again so that I get credit on XBox Live.

Though, I wonder if I just associate the HDD profile with my XBL gamertag, if everything would be automagically be recorded... I'll have to play around some more.