Archive for May, 2005

VoIP Report

May 27, 2005

When I got DSL, I mentioned on this blog that I was probably going to get VoIP service from Vonage. I did end up getting VoIP service, but it wasn’t from Vonage.

Everything I’ve read online and heard from people suggests that Vonage’s recent marketing extravaganza outpaced capacity and that Vonage was suffering from some very real growing pains. Well, if I’m moving away from rock-solid landline service and I don’t want to hear from my wife about how I made a big mistake, I’m not going to be part of any growing pains—especially not paying for the privilege.

I evaluated Packet8 and liked them in general, but something was a deal breaker and so I opted to move along. I’d relate what that oh-so-problematic something was, but I honestly can’t remember. Nothing jumped out at me while scanning through the web site. I’ve heard lots of good things about Packet 8, so definitely include them in any VoIP research you might conduct.

I ended up settling on AT&T CallVantage. I read their site and reviewed the online reports only for the sake of thoroughness. The more I read, the more certain things kept cropping up: “stable,” “feature-rich,” “worthwhile.” I took the plunge. It was a painful process getting my number switched over but that was totally Qwest’s fault.

AT&T requested the switch and then later tried to reschedule the request. Qwest decided not to accept the change and never told AT&T. So AT&T didn’t start my service just as Qwest ended theirs. Frantic phone calls ensued and Qwest eventually relented, temporarily re-establishing my phone service until AT&T could turn on VoIP. Once they did that, I called to Qwest to cancel my home phone. Qwest said no problem and for the next two days all was well.

Then Qwest decided that, in cancelling my home phone service, I actually wanted to cancel my DSL too. Of course. Why would I actually want to use Qwest for anything? When I pressed them on it, they conceded that I was in the right and that they would have DSL turned back on within a week. I balked. Okay, by tomorrow evening, which is the absolute earliest a serviceman could get there. Apparently something in my home wiring setup had changed in the last hour or so and it required a home visit to fix. Uh huh. In the end, they re-activated my DSL within the hour but not until I had spent an hour on the phone arguing that nothing technically could have changed in my DSL setup that they couldn’t remotely re-establish.

The actual phone service has been pretty good. The voicemail took some getting used to and we can’t rewire the house so that every phone jack uses the VoIP because we’re using DSL for connectivity. We had some weird behavior when a second call came in over call waiting, but one call to tech support seems to have cleared that up.

My only problem with CallVantage is that it depends wholly on the broadband connection. And I think everyone knows that that’s not 100%. But the good thing is that all calls automatically go to voice mail and are still logged in caller ID. Plus, you can have alternate numbers set up so that calls automatically get forwarded to, say, a cell phone.

Overall, I would wholeheartedly recommend CallVantage to anyone considering VoIP. If you can’t roll with the punches of occasional outages, then I would suggest keeping the land line or switching to a cell phone as your home phone.

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My First Feature

May 26, 2005

I finally finished my feature today. I actually finished it last Friday but we decided to take it in a different direction during the code review. It was the appropriate direction, so I just tossed out the UI elements and moved everything into the Windows service.

I churned it out pretty quickly but ended up spending the last two days debugging an edge case. It turned out that the bug was present from the app’s initial deployment but that the case had never come up. Unfortunately, my new feature would have caused it to come up occasionally so it had to be corrected before release. I implemented my feature—fixing the old bug, tested out all the various permutations, and synchronized my code design document with the development.

I presented the code design to my mentor and walked her through the code I changed. She approved of it, so we marked my feature done (insert Monster House “DONE” stamp and voiceover here). Well, it’s actually just ready for QA but I’m sure it’ll pass through that with flying colors. *ahem* Of course.

This little feature has enabled me to explore threading, Windows services, messaging, and the data layer. Not bad for my first feature. I also learned from my mentor that our boss welcomes suggestions for upcoming releases; that’s right up my alley so I’m going to start pondering what my app needs.

[NOTE: The views expressed on this website/weblog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Go Daddy Software, Inc.]

Not So Smart

May 26, 2005

“Why Smart People Defend Bad Ideas”: I think this is an important essay for me to digest in understanding people. Here’s the part that I found most pregnant (it’s kind of long but way shorter than the essay itself):

… Smart people, or at least those whose brains have good first gears, use their speed in thought to overpower others. They’ll jump between assumptions quickly, throwing out jargon, bits of logic, or rules of thumb at a rate of fire fast enough to cause most people to become rattled, and give in. When that doesn’t work, the arrogant or the pompous will throw in some belittlement and use whatever snide or manipulative tactics they have at their disposal to further discourage you from dissecting their ideas.

So your best defense starts by breaking an argument down into pieces. When they say “it’s obvious we need to execute plan A now.” You say, “hold on. You’re way ahead of me. For me to follow I need to break this down into pieces.” And without waiting for permission, you should go ahead and do so.

First, nothing is obvious. If it were obvious there would be no need to say so. So your first piece is to establish what isn’t so obvious. What are the assumptions the other guy is glossing over that are worth spending time on? There may be 3 or 4 different valid assumptions that need to be discussed one at a time before any kind of decision can be considered. Take each on in turn, and lay out the basic questions: what problem are we trying to solve? What alternatives to solving it are there? What are the tradeoffs in each alternative? By breaking it down and asking questions you expose more thinking to light, make it possible for others to ask questions, and make it more difficult for anyone to defend a bad idea.

I’ve dealt with difficult people in the past who did exactly this sort of thing and I could never put my finger on why it was working. I figured out the “obvious” conceit long ago when a former manager pointed out how it insulted the audience because very little is actually obvious. That was a very important lesson and something that I have strived to eliminate from my thinking ever since.

I Won’t Pay A Lot for This Content

May 25, 2005

Why are people such cheap bastards? This guy clearly found Idea Champion‘s product worth the effort of stealing it from their web site and making a Palm version of it, but not enough to actually compensate the company for producing it.

I’m so freaking tired of people just thinking that they can take whatever they want online without paying for it. Something tells me that they weren’t wantonly shoplifting before the Internet made it easy and discrete. They would have been too ashamed to actually steal something from a store but something about theft from the comfort of your own home removes the moral stigma.

He doesn’t even have the courtesy to link directly to the victims. He states that there’s a reason, though he never explicitly states it. I’m guessing that he didn’t do it because that would have tipped them off to his activity, which makes it all the more smarmy. Don’t worry, I sent the company an email apprising them of the trick.

[UPDATE (5/26/05): The “cheap bastards” moniker is an expression of my frustration with the widespread disdain for copyright I see among the people I encounter. I don’t know if Ricky Spears is really one or not, so I moved the link to his entry off of those words. I won’t change the wording because I really believe that most people who take what they haven’t earned are cheap bastards; I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if Spears’ action rises to that level.]

[UPDATE 2 (5/26/05): I just got an email from Mitch Ditkoff from Idea Champions. He agreed completely with my view of the situation and definitely was displeased at having his property stolen (or copyright infringed for the nigglers out there). His webmaster has closed the loophole.]

Juj Up Your Amazon Image

May 25, 2005

Abusing Amazon Images: interesting research about how Amazon uses URL manipulations to dynamically-build the product images. It’s quite an impressive feature from Amazon. Here’s a good example of what’s possible.

It’s Piggy All Right

May 25, 2005

The new Firefox extension Piggy Bank sounds like a good idea. The Semantic Web is a grand vision that has altogether lacked a sufficient implementation. Piggy Bank is designed to bring the Semantic Web to sites whether they use it or not, kicking and screaming if necessary.

Unfortunately, this implementation takes down Firefox. I would say kicking and screaming but it’s more like puts Firefox down like Rohypnol. I was just working on a blog entry when I had to quit Firefox. It started putting up an hourglass just to get an image’s properties. I looked in the Task Manager: 671MB and 55% CPU utilization for firefox.exe. Uh huh. I’ll wait for the kinks to get worked out.

Note to developer: killer apps don’t kill. It’s just a figure of speech.

Bandwidth Theft Dilemma

May 24, 2005

I’ve had plenty of experience with bandwidth theft, mostly from youngsters using my daughters’ pictures in comments on MySpace. I’ve replaced these pictures with traditional punishments to my continual delight. I’ve even got so good at replacing that I can replace a hotlinked picture with one of these within 15 minutes of discovering it in my logs.

I guess some MySpace cadets and LiveJournalians have noticed this and now they’ve started hotlinking my disgusting pictures to blast their friends. That means that replacing those pictures with even more disgusting photos would really just be playing into their hands. What’s a blogger to do?

Replace them with Norman Rockwell paintings cross-stitched by prisoners? Ho hum, I guess so.

Debugging in Style

May 24, 2005

I know this is going to sound hopelessly naive, but today I discovered the power of a great debugger. I’ve read extensively and the advice is always to get comfortable with debugging software. Unfortunately, the realities of my previous job were such that I actually could not use the VisualStudio.NET debugger. I read that it was a handy tool, but I could only look longingly at the Debug menu and imagine what wonders it held leashed.

So today my mentor recommended that I step through the Windows service I was having trouble with. “Oh yeah,” I thought to myself. “I remember something about the words ‘step through’ associated with the debugger.” I let her give a quick lesson in the practical use of the debugger and I was absolutely floored. Logging is great and trace is neat, but a debugger that lets you watch and interactively ask for values is freaking fantastic.

Now it’s time to investigate the debugger’s power.

Cheekiness

May 24, 2005

I found the following gem in the comments of a recent Mike Zornek blog entry about whether he should bring his camera to a U2 concert:

“If you treasure that thing, wedge it in your ass cheecks, that’s nature’s pocket.” – Thomas Leonard

At the Theater

May 21, 2005

Waiting for the movie to start. we’re going to see it in the Valley’s only DLP theater. I hope this is good.

[UPDATE: Ho hum. I’m not sure that the DLP experience really added anything to the movie. That said, the movie was uneven.

Pluses:

  • The special effects were incredible. Fantastic. Breathtaking. There was one scene where a spaceship is landing somewhere or another and I found myself thinking that that is exactly how a spaceship landing would look in reality.
  • The original Star Wars now makes a lot more sense. I can see why Darth Vader said “we meet again, at last” when he fought Obi-Wan Kenobi on the Death Star.
  • Jar-Jar Binks never spoke.
  • Ewan McGregor played Obi-Wan Kenobi perfectly.
  • Mitichlorians are only mentioned once.
  • Yoda rocks!
  • Mace Windu dies.

Minuses:

  • The special effects were overused, overdone, and frenetic. What good is amazing detail when it’s impossible to follow. The spaceship scene mentioned as a plus was only intelligble because it was given time to play out.
  • Many of the loose ends tied seem very forced. The whole motivation of Anakin Skywalker doesn’t really work. It’s a long leap from being upset that the Jedi Council isn’t taking you seriously to actively killing Jedi. And don’t even get me started on him going to the Dark Side to save Padmé. Their romance didn’t seem to matter to him enough that he should cast everything aside and join forces with a dictator. His wife was a freaking senator, for crying out loud. Unless he was completely stupid, he should have realized that he was putting her out of work.
  • Jar-Jar Binks was still in the movie.
  • George Lucas still thinks that the stupid Force philosophy crap is important enough to mention. It’s enough that the Force is a mysterious power that can used for good or evil. We get it. It’s science fiction: no one really cares about the backstory.
  • The acting of Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen was unbelievably wooden. Anakin Skywalker is transformed from a brash, headstrong young Jedi (umm, parallels to Luke) into the most evil villain this side of the Emperor and the extent of his acting evil is a glimmer in his eye and a frowny face? Uhh, Darth Maul was a better villain.
  • The pacing was very odd. Fight scenes take seconds, while the utterly inane staring off into space of Padmé and Anakin lingered for 20 seconds or so. It’s like George Lucas hamhandedly tried to cram in as many action sequences as possible, realized that he had some more time and extended some scenes that didn’t need it. Like the first two of this prequel series, I found myself being very conscious of how long this movie was. I never had that feeling with the three in the first trilogy.

Okay, so I guess it’s a little more than uneven. I think it was far better than the last two in that it seems truer to the first trilogy, but it still pales next to them. There were supposedly some subtle jabs at conservatives, but I for one didn’t see it. They may certainly have been there, but everything was happening so quick that my mind was overloaded. Things slipped by. I could do an entire entry on just the oddities of the plot itself, but I’ve spent enough time on this matter already.]

[UPDATE (5/22/05): Lessons Learned]

[UPDATE 2 (5/22/05): Reason wonders whether the separatists might have been on a libertarian track. I found myself thinking that as well.]

[UPDATE (5/23/05): Howstuffworks explains the Sith. If you just rolled your eyes, perhaps this guide to Episode III for non-geeks is more your speed.]

[UPDATE (5/24/05): Wow, I knew things were whizzing by and I missed a lot, but I can’t believe I missed these goofs.]

[UPDATE (5/26/05): Here’s an excellent rant about RotS and George Lucas’ constant tinkering with the first trilogy.]

[UPDATE 2 (5/26/05): And here’s more commentary.]

[UPDATE (5/30/05): Episode III Easter Egg Guide.]