Thursday, January 26, 2006

Q: With whom did you have lunch?

A: Mel Torme

I started a new gig this week doing architecture or something close to it. I took the gig for a variety of reasons: nice people, interesting work, I get to take the bus to work and the location can't be beat, a few hundred yards from Westwood Village and a one minute walk from Pierce Brothers Cemetery.

In case you don't know, Pierce Brothers is the final resting place for the likes of Walter Mathhau, Jack Lemon, Dean Martin and of course the delicious Marilyn Monroe.

Not one to let hidden benefits go unrealized even when they involve brushing up on Tomcat JSP server configuration, I grabbed my reading, rode the elevator downstairs and took a seat on a bench in the sun located at the marker where Mel Torme's soul rests.

Pretty cool, huh?

But that's not what I really want to write about. I really want to write about taking the bus to work part of the gig. You see, in the final analysis, talk is cheap. At one time it wasn't. But since talk seems to have been relegated to the back halls of persuasion, it's become about as valuable as Beta-max video and 8 track cassettes. So not for a moment do I want to give the impression that my political action ends at the end of my tongue. Thus, when the opportunity came along to get a gig that would get me out of the car and on to my feet, I took it. You see, there is some romantic resonance to the saying, “Think globally, act locally.”

So tomorrow I'll plunk my seventy five cents into the fare box and take a 10 minute ride into Westwood Village. At some point I will probably squawk a bit about the debacle of foreign policy in Iraq or the fact that there is little articulate discussion in the public arena about how a state can wage war quickly and effectively against a stateless belligerent. I'll probably get a little bummed. Then, in order to renew my spirit, if the sun is just right and warm, I might go downstairs, grab a bagel with a schmear and have lunch with George C. Scott, if he's available.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Q: Why didn't you do DotNetRocks?

A: Mismatched technology

Recently I was scheduled to do an on line radio show devoted to Redmondian technology, The show is prerecorded and aired at a later time.

I did the show. Later, as the content of the show was reviewed, we all sort of independently came to the conclusion that it would be best not to broadcast it. It didn't feel right, at least on my end. My thinking was garbled and my discourse was erratic.

So, I got to thinking about the reason that it did not feel right to me. The reason that I discovered after truthful introspection was that I was trying too hard to be intellectually entertaining and adorable and not spending enough time getting to the point of my message and staying focused on my message.

I was failing because at the time I had no conscious understanding of what my message was.

Well now I do, and here it is:

Doing technology is a great vocation. Writing code is a creative experience second to none. But, as long as we in the technical community support, passively or impassively, a type of political culture and national government in which we piss away 2 trillion dollars on a war that does nothing more than create misery and instability in an area of the world that requires the opposite and does NOT provide more security for our nation and our world, well.....we had a 2 trillion dollar opportunity and we blew it.

From where I sit...

  • that 2 trillion dollars could have been put toward programs that eliminate our need for foreign oil and promote our positive standing worldwide.
  • that 2 trillion dollars could have been used to start a viable national intra-city and inter-city railway system that uses non-fossil fuels and transports freight and people cost effectively, usefully and with regard to civilian transportation, enjoyably
  • that 2 trillion dollars could have been used to assist the Big Three automakers to repurpose part of its workforce and technical infrastructure to make products and services that support such a railway system.
  • that 2 trillion dollars could have been used to modify the nation's health care system so that every citizen has fair access to quality medical care.
  • that 2 trillion dollars could have by used to create a national on-line library system in which every citizen has immediate access to information within the public domain.

What did we, this nation, do instead? We invaded a country with marginal relevance to the compromise of our national well-being. And, in doing so we created more enemies than friends, killed a whole bunch of people and promoted a national value system in which force is more important than reason.

And here is the comedically tragic thing. China, a nation that has a government that is not a shining example of democratic rule, gets to sit by and watch us piss away our money, a good portion of it borrowed, while it builds up it's economy and infrastructure so that one day in the not too distant future there will be more cell phones, computers, programmers and automobiles there than any place else in the world.

So think about that the next time you trying to get your .NET objects to serialize properly.

That's the message.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Q: What is the future of tech support?

A: An RMA number

Over the holidays I bought my girlfriend a digital camera to go with my new laptop. I figured give a little, get a little.

Anyway, last night I wanted to download some photos to the laptop. So I get the camera box out from the gift corner, install the software and plug the camera into the USB slot via the nifty little cable that Canon sent. (The camera is a Canon PowerShot A520.)

My Windows XP Pro laptop does not see the camera.

I figured it was a driver problem, so I ditzzed around with things for a while: searched for WinXP drivers, read up, tried reinstalling, you know, just what I wanted to do on a Monday night. The result of my efforts was nil. So I try on girlfriend's Win2K laptop. What the hell, use the old drivers, I figure.

Still nothing.

So, I figure that I'll call Dell, the makers of my brand new laptop. It's late 10:30 PM PST. But, I get a garbled voice on the cell phone after dancing in the Dell phone queue for about 5 minutes. Not bad in tech support minutes, I guess. I mean, the deal is you get a voice. Nobody said anthing about a voice with meaning.

I understood about every other word that the technician uttered. I am almost sure the the guy that I had on the line was in India because the phone connection quality was frighteningly similar to sounds that I get from recruiters calling me from India using a cheap VoIP service to try to place developers from Southern California into lifeless gigs in data centers in Exurbia. We talk for 2 minutes and then we are disconnected.

I call back. I get another VoIP challenged guy who eventually directs me in to the tech support netherworld of unresolved voice menus, abrupt magical disconnections and “not my table” responses.

Still no photos on the laptop. So, in desperation I try the tech support chat.

Here is my first conversation:

Session Started with Agent (Mathew_xxxx)
Robert Reselman: "Can't see camera"
Agent (Mathew_xxxx): "Thank you for contacting Dell Consumer Hardware Warranty Support Chat. My name is Mathew."
Agent (Mathew_xxxx): "Please allow me a moment to review your question."
Robert Reselman: "Hi Mathew"
Robert Reselman: "The phone kept hanging up on me...."
Agent (Mathew_xxxx): "Hi, Robert."
Agent (Mathew_xxxx): "Robert, I am unable to help you at present as my system tools have gone bad. I can't access my database as my system does not seem to allow me to do so. So I would request you to please understand my helplessness and contact us back after half an hour so"
Agent (Mathew_xxxx): "I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused to you. I am very sorry for not being able to assist you at the moment as all my resources are down now. I hope you will understand my situation and get in touch with us soon."
Agent (Mathew_xxxx): "Thank you for visiting Dell Technical Chat Support and allowing me the opportunity to assist you."
Agent (Mathew_xxxx): "Also, feel free to visit us again at:"
Session Ended

Here is the second conversation:

Session Started with Agent (Ankur_xxxx)
Robert Reselman: "Need WinXP driver for Canon Powershot a520"
Agent (Ankur_xxxx): "Thank you for contacting Dell Consumer Hardware Warranty Support Chat for Portables. My name is Ankur.Please allow me a minute to review your question"
Robert Reselman: "Hi Ankur"
Agent (Ankur_xxxx): "I would have liked to help you however your chat has been connected to Dell Consumer Technical Hardware Chat Support for Portables\Desktop. To get specialized, professional help with your at-home installation needs kindly contact Dell On Call who are spec"
Agent (Ankur_xxxx): "Since we do not have a Chat based helpdesk support, I would request you to call them at (866) 497-2661 and do vist our Dell On Call Site at:"
Agent (Ankur_xxxx): "Thank you for visiting Dell Technical Support online chat and allowing me the opportunity to assist you. Please feel free to visit us again at"
Session Ended

OK, so at this point I am well..... nuts!

So, I figure, hell, I'll call the paid support line. All I want to do is get the photos into the laptop. It's a simple thing. Why is this soooo hard? I get through to paid support almost in no time, only three key skips in the menu system. Then I learn that help getting the photos into the laptop will cost $99.

At this point I felt I had only one option left: send the camera back, go down the street in the morning to Radio Shack, pay a little more to talk to a human being with free will and no cyber-intelligent tech support policy implant and get the photos into the laptop.

I get online to the DellTakeThisThingBack.htm web page and apply for an RMA number. (RMA stands for Return Merchandise Authorization, I think.)

So, I am just about to cash it in and go to sleep. I decide to give the Canon site one last try and read the very fine print in the product description that says that no special drivers are needed for Windows XP. OK, I figure. I plug the camera back in one last time . Still no camera to be seen by the laptop. Then as if by some psychic premonition I get this vision: Turn the camera on and put the mode switch on VIEW.

Do I did and it does. The laptop sees the camera.

So with absolutely no support from anybody, not Dell, not Canon, or Big Government, after 2 hours of trying to figure out how to get photos to the laptop, I finally realize my goal. I feel like a guy that would make the Founding Father proud: success through self sufficiency, private initiative and the labor of one's brow!

So for all you irate, frustrated owners of a Canon A520 searching on Google, for relief, this is for you. If you want your Windows XP system to see the camera in order to get the photos onto the system, do this:

  • Plug in the cable between camera the system USB port
  • Turn on the camera
  • Set the mode switch down to view.

Click here for a diagram that will show you exactly what switch to move down.

Now you might want to know what photo required such urgency to download. Well, click here to see it. I am trying to sell a Crate PX700 PA mixer-amp: a nice piece of equipment for mixing to output or powering 6 mikes for a small ensemble. BO accepted.

Oh yeah, I am still waiting for the RMA number. I guess in the future we're all just another IP address in the queue.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Q: Can you debug VS2003 and VS2005 apps side by side.

A: Not on Bobby's machine.

(This is a hardcore tech post. Buyer beware!)

So I got my spiffy new VS 2005 and installed it on baited breath. I had asked a few people if they had had any problem running VS2005 along side VS 20003 on the same machine. No problems reported. Thus, I felt completely comfortable not removing the existing installation of VS 2003 on my machine.

Well guess what?

You cannot (can not or can't, for all you Google searchers) debug existing VS 2003 projects after you install VS 2005, at least not on my machine.

Boy, was I upset.

But, I had the privilege of having discussion with Paul Nguyen of Avanade. He told me how to fix the problem.

If you have installed VS 2005 on a machine with an existing copy of VS 2003, simply remove the existing installation of the .NET Framework 2.0, then re-install.

Also, make this entry in the web.config of the target assemby, after the <config .... /> sections.


      <requiredRuntime version="v1.1.4322"/>



So I did and it did.

So to my friends in Redmond and in the NSA, please pay attention to this post. I mean, jeepers I spent at least 4 hours trying to solve this problem. Did everything the help files told me to do and still....

Thank you, Paul.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Q: What does America not want to see for Christmas?

A: Two men kissing.

Here's the poop: I have been doing a contract for a major Hollywood research group. The name will go unmentioned to protect the innocent, namely me. One of the benefits of the gig is that that I get to see a lot of numbers about movies--total gross, weekend gross, how many theatres showed a movie, what day of the week the movie was released on, etc...

Anyway, it turns out that a certain cinematic love story featuring two cowboys supposedly grossed 3 million dollars during its first week out. This might seem like a lot of money. But given that it took around fifteen million bucks to make, the success of this film does not bode well.

Now according to all reports, it's a good movie, worthy of the price of admission. But you'd think that the guys who distribute this film were out skiing in Aspen during the part of business school where they talk about optimal release time. Jeepers wanna release a hit at Christmas time? Release a movie with a talking lion, a movie about a family with 18 kids, a film about retribution in the Middle East, or a film about an oversized ape. America can live with blood, murder and talking or oversized animals. But a film with two guys rolling around in a sleeping bag during CHRISTMAS WEEK, what were these guys thinking about?

Now, if it were a story about two women rolling around in a sleeping bag.....

Well, it probably wouldn't do well either. But you can bet it'd clean up on DVD.