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User Journal

Journal Journal: Only way to be sure

Someone needs to take off and nuke beta from orbit.

In the meantime, an AC has suggest that we boycott from the 10th to the 17th.

So, who's up for a Slashdot Valentines Day Massacre?

"Beta is Slashdot's version of Jar-Jar Binks, only worse."


Journal Journal: Dear Mozilla: Please create 1

As a web developer, I have a lot of extensions in Firefox. I also get new computers (and create new test accounts) with alarming frequency and often install and set up Firefox for friends and family. I want to be able to create and share lists of extensions, like a music playlist, to make it easy to set up Firefox when I get a new computer, or give a pre-made list to my friends and family. Here are my thoughts of a product I'd like to exist.

1) You create a site -- say, -- and I log into it. I can upload a list of all the extensions that I have. (Auto-generated by the browser, of course.) When I go to a new machine, I log in (once logged in, I'm looking at and I can click one button to install the current version of all listed extensions on my current machine. (Extensions that are already installed and current are not touched; present but outdated extensions are silently upgraded.) Or, if I only want a few extensions (like if I want to install my dev tools but not Adblock Plus or NoScript so I can see how the Web looks to the rest of the world) I can check a box next to each one I want and then click "install selected extensions" at the bottom of the page. Maybe, if you want to be fancy, there is a list of the extensions and a red/green indicator that shows if it's present on my current machine.

2) You know how music services let you create and share playlists? That's what I want to do with Firefox extensions. I want a list for my mom with nothing but Adblock Plus and Status-4-Evar so I go to the page that shows all my extensions, check the boxes next to those two, click "Create new list", and name it "mom". Then, from her computer, I go to (or call her up and tell her the address, or email her the link -- in any case, this is why I want clean, clear, and memorable URLs) and click "Install all". Maybe there's a form on the page that I can use to email her a link, like how you can email articles from news sites -- your basic "share" button. (Automatically-generated and -emailed links could be long and obscure.) Maybe my sister is a bit more tech-savvy -- but not a web developer -- so I make a list for her with ABP, NoScript, and a couple others, but not all of my dev tools.

And that's it. Keep it simple. No "click here to share this list on Facebook/Twitter/G+/" buttons. No scrolling list of new or popular extensions. Just a nice, simple, extremely useful service. The front page would be nothing but "sign up" and "sign in". Maybe two more buttons for "Why is Firefox great?" and "What are extensions"? Once you're logged in, there would have to be some sniffing done to see if you're using Firefox or not, and enable/disable features based on that -- for example, there would be no "install" button if you're not using Firefox, but you could still manage lists.

Lists would not be visible unless 1) you're signed in as you, 2) someone got there via cryptic, generated URL (from the "share" box), or 3) you have checked a box that says "make this list public." That way people couldn't poke around and find out that a famous columnist for the WSJ or NYT has a list for 'family' with Adblock Plus.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Why the iPad mini works for me

Ever since tablets were first on the horizon (post-iPhone and Kindle but pre-everything else) I always felt that one the size of a paperback would be great. When the iPad came out at 10", I wasn't sure if I'd like that size. My first thought would be a good size for looking at but kind of big to hold. I checked it out (played with friends', had a loaner from work, etc.) and yes, I didn't care for it much. I bought one to do a bit of testing and development on and I figured I'd try to use it and see if I grew to like it. I didn't, and sold it a few months later. (I bought a refurbished iPad 1 shortly after the 2 came out, so it was cheap, and I sold it for not much of a loss -- basically I rented it for like $8 a month, which wasn't bad since it was for work.) It's just big enough that it really takes up some space whenever you set it down, and while it is amazing, overall, that you can get so much power into 1.5 lbs, that's just a bit much to hold and look at for any amount of time.

I ordered the Mini as soon as I could and it arrived this morning and it's great. It's a great size and very light. The screen, while not retina, is still good. We were all happy with our original iPhones before the 4 came along, right? :-) The pixel density of the iPad mini is the same ~160-163 ppi as the original iPhone, the 3G, and the 3GS. I've seen (and love) retina screens but I can live without them.

The bezel on the sides are indeed thin but the whole thing is so light and thin (not referring to the overall thickness -- I mean, not wide, side-to-side) you just let it rest on your fingers (which easily reach about 2/3 the way across the back) and then you just need a bit of pressure from your thumb to hold it in place. It's not like the full-size iPad that you really need a firm grip on so thumb coverage isn't a huge problem.

Speaking of width, thumb typing in portrait is great. On a full-size iPad, the only way I could ever type was by holding it flat with one hand and stabbing the screen with a couple fingers of the other hand, which causes the whole thing to wobble around. When holding the Mini in portrait mode, your thumbs can easily touch each other so it's a cinch to hit every key. (Holding it in landscape, it is again a bit of a stretch.) The split keyboard is a good solution but I'm personally not a fan -- if I were typing a word like 'stew' I might use my right thumb for the 't' -- so I like to have it undocked but merged. (It has 3 modes: docked (stuck to the bottom), floating and split, or floating and merged.) I just hold the tablet in a way that's comfortable and then adjust the keyboard height so it's in just the right spot. My one complaint is I wish Apple would just put a damn number row at the top of the thing, at least in portrait mode. There's plenty of room for one more row of buttons.

The weight is fantastic. The iPad 2 and iPad (4) are right about double the Mini's weight: 0.69 pounds versus 1.33 and 1.44. (0.69 x 2 = 1.38.) The iPhone 4S is 0.306 pounds and the iPhone 5 is 0.247 pounds. So the iPad mini is, in fact, closer in weight to an iPhone than a full-sized iPad. Holding an iPhone in one hand and the Mini in the other isn't drastically different -- you're talking a about a difference of about 3-4oz between those two versus an 8-ounce difference between the Mini and its big brother.

Apple products aren't for everyone. Tablets aren't for everyone. Of the people that like tablets, 7- or 8-inch models aren't for all of them. That's fine with me. I'm just happy to finally have the tablet I want, in the size that I want, at a price that -- while not what I was hoping for -- is not unworkable. :-)

User Journal

Journal Journal: My Tokyoflash watch design

Tokyoflash has been making 'special' watches for a while. They're generally not for everyone because they aren't practical, but they are very appealing to the /. crowd. The reason being you need to "learn" how to read time for each watch and they can be VERY different from 1 model to the next.

I just recently found out they have a contest to design watches that they *could* make if they get good approval ratings. If they do, then they will be moved to technical consideration to see if and how they could be made.

So after looking at some previous entries, I thought to myself "these designers have to be pretty smart/creative to come up with alternative time pieces." So then I thought about it and said to myself, "why can't I make one of these?" and came up with a few designs - my first being "Cross Time," an idea I've had in mind for a standard watch but that happens to work well with their style of "telling time."

If my design gets to the next stage, then it's possible that it gets made. If it goes into production then Tokyoflash will offer $20,000 for my design, or royalties on a per-sale basis. Pretty cool right?

If you can, please check out the watch and vote yes if you like it!
User Journal

Journal Journal: Making it safer for people with Alzheimer's at night

I tell people: "The best way to learn about Alzheimer's is to read about it." Some, like myself, could argue that things are best learned first hand. But this is something that you don't want to have to learn "first hand."

In taking care of someone who has Alzheimer's, I've discovered something a few years back that is VERY useful. Here's some background first.

Those who take care of people with Alzheimer's, more specifically those who have them in their homes (like family members) know that the night time can be VERY difficult. It's not unusual to say my loved one walks like a ghost in the night only to frighten anyone who sees them because they creep so quietly that you have no idea they're there until they're on top of you!

Leaving a light on can be a problem because it can keep other family members up. Leaving no lights on can be dangerous as the person with Alzheimer's could wake up and walk around (as they all do) and fall and hurt themselves. Many will just put a night light in the socket and hope for the best. Those lights generally don't provide enough light to get around safely (especially if the person has cataracts). So I looked for a better solution. You could always put a stronger bulb in the night light... But that bothers those who are sleeping (and caring/watching the person at night).

I came across a motion sensor for about $20 at Harbor Freight & Tools one day. I didn't expect it to work well for the price, but it did surprisingly well! I plugged the stronger bulbed night light into the motion sensor and Voilà! Now there is enough light to safely see a ghost walking around in the middle of the night AND it'll only turn on when it detects motion. But as you can imagine, this can still bother others sleeping in the same room with the constant on and off. So I had to come up with another device...

A few years ago I bought some lamps that had a translucent blue glass shade with an additional transparent glass shade outside of that. It's a modern looking lamp, and the shades look like a cylinder in another cylinder. So when you turned the lamp on, it looked awesome! So awesome, that the light blinded you because the blue glass wasn't thick/dense/dark enough to diffuse the light enough to not hurt your eyes. So I ended up modifying it. I cut some aluminum foil to the exact size of the inside cylinder and wrapped it around about 1/4 - 1/3 of the way around. This in effect blocked the light from coming at you directly and actually made the lamp look better as the lamp really lit up blue instead of blinding sky blue. This also helped with more directional light as the foil served as a reflector. (A friend even told me I should try to sell the design hah!).

So using that experience/knowledge, I bought some Japanese style paper lamps (the round ones). I hung the blue paper lamp (can you spot the trend?) just off from the corner of the bedroom. I cut some aluminum foil to size of the supporting metal bracket (a little frame that props the paper lamp "open") and wrapped that around the bulb about 80%-90% so that only a little light comes out the back. I purchased a very low watt soft florescent bulb (like 8 or 10 watts) and threw that in there.

The motion sensor I mounted in the very top corner of the bedroom and angled it downward. It helps that the person with Alzheimer's bed is in direct line of sight (this is useful). So whenever they move *in* bed, the light goes on. Just seeing the light is on puts them at ease and actually prevents them from getting out of bed to "see where they are." Obviously, when they DO get out of bed (naughty!) they're safe as they can see well enough to make out where to walk and what to avoid.

The best benefit of this set up, is because of the way the sensor is mounted and the lamp is hung, the person who sleeps in the same room and takes care of them can't trigger the motion sensor because the lamp is blocking them from it. So they can move about (even use their laptop when they should be sleeping! Naughty!) and not worry about turning the light on and waking up the sleeping person.

You would think such a thing would be the first thing that comes to mind when dealing with a person who has Alzheimer's, but it's not. Alzheimer's is something that can happen so quickly to some, that you really never have time realize/learn how to manage it until it's too late. You would also think that it'd be easy to find some sort of device that works just like this but isn't such a hassle. There isn't.

While searching for night lights that have motion detectors, day light sensor, battery back up and other random features I noticed that nothing like that exists. So for those of you who are hardware hackers, theres a freebie for you. Contact me if you want the designs!

Hopefully, someone somewhere will be able to use my ideas here and help make their life easier and safer for both them and their loved ones.
User Journal

Journal Journal: Flash: the next <TABLE>

When Flash was introduced, it was for creating vector-based animation and basic interactive games. (Kind of like Shockwave but lighter.) It became very popular very quickly because it did lots of neat stuff with very small (vector-based) files and because the browser plugin itself was only a few hundred kilobytes at a time when most people were on dialup and most other plugins (like Shockwave and QuickTime) were several megabytes. Once you downloaded the plugin (just a few minutes) you could be watching neat little cartoons in seconds.

Flash is still great for creating vector animation and games, but people started using it for large parts of their site because it gave them lots of control over fonts and item placement (in addition to all the cool effects that Flash lets you do.) It could even be used for certain kinds of apps, and it let people create whole complex user interfaces (scroll bars, etc.) that could all be rendered inside a browser window.* People started using it more and more. But two things are happening: many mobile devices (mainly the iPhone, but others as well) don't support Flash, and a bunch of HTML-related technologies--HTML5, CSS, JavaScript--are now really mature and are enabling lots and lots of powerful features with no plugins required. (And they DO work on new mobile devices with modern browsers.)

So lots of people are freaking the hell out and saying the iPad (in particular) will flop because it doesn't support Flash, but I think Flash is where HTML tables were just a few years ago. Tables were originally designed to hold tabular data, then people started using them for layout, and once HTML and CSS got a little better, pretty much everyone abandoned them and they're now only used for their original purpose: holding tabular data. So will it be with Flash: it was invented for vector animation, people started using it for everything, but now that other (better, more standard, more open) technologies have matured, it will fall back to being used for nothing more than it was originally designed for--animation and games.

* and, of course, Flash can be a basic "wrapper" around video, enabling you to play video on lots of platforms, but video standardization efforts are making good progress too.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Who sucks: Apple or Seagate? 2

So I've got this great little Intel Mac mini. I hooked up a 500 GB USB Seagate drive to use for Time Machine. (I also have a 500 GB Seagate inside in place of the stock drive.) The external drive is always attached and the machine is on 24/7; scheduled to go to sleep at 1am. (It's a media center.) Within a few weeks, the drive was no longer showing up on the desktop. "Huh" I thought, and did the usual things: unplugged, replugged, rebooted, etc. Eventually I looked in DIsk Utility--nothing. Disk Utility on another machine saw the disk, saw errors, but couldn't fix them. I couldn't even format it. I was only a few months into the 5-year warranty (the long warranty is one of the main reasons I buy Seagates) so I sent it back in. They promptly sent a replacement which I connected in the same way and BLAMMO--a few weeks later this new drive (different SN--I checked) is exhibiting the EXACT SAME SYMPTOMS.

So--is my Mini somehow putting out bad USB juju and killing the drives, or did Seagate happen to make at least two really bad drives? I'd like to know before I send it in, and no, I don't want to buy another drive from another vendor to test. Has anyone seen anything like this happen?


Journal Journal: Tea, Earl Grey, Hot. 5

I got myself involved in a discussion on Fark over replicators and ended up trying to consider them from a practical point of view. I did the math on trying to make matter from energy and managed to convince myself that the idea is just insane. It was the first time I had ever done it and I thought it was interesting enough that I would come back here and share.

Ok, so to start with take the equation from Special Relativity which we all know and love:

Now, for the moment, I am going to assume that Captain Picard's cup of tea is really big. It's a 1 kilogram cup of tea. We can chop this down later, but this makes the math easier. Also, it doesn't matter all that much.
Next, we will use 300,000,000 m/s as the value for the speed of light. I know this technically wrong, but it's close enough and makes the math less messy. Again, feel free to go back and do this with 299,792,458 m/s you'll find that it's close enough.
E=1 Kg * (300,000,000 m/s)^2
E=1 Kg * 90,000,000,000,000,000 m^2/s^2
E= 90,000,000,000,000,000 Kg*m^2 / s^s

Ok, the reason I choose kilograms, meters and seconds for the units is that 1 Kg*m^2/s^ = 1 Joule, a well known unit of energy. So:
E=90,000,000,000,000,000 J
Now, this is a big number, but what does it mean? We can jump over to Wikipedia (yes, I know, wikipedia bad.) and get the energy equivalent of TNT, a unit which people seem to deal with better. Well, the energy equivalent of 1 Megaton of TNT is 4.184 * 10^15 J. So, stick this in our formula:
E=90,000,000,000,000,000 J / 4,184,000,000,000,000 J/Mt
This means that, for every kilogram you need to replicate, you need the energy equivalent to a large thermonuclear bomb. For comparison sake, the largest device ever detonated was the Tsar Bomba at 50Mt. So, if the Captain goes off his rocker and decides to get a whole pot of tea at once, the engine room is going to need to generate more energy than the largest nuclear device we have detonated to date. And not turn into a huge fireball in space in the process.

Now, this doesn't mean that it's impossible; but, trying to generate and contain that amount of energy, and do it in a reasonable time scale, just seems a bit ridiculous. The better part is trying to create safe failure modes. Let's go with the Star Trek idea of anti-matter. So, you dump half a kilogram of anti-protons in one side of your reactor and half a kilogram of protons in the other. And, because this reactor was built by the lowest bidder, with substandard welding, and poor maintenance, the reaction vessel fails. So, how do you plan a failure mode for a 21Mt explosion in a cracked reaction vessel? Again, not an impossible problem, but this seems like an awful lot of work for a cup of tea.
The Internet

Journal Journal: Layfette, we are here!

I'm not sure if someone from AT&T is readin my Journal, or if the AT&T rep Kim went yet another mile for us; but, on Friday, our services jumped to the correct settings. We now have HBO as planned and are at the Elite internet level as planned. So far, we're happy. We now have a DVR in the living room and bed room (big plus). While it would have been nice for the guide to self-limit to only the channels we have a subscription to, I understand why they don't. However, the box provides the ability to go in and manually trim the guide list to only what I want to see. So, all of the non-subscription channels are now gone, as are all of the religious, shopping and non-English channels, at least on one box. I haven't done the other yet, and I'm hoping to find a way to just transfer the settings, but I'll be ok if I can't.

The Internet connection itself seems to be stable, and the wireless router which is provided with the service doesn't seem half bad, so we've gone to just using it and not having the extra DLink router on the network.

Picture quality has been good, and the On Demand service has been good (at least for the HBO/Showtime stuff, haven't tried paying for anything yet). The DVR boxes are nice and responsive, though I'm still getting used to the remote control layout.

So far, the only complaints we would level against the AT&T setup is that the DVR boxes don't have a clock on them and that little green LED on the front of the box is damn bright at night in the bed room. Though we can easily work around both problems. Put a clock where we can see it a for the first and use a piece of opaque tape for the other.
The Internet

Journal Journal: Return of the Internet 2

Well, true to their word, the tech to install our AT&T UVerse service was at our apartment yesterday right around noon. I was in the middle of a lunch meeting with Dell and Microsoft (actually a pretty good one too), so my wife was there for the install and kept me updated via text messages. Unfortunately for the tech, our apartment was not well setup for UVerse (amazingly enough, I never felt it necessary to run Cat 5 to my TV), so it was necessary for him to make a few cable runs.

Now, I will give the guy credit, he did a clean job of it. He had to bring a cable through one wall, and he used an existing phone plate in the wall to hide one side of it and kept the other side fairly neat. In the other wall he needed to go through he was able to simply go through an existing plate on each side. In the living room, after coming through the wall, he needed to get to the opposite side of the room; his solution (and the one I would have gone back and done anyway) was to tack the wire along the base board, follow the jam up and around the sliding glass door, and go back down and around the base board the rest of the way. In all very clean.

Despite the cleanliness of the cable runs, the ends the tech put on the cables are crap. While I may not be the best cabler in the world, I can at least put an RJ-45 end on a Cat 5 cable which doesn't have the actual pairs hanging out. In his defense, my wife said that he did not have a crimping tool (apparently the company doesn't provide one), and did the whole job with a pair of scissors. That being the case, it's probably a small miracle that it all works to begin with. I just wish I had known (or been there) at the time. I have a crimping tool, and would have been happy to let him use it or just do it myself, since I'll now want to go back and do it anyway. Oh well, if I had to choose between redoing the run or redoing the ends, I'll redo the ends.

With one evening of testing, so far the service is good, if not what I ordered. Amazingly enough, after everything I went through to get the service ordered, it appears that we ended up not quite where we had planned to be at the beginning of all this. However, given the road to this point, I'm happy to have what we have and I figure I can sort the rest out. On the TV itself, we had planned to get the U300 package and add HBO. Well, we have the U300 package, but no HBO. The internet service was supposed to be the Elite level (6mbps/2mbps) and we landed at the Pro (3mbbs/1mbps). Though testing at DSL Reports confirms that we are getting near the maximum on our line, which is very nice.

Still, at this point I can get my porn and that's what the internet is for, right?
The Internet

Journal Journal: It's dead Jim! 1

My wife just texted to say that the internet is down at home. I think I may actually see a light at the end of the tunnel, though I wish whoever is blowing that whistle would stop.
The Internet

Journal Journal: UVerse the continuing saga

In my last long winded rant, I had this line towards the end:
My current DSL service is still working; but, that should go away soon, I hope.
Really, it's there, just skip the boring crap in the middle and you'll see it.
Well, it turns out that my hope was in vain. It's been a week (granted Thanksgiving week, so I'm willing to let it slide a bit) and we still have internet service from our old ISP. So, I finally decided that it was time to check up on it and find out what the hangup is. I went on the DSLExtreme website and looked at my account status, which is still 'Active'. I then looked at my service ticket history (ya, they really have the full thing back to 2003 when I signed up, kinda cool) and the Cancellation ticket was marked 'Closed'.

Now, as Degrees pointed out service departments want tickets closed. And as tqft added they will do anything short of murdering the customer to do it (and I'm not sure I'd put that past some departments..which reminds me, where's my shovel? I need that in my server room.) So, I shouldn't have been too surprised about the way it worked out; but then, I once had this crazy idea that ticket tracking is a useful tool for moving an issue through the resolution process, not just another useless metric to figure out whom to fire. I guess I really do just suck at management.

Anyway...I called up DSLExtreme's customer support and got a nice, if sleepy sounding rep who 'checked into it' for me. I guess the way their system works is that as soon as the cancellation is sent though to the 'cancellation system' (which I think may be a round container marked 'Rubbermaid') the ticket is closed. A bit more 'checking' (which I think involved 'uncompressing files' from the Rubbermaid brand 'cancellation system') and he gave me an uninstall date of 12/2. He also said I should receive an email soon with that uninstall date. I thanked him, and hung up. Less than an hour later, I receive an email from them stating that my 'Cancellation Date' is 11/23 (the day I put in the order). I guess the rep ran the 'fuck, he actually means it' app to continue the process.

So, this morning, my cell phone starts vibrating on my desk and I did like any sane person at work does and ignored it. It's a personal cell, not a work cell, and I do occasionally feel guilty about taking personal calls on work time. Besides, I didn't recognize the number which usually results in someone testing me to see if I have learned Spanish yet; while it's on my 'to do, eventually' list, I am still stuck with just two languages: English and bad English. Once I finally hit a good point to take a bit of a break, I checked my messages and Lo and Behold! It's the nice rep from AT&T calling to say that she had checked on my current internet service and they had given her the shut-off date of 12/2 and that she would put the order through once the line is clear. Damn, I guess if you go around the departmental phone merry-go-round a couple of times they start to get serious about customer service, major kudos to Kim at AT&T's Sales department. I must admit, the cynic in me had written off her promise to keep up on it, some days it's very nice to be wrong.

So, once more into the, holding pattern. With luck I should be without internet at home come Wednesday and the internet will be down one semi-anonymous asshole for a while.
The Internet

Journal Journal: Getting bundled up 4

Well, thanks to johndiii I once again have a sane interface for my journal entries and can get back to ranting about normal stuff. Thank you.

So, as for the AT&T switch I had originally planned to post about....
About two and a half years ago my wife and I (yes, there really is a woman who puts up with me) moved to a nice little apartment and discovered that the confluence of geography and orbital mechanics sometimes sucks. In other words, we had been getting our TV service through Dish Network and were happy enough with them that we want to keep them after the move; however, our apartment is North facing and because the best place to put a satellite in orbit to provide the greatest coverage puts it in the Southern sky for us, we couldn't get a signal. After much grumbling, we settled on Time Warner cable as our best option (actually the only, but that does mean that they are at the top of the list).

Right from the get go we had problems; but, TV is mandatory (so sayeth the wife, and as Bill Engval so wisely noted: the one with the boobies has the power) so we put up with Time Warner. The first problem was minor enough, we planned to get a DVR in both the living room and the bed room, and they told us up front that the two would not be able to talk. If we recorded a program in one place, that was where we had to watch it. Really guys? In our old apartment Dish had us working with one box with two tuners, and I could watch my recorded programs either downstairs in the living room or upstairs in the bedroom. And we had that for three years, don't you think you should catch up? No. Ok then, sorry I asked.

The second problem wasn't really Time Warner's fault, but I feel like blaming them anyway. The cable going into our bedroom apparently sucks. In fact the line loss is so bad that we would not be able to put a digital receiver in that room and could only have the standard analog TV channels back there. Grumble, grumble, well not much to do about it, so down to a one box system we go. I guess that makes the "DVR's can't talk" problem kinda moot.

The third problem is really an outgrowth of the second problem. It seems that when we went down to one digital receiver, no one bothered to tell billing, and they were happily charging us for two DVR's. Now, I will admit some culpability here. I wasn't checking the bill as closely as I should, and we went for quite a while paying for both boxes. This carried on until my wife and I were going over our finances one day and I actually bothered to read through the entire cable bill and noticed that it listed two boxes.

I'm going to stop with the problems for a moment and give Time Warner some deserved kudos. Their customer service was actually really good each time we needed it. While I did spend a bit of time on hold, that is going to happen. The folks I talked to were understandable. no heavily accented, "hallo, my name is Steve". Ya, pull the other one, it's got bells attached. They actually seemed to know the product and were nice and helpful. In every case, my problem either got fixed or I went away from the conversation understanding why it was that I couldn't do something. Also, when I did let them know about the over billing, they credited my account for it and we didn't have to pay anything for our service for several months. So, overall customer service gets an 'A'.

Alright, back to problems. The next problem we faced was a bad DVR box. It just flat would not talk to the On Demand system, which included the HBO On Demand which comes with the HBO subscription. Everything else seemed to work, but On Demand was a no-go. After a couple calls trying to fix the box, Time Warner finally declared it dead and setup an exchange for us, that was a little bumpy, but got done.

Problem number whatever number we're on, has to do with the DVR function: It blows, and not in a good way. My wife and I each have a few programs we watch regularly, and for each we have setup a series recording which is only supposed to record new episodes (at least that's what the settings say). Now, I don't know how the box figures out what is a new episode and what isn't, I assume that it is some sort of flag which gets set either by Time Warner or the station itself. But, whoever is doing it is either drunk or stupid. The system does an OK job of knowing when a new episode is new; however, the system also figures that a bunch of reruns are also new. Now, this wouldn't be too much of a problem, we have plenty of hard drive space, but we only have two tuners. And we've ended up with quite a few actually new episodes of shows not being recorder because the system was recording a not new rerun, but it wanted to record it anyway. And the false positives happen at least once a day. This is actually the biggest problem we have with Time Warner, if this wasn't a constant thorn in our TV viewing habits, we probably wouldn't be looking to get rid of them.

The last problem is once again a hardware problem. Pretty much ever since we had Time Warner, the box has a habit of occasionally locking up for a few seconds. For example, we will be paging through the channel guide (which is a horrid mess) and the box will stop responding to commands. We hit the page down button and nothing. So, figuring that the signal didn't cross the three feet, or we didn't hit the button hard enough, we try again; and again nothing. Of course, a third try must be the charm so... no that doesn't work either. Then, as if by magic (or a buffer getting flushed) all three commands get executed on the box and the guide zips down three pages. The other place this crops up is when trying to fast forward during recorded programs. Hit the fast forward once, and it starts going, hit it again and nothing, try it again and nothing again. shout at the TV, "Fuck, stop, stop you goddamn thing!" Because shouting at inanimate objects helps. Hit the play button, so that when the buffer finally flushes we at least get to a stable state. And then watch as the commands finally clear and we're now half way into the next segment of the program and I need to rewind to get back to where we want to be. It's minor, but it's damned annoying every time and it happens frequently.

So, lately, we've started to notice that AT&T is inundating our area with advertisements for Uverse. And, we decided that we might as well give them a try. After all, the only reason we chose Time Warner was that they were the only option, which isn't exactly a good reason to stay with them. So, go on the website and start pricing packages. After a little while, we figure out that we can bundle our TV, phone and internet service under one umbrella and save a little bit of money (though the web interface doesn't have an option for a static IP address, and I like having one so that I can have a server with a domain name to use as my playground. Yes, I know about DynDNS, and I know that DHCP addresses tend to be stable; but it's a hassle and I'm willing to pay to not have to deal with it.

Since the web interface didn't have the static IP option, I figure I'll just give AT&T a call and sign up over the phone. Now, maybe I'm out of touch, but I would think that a company which is trying to penetrate a new market (AT&T is fairly new to the TV market in our area) would make it as easy as possible to sign up for service with them in as many ways as possible; but, finding a phone number on that site was like searching for a needle in a haystack. I did finally find it, but it took some doing. Not a great way to start out, but whatever, onward.

So, call sales, talk to the rep and get the bundle I want configured. Even with the static IP it is still an overall savings, so that's good. So, I ask the question, "do I need to cancel my current DSL service?" And the rep asks me if it is through AT&T or another ISP. Well, it's through DSLExtreme, so it's third party. I figured that I would have to go deal with the cancellation myself, but, "no" says the rep, "we can take care if it. We'll just have to have you talk to an agent to get authorization for us to cancel it." I'm skeptical, but it's been a few years since I changed my DSL service, so I figure I am just out of touch. The rep then goes on to say that we should not have any downtime and that I would be contacted in a couple of days to schedule the install. Great, hang up, all happy. A few minutes latter the rep calls back with a very official sounding man on the phone to get my authorization to cancel my old DSL service. Yes, yes, kill it, ok, good thanks, bye.

A few days passed, and no call. I started the process on a Monday, and when it gets to Friday I finally figure it's time to find out what is going on. So, call AT&T. I get a sales rep who kindly tells me that I have to talk to dispatch to get my install scheduled, and she'll transfer me. At dispatch, I talk to a very helpful gentleman who gives me my account number (something which I didn't have at that point) and tells me that the order is stuck in sales and I'll have to talk to the sales back office (SBO) to get it cleared before he can schedule the install. Boing! Over to SBO I go. After a while on hold, I finally get to talk to a guy at SBO who is so kind as to inform me that my order is "Pending" and that I need to cancel my current DSL service before it can go through. Um, but the rep said... oh fuck it, I knew I shouldn't have trusted him. Right, so I cancel and call you guys back, right? Yup. Good. Thank you.

This being the start of a weekend, my wife asked me to hold off canceling the DSL until Monday. So, on Monday, hop on DSLExtreme's website, go through the cancel process, and call AT&T to let them know and figure out what's next. I get a fairly nice, though hard to understand lady who informs me that there is no order on my account. Erm, no order, what about the one I placed last week. Oh, that was canceled. Canceled, really, ok so what do I need to do to get it going again. Well sir, you need to submit a new order. If you'll hold on I'll get you over to sales...

Now, I view myself as a patient man. I may swear up a storm internally, and I may then post that storm here in my journal. But, when dealing with people on the phone or face to face, I stay calm and professional, I usually just get quieter. You gain nothing by pissing off the one person in the world who has the power to help you. Of course, I don't deal well with stupid, and this whole process really seemed to be a case of stupid. Had my wife not been there to convince me to go through with it, I would have just canceled the whole thing and told the sales rep that if this is how they treat a potential customer, I don't want to know how they are going to treat me once they have my money. But again, the holder of the boobies has the power; so, I ground my teeth and waited for the sales rep to come on.

The sales rep turned out to be a higher level rep, I missed the exact title, but she actually made enough money to be able to make decisions. After explaining what had occurred to her, in detail, with names (yes, I keep notes when I do this type of thing); she became very apologetic and threw in a few freebies to thank me for putting up with what had happened; so, that at least was something. She also explained to me that yes, she really couldn't put the order though until my current DSL service was gone. That's fine, I'd put in the cancel order, it's now just a waiting game until DSLExtreme unhooks my curcuit. The rep even went so far as to promise to keep checking on it herself and put the order though as requested as soon as the line cleared, and that she would then contact me to schedule the install.

So, that's where it is now. My current DSL service is still working; but, that should go away soon, I hope. And we'll see if the rep follows though and really does initiate the order by herself (though if I notice that the current DSL service is gone, I may just call in anyway).

Sigh, all of this just to hopefully get a DVR in the bedroom which understands the difference between a new episode and a rerun.
User Journal

Journal Journal: Can I just write in my fucking journal? 4

Just got my first dose of the new Journal interface. WTF, over?
Ok, I know, change is good. Accept change. Wait, no, fuck you! Change which breaks a working interface just for the sake of change is bad.

So, first problem first, why is the "Write in Journal" button hidden away from view down at the bottom of the page? Seriously, I almost couldn't find the damn thing. If I just opened the page for my journal, I probably did so to either read a previous entry; or, more likely, to write in it. Why isn't there a nice convenient "I want to write in my journal because that's what a fucking journal is for" button up at the top? Ok, so it looks like that little panel at the bottom is supposed to float at the bottom of my browser window, and not be hiding at the very bottom of the page. Sorry guys, your shit's broke, and it stinks. Call me crazy, but when you're designing an interface, it's important to keep in mind that most romanized languages work top to bottom and left to right, which means most speakers of those languages (like English, the primary language this site works in) will expect a layout in that same vein. So, put the important things near the top and left. They seemed to understand this well enough to put the main menus on the top and left sides of the page; so, why is such an important button now hidden at the bottom?

Ok, so I did find the "Write in Journal" button, otherwise I wouldn't be abusing you with cursing and vitriol. And I get this new interface with greyed out text which I guess is supposed to help me figure things out. The subject line seems obvious enough. But what the hell do they mean by "describe your scoop here". Scoop? I'm writing in my journal not submitting a story. Of course, I do realize that I can publish this as a story, if I want to, but I don't think that may people really care about what I have to say. Also, why such a small box? When I start ranting, I like to have a lot of space to cuss up a storm in. And if that is the description of my "scoop" (of rasins maybe?), where does my actual entry go? I guess I'm just dumb, but at first it seemed like that box was supposed to be the summary box. It was small, after all, and was supposed to be a description of my "scoop" and not the actual "scoop" itself, despite my really only wanting to write in my journal, not go scooping shit.

Alright, so I did figure out that the "describe your scoop" box is where I am supposed to actually write my journal entry (yes, I've scooped you all on my own random thoughts! Don't you feel bad?), or at least that is what I am guessing; if I'm wrong I'll have to do some editing in the real "this is where you actually type the journal entry, sucker!" box. So, I start typing figuring that, either this little box is going to get bigger or I'm going to end up including a few lines about only having three lines to type in despite having a large web page full of fuck all. And what do you know, the little box that couldn't auto-magically grows. So, I am happily ranting along, and where did my text go? I know I just finished typing a hate filled sentence fragment with spelling and grammar errors. Why does it seem like it went off the end and I'm not seeing shit? Ok, maybe my cursor jumped, who knows. So, type the same poorly formed sentence with a few more curse words, because they add flavor, and the little box expands and there's my previous sentence fragment. Once again, this shit is broke and stinks. It turns out that the whatever system is being used to figure out when to grow the box if fucked up and by the time I am typing this sentence I am just about completing a line before the box grows so that I can see what the fuck it is I am typing. I expect that by the end of this I'm going to be typing blind which is going to make editing really suck. Oh, and by the way, where is my fucking scroll bar? You mean to tell me that the only way I can go up and down in the box is with the keyboard? What is this some "let's be retro?" change? I've had a mouse on my computer since the 90's, get with the fucking program! Yes, vim is cool with its keyboard commands to jump around in text, this isn't vim.

As for tagging my journal entry. Ok, that's close enough to the old system. I used to be able to select the topic from a drop down and that was that. I guess this nice for indexing. So, let's see, this post is obviously not news, so lets delete that tag and...fuck, no "delete news" Ok, we'll change it to "not news" after all, my ranting is not news. And, why do I still have a "News" tag? OK, maybe we'll just add a tag in the text box. So, type in "change is bad" and um, now what? An "Add Tag" button would be nice. Alright, well considering the "we hate the mouse" fuck up that is the "scoop" box, let's give the keyboard a go...<Enter> Ah ha! I have, um, three new tags, the fuck, over? Yes, my post now has an "is" tag (along with a "change" and and a "bad" tag. Back to the 90's again are we? Yes, Clinton gave us, "it depends on what your definition if 'is' is." And, it didn't work for him then, why am I getting an "is" tag now? Fuck it, I now have an "is" tag and despite the fact that it looks like I could delete it, it's there and I'm keeping it. Fuck you indexing engine, deal with it.

And now, I guess it's time to preview this rant. This ought to be interesting. <Ctrl>-A, <Ctrl>-C, paste into Notepad just to ensure that I got the whole thing since I can't see my entire post at once in the little scoop box which couldn't. Lest I end up losing this insightful, hateful, pointless post to some random fuck up of the new system.

Well, at least the preview seems to work the way it's expected to. And to think, I originally came on here to post a non-vitriolic journal entry to document my upcoming switch over to AT&T's UVerse, but this new journal system was so bad that it got derailed like a Metrolink train with a texting conductor. Thank you, Slashdot crew, you've just about given me the final push to sign up for Facebook and leave this deteriorating site behind.

Journal Journal: They really said, "no"? 3

Was over on Fark and ran into an article about the amendment Senator Al Franken proposed to the House Appropriations bill. Now, as intended by the article, I had an inital WTF moment. Why did 30 Senators feel it necessary to oppose this amendment.

As one might expect, I was skeptical of the claim that this amendment was all about preventing rape cover-ups. After all, 30 Senators voting against it seems to indicate that the amendment doesn't contain what the title says it does. So, go over and read the text myself:

On page 245, between lines 8 and 9, insert the following: Sec. 8104. (a) None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any existing or new Federal contract if the contractor or a subcontractor at any tier requires that an employee or independent contractor, as a condition of employment, sign a contract that mandates that the employee or independent contractor performing work under the contract or subcontract resolve through arbitration any claim under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment, including assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, or negligent hiring, supervision, or retention.

That's is, that's the amendment in its entirety. No dodgy language, no hidden "And we're going to give everyone with a 'q' in their name 1 million dollars". Nada. It really looks like it does do what the title says, which is defund any contract with a mandatory arbitration clause which tries to include the type of thing KBR is trying to force under it. Sure, it's gonna fuck with Halliburton, KBR and probably a few other contractors which they get their employment contracts sorted, so what? Overall, great job Senator Franken.

For the 30 Senators who voted 'no', WTF, over?

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