Archives » January, 2004

January 28, 2004

The IE Factor

Douglas Bowman: The IE Factor

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge I encounter each time is in wrangling Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. This devil does not play fair. It often follows no rules, and its behavior defies all common logic. It will double margins for no apparent reason. Borders disappear, 62 pixels magically turn into 143 pixels. It dodges left when other browsers go right. I’ve decided to call this phenomenon “the IE Factor”.

While working on the final stretch of a client project last week, I got stuck in a patch of quicksand. Design was finalized long ago. The bulk of CSS was authored over the holidays. Mozilla, Firebird, Safari, and Opera were all rendering the design beautifully, give or take a few small hiccups. But the design still had a few major quirks in IE (both Windows and Mac versions). “Ok, no problem — I need to spend an hour or so squashing bugs in IE.” That hour turned into two full days.

January 23, 2004


The Head Lemur pointed to, an index site for listing and finding photoblogs on the web. And I said to myself, “Say, you have a photoblog, don’t you?” Why, yes I do. So I listed Sammy’s Photoblog on there for people to find.

Sammy’s site didn’t start out as a photoblog. If you look at the first few posts, you can see I intended to actually talk about life with Sam and the experience of going through the C-section and everything after. But that didn’t quite work out. Either I found it wasn’t that easy to put things into words, or, more commonly, he took up so much time that I never was able to write. So one day I posted just a picture with a few words, and that was it. I was hooked. This was such an easy way to update the page, why would I ever do anything else? Just choose a picture, crop and resize it, upload it, and copy and paste yesterday’s HTML into a new post. None of that pesky thinking or writing that seems to take so long.

And so, slowly, a photoblog was born. And it seems that’s what visitors are really after anyway. They don’t want me to go off on Zen and the art of changing diapers, they just want a picture of the little tyke. So, a photoblog it is.

Crap, nonsense, and vapidity

Miss Alli riffs on PowerPoint:

Oh, and then, we get my least favorite thing in the world. The scourge of the universe. The great agony of mankind. It’s…PowerPoint. NOOOOOOO! The presentation starts with a screen saying, “Objective: To inspire motivation and expand consumer awareness through a targeted advertising campaign.” Okay, first of all, there is no such damn thing as “inspiring motivation.” At all. Second, isn’t that the objective of every advertising initiative? See, it says absolutely nothing, and yet it says it in big letters on the wall. That is the curse of PowerPoint, people — the notion that crap, nonsense, and vapidity sound a lot better if each one of them is a bullet point.


The problem:

Attempting to print from IE6 on Windows XP gives you a pop-up box with the following error:

Line: 639
Char: 1
Error: Invalid Argument
Code: 0
Url: res://c:\windows\system\shdoclc.dll/preview.dlg

It helpfully asks if you want to continue running scripts, but neither “Yes” nor “No” make it happy. You cannot print, and you cannot look at a Print Preview screen.

The solution:

Replace the iepeers.dll file. This can be tricky, because Windows File Protection might replace the file automatically (undoubtedly with a bad backup copy) when you rename it, or it might not even allow you to rename it in the first place. System File Checker is supposed to catch things like this, but of course it doesn’t. What I did, since I’m on a network, was grab a copy from a working computer and copy it right into the folder. Windows warns you about replacing it, but go ahead and do it anyway. If nothing else works, go into Safe Mode and replace the little bugger there. Just be sure you replace it with a good, working, 226kb file from another computer. Grabbing the 84kb iepeers.dl_ from the i386 folder on the Windows CD won’t do the trick.

Then you have to register the DLL: regsvr32 iepeers.dll, cross your fingers, and dance in a circle while reciting an ancient Zulu chant.

Why do you replace iepeers.dll when the error is in shdoclc.dll? Only billg knows for sure. DLL rasslin’ should be an Olympic sport. Even in XP, supposedly the latest and greatest, the DLLs can bring your system to its knees unless you know the right battle tactics.

January 22, 2004


Digital Web today bring us an interview with Dave Shea, creator of the CSS Zen Garden (and author of MezzoBlue)

During most of 2003 I worked for a small company here in town that helped get me to where I am today…But for the past three years I’ve struggled with the sort of things that a lot of us developers in the trenches struggle with. I saw a better way to build Web sites, and for years I tried to impart this vision on the company…I did near everything I could to boost accessibility and promote validation, only to be thwarted by a really bad content management system and coders who continuously couldn’t make heads or tails of the simple markup I’d give them. Tables and font tags would mysteriously sprout up everywhere after I’d handed off my code, because understanding it involved changing methods that, like it or not, continued to work.

The core idea [for the Zen Garden] came as a result of working for a company who just couldn’t see the light. I built it to show, not tell, the benefits of standards. The ironic part is that they’ve never seen it. No, really. I left the company just before Christmas, and to the best of my knowledge in that whole time not a single one of them stumbled across the Zen Garden (aside from one or two I had told). I really can’t explain it.

January 18, 2004

Genius of the Year #2

So, after Future Young Thinker of Tomorrow #1 brought a quarter cup of mercury to school and passed it around to all his friends, over 800 students got an extra two weeks tacked onto their Christmas vacation. Most of them, I’m sure, spent the time in the normal ways: playing Nintendo, surfing the web, and dealing blackjack down at Sharkey’s. But those pursuits weren’t intellectual enough for Future Young Thinkers of Tomorrow #2-5. They opted instead to spend their vacation engaged in the quintessentially American activity of siphoning gasoline from a 55-gallon drum. And, at some point during the process, Future Young Thinker of Tomorrow #2, as gasoline-soaked boys are wont to do, burst into flames. Police are unsure of how it happened, but I don’t think details are necessary in this case. If you get teenage boys and gasoline together in the same room, there is going to be a fire. It’s guaranteed. And if boys have come into contact with gasoline, and there is fire in the vicinity, you know the fire at some point will spread to the boy’s clothes. These are not huge leaps of logic. Here, let me do the math.

This reportedly happened down near Topaz Lake, on “a ranch”. If we remember back a couple of weeks, the offending quarter cup of mercury that has been making so much news lately was also found on “a ranch”, also down near Topaz Lake. This leave me with only two questions: where exactly is this mystery ranch, and why aren’t teenage boys lining up for miles around to get into it? Apparently there are plentiful amounts of mercury and gasoline, just lying around for the taking. Add in blackjack and a few hookers, and you’ve got a teenage boy Nirvana. Somebody should be charging admission to this place.

Anyway, Future Young Thinker of Tomorrow #2 was eventually rushed 20 miles to the emergency room. And by “rushed” I mean “leisurly driven by Future Young Thinker of Tomorrow #3’s mother, past the first emergency room they came across and on to the one located at the far side of town”. See, this is a fabulous display of thinking outside the box. This is why these boys in thirty years are all going to be CEOs of multinational corporations. They’ve got the ability to look at a problem from every angle and go against conventional wisdom to get the job done. Call 911? Don’t be silly. Get an ambulance? Why, when Mom has a car? And whatever you do, don’t settle for the first emergency room you see. You’ve got to explore all your options. That’s how you get straight to the top.

The urgent care center in Minden was unable to provide the proper environment for such a visionary, and the hospitals in Carson and Reno didn’t dare take him in. So after he was stabilized, a crack team of Shriners from a Sacramento burn clinic came and whisked him away. There he will remain while his third degree burns heal and his brain is presumably dissected for science. After all, who needs a brain when you’re that X-Treem!!

January 13, 2004

Schools’ Out

The school is still closed. The middle school where Viola works was closed last Tuesday when a student brought mercury to class. Now, a week later, it’s still shuttered. And they’re estimating that it’s going to stay closed for another week. Kids got mercury on their shoes and clothes, and tracked it around the school. Crews have been in there all week ripping out carpets and replacing furniture. Kids were throwing mercury at each other in the locker room. Now the entire locker room needs to be remodeled, including jackhammering the floor and replacing the drain pipes. Dozens of students have permanently lost personal belongings that became contaminated. Urine tests were being offered for any students or faculty who wanted to be sure their health checked out. Parents are angry because the school district isn’t keeping them informed about when the school might reopen, but the date keeps getting pushed back, and the most efficient way to disseminate information to 850 families is through the newspaper and the radio. Midterms have been pushed back by several weeks. Summer vacation will most likely be delayed by several weeks to make up the lost time. The student who brought the mercury to school and caused the whole thing is facing a suspension and possible lifetime expulsion from the Douglas County School District.

But little Sammy gets to have his mommy home all day, so at least he’s happy.

January 9, 2004


Like the cobbler’s children who have no shoes, until recently I was upgrading all these people at work to Athlon XP 2400+ computers, while still running on a K6-2 400 at home. Well, no more. Yesterday I finally got one of those 2400+ machines for my very own. Windows XP handled the upgrade rather smoothly, except for the power management features. One of the things I like about new motherboards working with XP is that you can just push the power button, and that sends XP into a graceful shutdown. (Yeah, I’m sure you could do that before XP too, but I’m easily pleased. Bear with me.) No more traversing through the Start Menu to shut down. But when my new computer was up and running, that wasn’t working. Nor would the computer turn itself off at the end of the shutdown sequence. It would just sit there with a dopey look in its eye, saying “It is now safe to turn off your computer”. I have 20 of these motherboards at the office, and each one of them shuts itself off. What was going on here? I finally was able to track down what needed to be done. XP was recognizing the computer as a “Standard PC”; it needed to be an “ACPI Uniprocessor PC”. So, how do you make the change? The only way is to insert the XP CD, press F5 during the CD boot, and pick the right option from a list. Then you have to run the hour-long repair process so XP can recompile itself with the ACPI support. It’s a pain, but if it worked, it’d be worth it. So I did that whole repair process, and it worked.

But…the repair screwed up my video card drivers. I have dual video cards, but only the second one—a PCI card—was showing up in Device Manager. The main video—an onboard chip—wasn’t there. At all. Like it didn’t exist. And the second card wouldn’t work without a primary to cooperate with. So I was living the nightmare of single-screen computing, something I haven’t had to do in years. I fiddled with the registry, trying to dislodge the missing video drivers. A look in the Display Properties box showed it was using a “VGASave” driver, but I couldn’t uninstall it or anything. I went looking online, and found plenty of people with the same problem, but not one page that gave a satisfactory solution. Finally I stumbled blindly across this page, which absolutely saved my hide. The short answer? I had to reinstall the motherboard chipset drivers, then the VGA drivers. Who would have figured the chipset was involved?

So, anyway, everything’s up and running, and now I can finally use my home computer for audio ripping and video editing. As well as other fun processor-devouring tasks. Yay!

January 8, 2004

Wi-Fi in Carson

Starbucks is still charging for wireless internet access, but at least one coffee house in town is taking them on with a free offering. Comma Coffee, located on Carson City’s main street right across from the Capitol complex, is now offering a free Wi-Fi hot spot. Last year Doc opined that Wi-Fi is just like milk and sugar; it’s a courtesy you give to your customers to get them in the door. It’s not supposed to be a profit center; it pays for itself in increased business, not in direct fees. The big guys still haven’t gotten the message, since all they see is dollar signs in the eyes of everyone who walks in. But the little guys get it, even in a town like Carson. And really, what costs are there anyway? A good wireless router is under $100 these days, and internet access runs you $30-$40 a month. Add a few pennies for electricity, and that’s your total hit to the bottom line. In return you get nothing but goodwill from the community, as well as a competitive edge over everyone else.

At least, for now it’s still a competitive edge. The day will come when everyone’s giving out Wi-Fi, and not having it makes your business stand out in a negative way. Going back to Doc’s example, imagine the coffee house today that charged for milk or sugar, or made you toss a dime in a box to use the john. Now go ten years in the future, and you’ll see Starbuck’s plan to charge people for internet access being looked back on with the same disgust. Comma Coffee’s on the train, but they’re only the first. It kind of makes me wish I was a coffee drinker.

Genius of the Year

I see that entries are already being submitted for the Genius of the Year awards. Here’s is Nevada’s first applicant of the new year: the kid who brought liquid mercury to his middle school. This Young Future Thinker of Tomorrow thought it would be fantastic to bring a quarter cup of liquid mercury on the school bus, and into the classroom, and hand it around to all his friends to play with. So then the sheriff’s office thought it would be completely fabulous to put the school into lockdown, quarantining everybody where they stood, and bringing in the hazmat team to “decontaminate” the students. The entire school reverted to martial law: lock the doors, and don’t let anybody in or out.

This is the school Viola works at. She was in the classroom with the deaf kids when the lockdown occurred. They were stuck in that room for four hours. Luckily, their room has an adjoining bathroom and a refrigerator with food and drinks. Most of the other students in the school were not so fortunate. Usually they put off eating and visiting the john until lunchtime; the lockdown happened ten minutes before lunch.

Finally, the non-contaminated students were released, one class at a time. It was a full scale evacuation. Everyone had to put plastic bags on their feet. The kids were put on clean busses, driven across town to the fairgrounds, then transferred to their regular busses and driven home. Viola drove one of the deaf girls home rather than have her go through all that confusion. The contaminated kids were stripped, showered, and either given gowns or had clean clothes brought from home. Everything they were wearing, everything they brought to school, was confiscated, and will only be returned if it is found to be free of mercury. Eventually, the school was occupied only by officials wandering around in hazmat suits. It looked like a scene out of E.T. On Wednesday the EPA showed up from San Francisco. Today the CDC is here out of Washington, D.C. There will be no classes until Monday, and that’s only if their mercury tests come up negative. This stuff got on the desks and in the carpets in four different rooms in the school. They have to clean it up, then seal and heat the school and check for traces of mercury vapors in the air. If there are still detectable amounts, the whole cleaning process has to be restarted. And the worst part? Any school days the kids miss will have to be made up at the end of the year. I think the kid who brought the stuff in is going to be pretty unpopular for a while.

So here’s the moral of the story, kids. Mercury? Just say no. Yeah, it’s shiny and cool and the monster was made out of it in that old Terminator movie your parents used to watch. But if you play with it you’ll get acne, and your teeth will rot, and you’ll grow a third arm, and then none of the girls will want to go out with you. Mercury: our futuristic enemy.