Archive for the 'Annoyances' Category


Monday, November 20th, 2006

I went to two Target stores, three Costco stores, two Toys R Us stores, one Circuit City, and one Walmart location and all I got was a Wii Remote. Only one of the places I went said they even had any left today. So much for Nintendo’s claims that they would be able to meet the demand. I demand that my demand be met!

It looks like it will be a while before I get to exhaust the Wii Fund.

Simple Tip for Better Photographs

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

I’ve seen it happen so many times, and I always feel bad when it does. Have you ever had a picture of a person where the background is in focus and the person is all blurry? There is a solution, and it’s called focal lock. It’s something that anyone who ever takes a picture with a camera should know about and how to do properly. It’s not a hard thing, but there are still many many people who don’t know about it. I hope the suffering in the world might be lessened by this post.

The Hardest Special Effect to Get Right

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

What do you suppose is the hardest thing to reproduce on the big screen or in a TV show? Is it space scenes? I doubt it. They look pretty good to me for the most part except for the sound and the fact that you can’t really see a laser unless it is hitting something (think laser pointers… all you see is a dot). Is it water? Well, it’s challenging, but it usually looks believable. No, I’d have to say that, based solely on the observation of the final product, it would have to be: the personal computer.

You would think that it wouldn’t be too hard to make a computer look and act like a computer on screen. I don’t know about you, but when I bring up a webpage my computer doesn’t make any high-pitched jittery noises. Almost every show I see has the computer make a weird chirping noise every time the screen’s contents change. I think the sound guy just gets jealous or something that he has nothing to do when the computer screen is the only thing in the frame. He looks at it and thinks, “I could make this part so much cooler with this super high-speed cricket noise every time the screen’s contents change!”

My number two complaint is computer technology that doesn’t exists. The worst offender for this sort of thing is the classic blowing up and “enhancement” of a digital image. It gets blown up, the pixels get huge, and then someone says “let me enhance it” or something similar, and the picture magically becomes so clear that what was a giant 4 inch by 4 inch single colored block turns into a license plate with letters that are an eighth of an inch high and perfectly legible. It just creates this detail data out of nowhere. It makes no sense. It happens at least once in almost every crime show.

When will Hollywood realize that everyone uses computers every day and we can see that the computers in their shows don’t act anything like the computers on our desks. It really makes it hard to stay focused and suspend my disbelief when the computers are such horrible actors.

Halloween Hoopla

Monday, October 30th, 2006

I looked for two days for a Ninja costume. That’s what I was going to be for Halloween. I was playing video games with a bunch of guys and one of them asked what we were going to be for Halloween and three people said,

And, “Ninja.”

So I said that I had been planning on being a Ninja, but that didn’t seem so appealing anymore. I’d have to say the most popular costumes this Halloween are Ninja and Pirate. So I took a sharp left turn and went with Jailbird. The stripes just look cool, and I don’t even have to put on any makeup to give me that stubbly effect!

Arch Linux, Old Laptops, Overpriced Cords, and RAM

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

So I have been slowly learning how to do things the “Arch Linux Way” these past couple of days. I am really impressed with the way it is set up. I still haven’t run into a package that I want that isn’t already in the repositories, so I haven’t had occasion to compile my own software or make any packages yet under Arch. I hope that process is as smooth as everything else so far.

My brand new Nova Tech mini PCI card arrived today, and I was really excited to try it out. I got the kernel module installed and gave it a go. It couldn’t see anything. So I started doing some research. It turns out that the Dell Latitude c600 requires an additional tiny little hirose u.fl cable. You’d think a thin little 4-inch long cable would cost maybe between $3 and $5, but that’s not the case. Dell seems to have forgotten that people might actually need this part and have kindly removed any mention of it from their website. Reports I read stated that calling tech support results in stupefied silence. The item has become a wonderful specialty part that some companies are selling for as much as $40! I found one on eBay for $7.77 plus $3 for shipping. I was hoping to just pop into Fry’s and grab one, but now I have to wait another week for one to come in from Rhode Island.

Speaking of Fry’s, I wanted to check out their prices on 256MB sticks of PC100 SODIMM RAM. So I poured over their confusing grid of memory prices until an associate finally acknowledged me. I asked him what the cheapest price for the RAM I needed was. He punched i up into the computer and then called someone else. I couldn’t hear the conversation. Then he turned back around and said they didn’t have any! I thought he might tell me that all the good priced RAM was gone, but not that I couldn’t get it at all! I only have 64MB right now and I get programs dying for lack of RAM.

One last thing… I was all set to get this ultra-portable laptop ready to go today because all I needed was the proprietary Dell IDE connector that arrived in the mail today. I had to preload the OS onto the hard drive because the laptop I was installing it into has no drives but the single hard drive. I got everything set up to the point where I could connect it to the network and transfer the rest of the files onto it that way. I went to install it and it was too thick! I hadn’t even considered that that old laptop would use the slim form factored hard drives found in current systems. So all that work was for nothing. Now I’m looking for another hard drive.

Answering Machine Announcing Email Address

Friday, October 20th, 2006

I hate the telephone. I hate answering the phone. I hate calling people on the phone. I don’t like the telephone because it is rude. If a person were as inconsiderate as the telephone is they would get a punch in the mouth. No matter what you are doing it just rings when someone enters the magic numerical incantation. When it was first invented it would just keep ringing until the person on the other end of the line gave up. That’s why answering machines were invented and why they are so popular. They make the phone shut up when you are in the middle of doing something. Most of the time when people call me they are requesting information or asking if I can do something in the distant future. When people call for these reasons it really aggravates me.

For the longest time I have been against putting any sort of personally identifying information on the answering machine. I worked for a short period of time in a call center where we called businesses and conducted surveys. I can’t believe I ever took the job because of how much I hate the phone. I actually used to call people for eight hours every day. When we got any sort of recording we were usually able to verify that we had the right telephone number and even, sometimes, the name of the person we needed to talk with (we only wanted people that could answer financial questions about the company, so they needed to be at least a head accountant). You ask the secretary (who we affectionately called the “gatekeeper”) if we could talk with the Accountant or the CFO at the company. Usually asking a vague nameless question like that gets you voice mail. Well, the Voice Mail usually had their first and sometimes their last name on the recording (“Hi, you’ve reached the office of Dale Higgins…”). So then you write that down and call back later and confidently ask for Dale Higgins.

Where am I going with all this, you might ask. Well, I really want to change my answering machine message to simply give my email address and then say something like: “If you have a request you would like to make of Shawn please email shawn dot dowler at gmail dot com. That is the fastest and most reliable way to get a timely response. We are not responsible for unreturned phone calls.” I have another address I could give out that would leave out my last name. I think that might be vague enough. I don’t know how people would take such a message, though. Maybe I could add: “If this is an informational call not requiring a response, please leave a message after the beep.” I figure that that’s probably the most cordial way to handle the situation. Then it’s goodbye phone, hello email!

Internet Explorer 7 Released

Friday, October 20th, 2006

IE7 LogoMaking web pages used to be fun. I started back in the old days around 1996 with my first attempts to learn HTML. It wasn’t complicated. There weren’t very many tags. There was no such thing as CSS. You just made invisible tables to position everything. Life was good. You didn’t have anything so complicated that it “looked wrong” in another browser. Then things started to change. People started using Microsoft Internet Explorer and making their web pages with it as their rendering tester. After their designs were finished they would start getting complaints about how their site was all messed up in Netscape Navigator (that’s what the web browser was called back then). So instead of trying to make their site work right in all browsers (which is still hard today) they just slapped a little image on their site that said “This page best viewed with Microsoft Internet Explorer Version X.”

There has been a push for web standards in the hope that pages might render the same on all browsers. No browser implements all of the standards correctly, unfortunately, but some didn’t even try. Internet Explorer has historically been the most popular among web users, but at the same time the worst when it came to standard compliance. The biggest problem with Microsoft Internet Explorer, though, has been that it had been years since it was updated with any new features. New technologies have emerged that were simply unsupported in the most widely used browser in the world. It appears that IE7 seeks to change that. I still don’t recommend that people use it over Firefox, but at least with the world shifting to a more feature-rich browser web designers can finally start using the advanced technologies that have been supported by Firefox, Opera, Safari, and others for years now.

Maybe Microsoft Internet Explorer’s best contribution to the Internet will be that it makes web design fun again. Let’s home it doesn’t end up like IE6 in a couple of years: ignored and outdated.

It’s Only 5 Dollars

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

On my way home from the Church Membership Records Audit I stopped by the dry cleaner’s to pick up Krissy’s clothes she had left there. We always go to the same place where there is a really nice woman that works there with her surly husband. I always hope she is manning the counter when I go to do anything. Today the husband was vacuuming behind the counter when I walked in, ticket in hand. I handed him the ticket and he went over to the clothes roller coaster. When he came back he said it was five dollars. I always pay with a credit card, it just makes things easier to keep track of finances that way. I took out my card and offered it to him. He didn’t move. He just stood there and snidely said, “It’s only five dollars.” So I stood for a second with my hand outstretched, not moving. Then I finally said something like. “Oh. Alright. Let’s see if I have any cash.” I knew I had a 50 dollar bill on me, that was a gift I had received, and it is part of the Wii fund. I honestly didn’t know if I had five dollars. I found one, though, and gave it to him.

I just couldn’t believe that he would scoff at my plastic money. I understand that each transaction with a credit card costs him money, but I would assume that that cost is already factored into the price for the dry cleaning service. I’m just proud of myself that I didn’t get mad.

The Trash Man Cometh

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Our neighbors across the way has a habit of leaving a bag of trash outside the door of their apartment. You’d think they would get it on their way out in the morning, but such is often not the case. Krissy and I thought it might be a nice gesture to take it out to the trash for them when we were already going that way anyway leaving the apartment. After a while it got to be kind of a running joke. The missionaries came over once when the trash was there and they took it down when they left. It looks like the fun might be over, however.

Today we got one of our apartment manager’s infamous letters telling us that we’re doing something wrong. They try not to target any individual for some reason, which only leads to inaction. This time the wording was in the passive voice: “We have received several complaints that there has been trash left outside apartment doors in the hallways of building 1726.” I doubt that it will really stop until someone actually knocks on their door ant tells them in person to quit it and hands them a written letter with their name and apartment number on it telling them to stop or else.

I wonder if they will ever know what happened to their trash when they left it outside their apartment.

Disparate Class Difficulty Levels

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

I have three programming classes right now. One of them is actually a class about computer history and structure. My 160 class has tons of homework and takes me hours to finish even though the material is all stuff that I already know. My 221 class is data structures and algorithms using Java and I’m learning Java as I go, so that’s a fun class. The only homework is a program due every two to three weeks. My 222 class is Assembler Language using i386. I thought it would be a pretty difficult class. The biweekly homework assignment is to read and then answer 4 questions then do a super-simple program that takes about 10 lines of code and 30 minutes to work through. So, what I’m wondering is: why is my intro class (where I’m not learning) more difficult than the more advanced classes where I am learning? Maybe it’s all in how you rate difficulty. I think the concepts learned are less advanced in the 160 class and probably anyone who was willing to do the work would get an A. You could get lost in the 221 and 222 classes and not even know where to begin, I guess.

I still think more work is harder than more advanced concepts, though.