Posts for #Random Musings

I got a Sony Blu-Ray player recently, a BDP-S370. Enjoyed my two blu-rays on it (stupid things are still nowhere near reality with their pricing…), nice. Back to normality. Pop in a few DVDs, and after a while I found that the stupid machine never seems to resume the discs. Now, there are lots of discussions about this on the net. Apparently there are issues with something called BD-J, something very weird where Java is somehow on the disc, for whatever unfathomable reason. In some other cases I have read about, people complain about players not resuming blu-ray discs even though these were not BD-J discs.

Some people make funny statements like “resume is a feature of the disc”. Well, at least I find that funny. Now, what I want is nothing like this. I don’t even have enough blu-ray discs to find out whether I need them to resume. (Yes, I probably really do need that, but it’s not what I’m on about now.) What I am talking about is a feature that every one of my DVD players has had, going back ten years or so: the ability to remember the last play position of a DVD. And yes, I mean (of course!) to remember it while I take out the DVD and play a different one. I think most of the players I had had a limit on the number of discs the would remember – ten or twenty or something – but that was never a problem for me in reality.

I just learned something very interesting on the phone with O2 here in the UK. I haven’t got any time to research it, but then I’m not suspicious that the guy would lie to me about this – if somebody can substantiate this with some pointers to relevant materials, that would be good though. The thing is this. O2 is selling data roaming packages, called O2 Data Abroad. They are paid monthly and they have a cap of X MB per month, as usual with rollover rules too complex to understand and all that stuff. Among others, there is a package called O2 Data Abroad 50, which costs GBP 42.55 plus VAT (of course, this may not be true anymore when you read this, but it’s accurate at the time of writing).

Now here’s the fun part: since July 2010 (that’s what the guy thought when it happened) there’s been a new European law in place that caps the price for pay as you go data roaming at GBP 40 a month. There’s a limit on the volume as well, which just happens to be 50MB. They charge volume at a price of GBP 3 or 6 per MB (depending on the country), but they can’t charge more than GBP 40 overall. I’m not clear on whether the 50MB is a hard cap (i.e. you can’t use any more data after that) or whether different rules apply when you get beyond that – that would be an interesting question to answer. But one thing seems to be obvious: if you pay more than GBP 40 a month for data roaming, get in touch with your provider, ask about it and cancel that package! And yes, for bundles like the O2 Data Abroad thing, they can of course still charge whatever they like. And do they contact existing customers of these overpriced packages and tell them about this? Do they $#*&. Even if you don’t pay as much for a monthly package, you may be better off not subscribing to it now… after all these monthly packages were always a mixed deal: pay for them every month in the hope of saving money in the long term.

I just twittered a few minutes ago, saying “Seems like VS 2010 can still not show the same file twice in panels next to one another. Am I missing something?”. I’m still interested in the answer, if there is one, but meanwhile I thought I’d blog about something I’ve found interesting for a long time: the way our heads seem to work differently when it comes to applications of the words “horizontally” and “vertically”. You see, in Visual Studio (and that has been the same thing with MDI windows before that), they have a thing called a “Tab Group”, which comes in horizontal and vertical varieties. These days the difference is illustrated in little icons at least, defining it like this: Horizontal group (exhibit A):

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My English language readers will have to forgive me for posting something in German for once – I just found this extremely funny text in an old email and I don’t want to lose it. Die Quellen dieser Texte sind mir nicht bekannt – ewig her, dass ich das zum erstenmal gelesen habe. Hat aber nicht nachgelassen seitdem.

Gebrauchsanweisung fuer eine Luftmatratze:
"Wenn das Wetter kalt ist, wird die Puff Unterlage sich langsam puffen.
Entrollen die Puff Unterlage und liegen auf ihr, dann wird sie von der Waerme
sich Inflationen bekommen."

I’ve had a lot of trouble with external hard drives in the past. Sometimes the things just broke, sometimes they seemed to break and behaved wildly irregular – working one time, then nothing the next moment, or working with one machine and not with the other. A symptom I’ve observed several times with drives that were “not working” is that there’s a regular “clicking” noise coming from the drive when plugged in, as if it’s trying to get the mechanics working without success.

One of the things I’ve tried before when these issues struck is to use different cables. Recently I believe I may have found the actual issue: almost all USB cables I have suck. I’m talking about the standard big plug to little plug things that you get with every stupid USB device you buy. They all look pretty much the same, with the exception that some have ferrite beads on them. Some of them claim (in the small printed text on the cable itself) to be shielded, but then of course they all claim to be USB 2.0 compatible and none carry a note “please don’t expect me to work with your hard drive though”. Now I’ve found one cable that I can use pretty reliably with external hds, which is fine. But the whole issue makes me wonder if all these are known facts. I tried searching Google, and of course, as is always the case with cables, there are enough companies who offer cables that work with voodoo and similar techniques to offer much better quality. In the digital world I don’t hold much belief in voodoo though, and there’s a peculiar absence of hard information. Guess I’ll grab a bunch of good looking cables somewhere and see if they support my theory.

Just had this conversation in Twitter – well, as much of it as the 140 char limit allows. Somebody (keeping things anonymous here – own up if you want to! 😃) said the best session at the community event WebDD was one where the presenter had trouble with his laptop and couldn’t show any demos. Not the first time I hear something like this – perhaps I wouldn’t be bothered if it was. But most community events these days seem to have one or the other such incident.

Well, I’m afraid I don’t like that sort of a statement. I totally appreciate that issue happen and you can’t be prepared for everything. It is great to be able to pick up the pieces and continue when something odd happens. And it’s interesting and even impressive to watch somebody do it well. But. When I go somewhere to do a presentation, especially if it’s more than an 8 people user group meeting, I come prepared:

I’ve had a BA Executive Club account for about 18 months. During that time I must have been on perhaps 15 BA flights – some UK domestic, some within Europe, some to the US. For quite a while I’ve also had a BA-sponsored American Express card, which pays miles into my Executive Club account. I’m not flying on BA all the time, because I find that pretty hard to do – basically I wouldn’t pay extra to fly with a particular airline, and usually it’s hard enough to find flights that go to the right place at the right time anyway. Overall I certainly fly more than most people I know. I’ve collected roughly 30000 miles up to now – is that much? I don’t know.

Today I thought I’d look into something that I’ve never looked into before: see whether it makes sense to upgrade a flight with those miles. I’d tried before to use the online function to do that, but every time I’d been told there was some sort of problem and I should contact my “booking agent”. Flight booked online, sometimes even through BA directly, so wtf is that about the booking agent? Why no proper information about what the problem is? Hm… So I took the time to call them and spend 20 minutes in a phone queue. Of course it was the wrong phone queue – even though I’d taken the number from that online error page, there’s a different, Executive Club specific number I should be using. Okay, got transferred. Other girl, same problem, transferring me elsewhere again. Finally somebody who knows what to do, he looks at my booking and goes “well, that’s not the right kind of ticket”. What? Kind of ticket? “Yes, you should have a ‘flexible’ ticket so you can change it later. When booking online, there’s a choice between a cheap and a flexible ticket.” Ah, how stupid of me. I ask the guy if I could theoretically get anything useful for my 30000 miles on my flight to Orlando and it turns out that 25000 miles will buy me an upgrade to World Traveller Plus. Wow! Hallelujah! Just 18 months of careful airline selection and already can I afford 10 additional centimetres of leg room! So he goes, “I’m going to call our sales guys and ask them what the upgrade to a flexible ticket would cost for the trip.” Comes back, and it turns out that upgrade costs about 420 quid. I say hey, that’s a bit expensive, isn’t it and he replies “no, and that’s just for one leg of the trip because <weird stuff here> - you can’t get the upgrade on the way back, but for the one leg it’s just 12500 miles”. Phew.

Microsoft has come up with a good example of how you should handle the process of deprecating data.

Have a look at my MVP profile here. You’ll see that in a lot of profile entries for speaking engagements, the string “RETIRED – DO NOT SELECT” is shown. Why is that? Very simple: at some point the selection “.NET”, for instance, was a valid one, but now it had to be changed. Of course there are approaches to retiring data that would have left the old strings in place, but then those mechanisms introduce considerable overhead in the data gathering process. As the strings that are shown now also include the old strings, there was no conceivable reason not to go the easy way. Thanks to the unknown delevoper/db admin who published this great sample!

Maybe I’m not getting the joke, but it looks like the company New Standard Keyboards wants to sell us on keyboards that have a layout with keys in alphabetical order.

As I have blogged before, I’m using a keyboard in Dvorak layout with my desktop PC, and I have configured my laptop keyboard to Dvorak as well (I also swapped the keys around physically, which isn’t described in that article – I find it useful when I’m doing presentations and need to hit a certain key without actually having both hands on the keyboard).

So, as some of you may know, I’m not a native English speaker. I’m certainly no native American speaker, even less than English. Today’s Dilbert leaves me bewildered – I was pretty sure I knew what the expression “a little bit pregnant” meant. There’s a similar expression in (my native language) German, and a Google search for “a little bit pregnant” doesn’t reveal anything I wouldn’t have expected. But that comic strip doesn’t make the least bit of sense to me… anybody care to explain?