Archives » February, 2004

February 29, 2004


EE Times: The trouble with Rover is revealed. This article describes the technological problems that crippled the Spirit rover on Mars back in January. Now I’m not an electrical engineer or a NASA tech, so I don’t know why they design these things the way they do. But when the story says that the problem was caused by the flash memory filling up with files, leaving no free space to mount the drive, I as a computer tech have to ask, “Why was there so little memory?” I look at the numbers, 120MB of RAM and 256MB of flash memory. My own computer has more than that. And while I’m sure this equpiment is a little more robust than what you can buy at Office Depot, and therefore more expensive and bulky, how much would it have really added to the weight, size, or cost of the mission to maybe double the memory as a precaution? It’s always better to have too much, so I’m wondering why NASA chose to go with the bare minimum here. Puzzling.

February 28, 2004


I love Mozilla, and I’ve been using it for the longest time now. But there’s this one little bug that never seems to get squashed, and it’s starting to make me think of moving to FireFox. During the day I’m always minimizing Mozilla and going off to do something else, like read e-mail or work on some other files or whatever. So Mozilla will be sitting idly in the background with its six or eight tabs open, just waiting for me. But then when I switch back to it, it will hang for a bit before I can use it. Sometimes it’s ten seconds, or twenty, or even thirty or forty seconds. And during this time the disk is churning away, Mozilla is locked up, sometimes the browser is only half-drawn on the screen, or only the title bar will appear, leaving whatever window I was looking at before in the background. And slowly Mozilla will draw itself, and the buttons will appear, and the tabs will show up, and the site I was reading will come into view. And then it’s another ten or twenty seconds before I can click on a link and switch tabs. And after that, once the browser has “woken up”, it runs fine. Zippy and responsive, just like it should be.

So what makes Mozilla hibernate like that? No other program I have takes so long to activate after sitting in the background. It is seriously faster to close Mozilla when I’m not using it, then reopen it and let it go through its initialization than it is just to switch to it on the taskbar. But if I close it every time, I lose all the tabs I was working on. And this isn’t just happening on one computer. This is at work and at home. They both act in the exact same way. I’ve tried upgrading to all the new versions, and I grab nightly builds every now and then, but this problem never goes away. Is it a Mozilla problem? Is my 370MB pagefile too small? Is there something else I’m not considering? It’s only one problem in an otherwise perfect browser, but if I just want to pull up Google really fast, and have to wait 45 seconds before I can do anything, it’s a real nuisance.

So I’m writing this in FireFox, and we’ll see how it goes.

February 25, 2004

MT Calendars

Been in the works for a while, but I finally got ‘em looking purdy: Monthly Archive Calendars.

February 22, 2004


I haven’t written anything in a week? I see I’m settling into a slump rather nicely here. Nothing to write about, not a lot of time at the computer, all ingredients for a comfortable slump. Even if the weather has been nice and gloomy lately, which has been lifting my spirits. Getting new tires on my car, taking care of baby, and a birthday party with a dozen five-year-olds just aren’t the kinds of things I can bring myself to prattle on about. Maybe that’s why I’ll never be a successful newspaper columnist.

February 15, 2004


AskTog: Top 10 Reasons to Not Shop On Line. Bruce Tognazzini covers ten ways that e-commerce websites still suck like a Hoover.

  • If your site has won a web graphics design award, you are likely in serious need of a redesign. You are likely featuring something useless but pretty or you wouldn’t have won it. Your job is to move product, not to win awards.
  • I pressed the PDF download button, went to dinner in a foreign country, and returned to find the file almost completely downloaded. (It was one of the faster PDF files.) It turned out to be even more marketing hype, with lots of pretty pictures of people picnicking on the beach, although it did reveal that the printer could be connected to a computer.
  • The only reason I can possibly see for Delta presenting data in this 1960’s print-out format is that no one associated with the website has ever visited a competing site, such as Travelocity, so they just don’t know how it should be done.
  • American Express is apparently unaware that e-commerce is done with a computer, not a phone. Pick out the premiere hotel you want on their website, arrive at what should be the ordering page, and it will only tell you to pick up the phone and call them to make the reservation…The final insult? The hotel the website sold me on closed about a year ago.

February 13, 2004

Gnomedex IV: My backyard

The nerds are coming to town. Well, not my town exactly, but the next town over. Chris Pirillo has announced that his next Gnomedex conference, which seems to be one of the few remaining meccas for geeks these days, is going to be held at Lake Tahoe. Which is about a half hour away from my house. Which seems entirely too close for thousands of drunken Gnomie freaks to be hanging out. But I’ll probably end up going to the thing anyway. After all, how many chances to I get to go to a huge massive tech conference, and then go home to my own bed?

February 9, 2004

Pit stop on the upgrade road

I’m finally finished with the upgrade cycle at work. I never thought I’d reach a point where I was satisfied; it always seemed like upgrading workstations is the project that never stops. And I know I’m not done for good; sooner or later something will come up and I’ll get the urge to start the upgrade machinery once more. But this time I set myself a few goals, and thanks to a pretty sweet year-end budget, I was able to reach them all.

First thing I wanted to do was upgrade everyone to Windows XP Pro. A year ago we got our first copy of XP into the company. I immediately saw how many of the frustrations I had with 95 and 98, even 2000, just melted away under XP. Finally there was a version of Windows that felt like it was working with me instead of against me. It wasn’t until June that we bought a volume license and started rolling it out, and back then I didn’t think I’d be able to convert the whole company, even within a year. But in the last eight months 45 computers have passed across my workbench, each of them getting XP installed fresh (not upgraded), and then getting the attention needed to bring them as close as possible to the owner’s previous 98 setup. Installed programs, desktop icons, printers, mapped drives, I had to rebuild 45 personalized setups from scratch so that everyone would have the smoothest conversion possible. And I actually ended up with very few complaints from the users. Everyone seemed to take to XP just as smoothly as I had. Which I guess is a credit to Microsoft that they were able to come up with something that is so different from Windows 98 but feels so completely similar for novices.

Don’t get used to me complimenting Microsoft; it doesn’t happen (too) much.

The other part of the big upgrade project was new hardware for everyone. The ragtag band of machines that I had been nursing for the past five years consisted of many many computers that were here when I started, of which I had just upgraded the guts. New bottom-of-the-line motherboards, chips, and video cards thrown into rusty old cases, with no consistency across the organization. I was running an embarrassing number of Pentium 233s, and the AMD K62-400 was considered “mid-level”. Obviously, if I was to have even the smallest chance of rolling out Windows XP, that had to change.

I started by finding a fairly decent-looking and easy to work on case that I could buy in bulk. Then I picked out a motherboard that was reasonably-priced, but still powerful enough. I found the Gigabyte GA-7VKMLS (and later the GA-7VMKP, the DDR version) that would accept any Athlon up to 2400. And then I just started maxxing out my budget every month buying new hardware. Fast forward to now, and the company has 28 of those motherboard/case combos, with 17 of them running the Athlon XP 2400+. That’s the closest to standardization this company has ever seen. The rest of the computers are still a ragtag band, but a newer ragtag band, dominated by a clique of 9 FR33Es that I tried to standardize on a couple of years ago. That experiment died when I realized how foolish it was buying motherboards without onboard NICs, and that’s when I defected for Gigabyte.

So in the last three years, the company has basically seen a complete turnover of its computer hardware. Very few boxes from back then are still alive in the company. The only computer that’s still in use from when I started in 1999 is a 400MHz machine that the high school kids who empty the trash cans use to surf the web. Five years ago that was the brand-new, top of the line computer that everyone was envious of. Now it’s only being used because I had an unexpected hardware failure along the way and had to pull something off the scrap heap. I’m sure that compared to the IT department of some Fortune 1000 companies, my little story sounds pretty quaint and my “standard build” already outdated. But considering that last week I was finally able to retire the last AT style computer in the company, I’m feeling pretty accomplished right now. I feel like I have a well-rounded network; there have always been some machines at the bottom end that I was pretty embarrassed of. I couldn’t believe we were still running that junker. Well, I was finally able to get rid of the junkers. The computers now at the bottom were top of the line once in my tenure, and they’re still decent little workhorses. I mean, 500MHz may not be much, but it’ll run XP. And when an employee only works ten hours a week, how much do they really need? Finally I can be proud of my network – my whole network. It may be 2004, but I finally feel like RCI’s fully joined the 21st century.

My next project? Replace our Windows NT, Exchange 5.5 main server with Windows 2003 Server, Exchange 2003, and Active Directory. Should be a blast!!

BirdFoxFire… um…Fox

Get Firefox

The new version of Phoenix Firebird Firefox has been released. Version 0.8 of the Little Browser That Would Be Mozilla has come, after two months of wrangling over the new name. It definitely sounds like a name that was picked by committee. There’s even a FAQ about the new name.

But I hate the new name. It’s stupid.

Our editors are trying to figure out whether this is a question.

Ben Goodger explains the process behind coming up with a new name, but I thought the official roadmap said this project would ultimately be renamed Mozilla Browser anyway. So wouldn’t that make this whole naming flap moot? Or did they drop that idea in favor of Mozilla Firefox? Is there anything in the Mozilla organization that doesn’t change from week to week?

Hat tip: Craig Saila

Belated Ormsby

The king of procrastination is at it again. That’s why it is now February and I’m only just getting around to posting the December update to the Ormsby House Photo Gallery. I think there’s something to be said there about self-imposed deadlines.

Come back in April when I’ll be posting the January update.

December—Page 1 2 3 4.

February 8, 2004


If you have a baby, four months or older, run out right now and buy a Jumperoo. Trust me. Don’t think, don’t bother to put on a clean shirt or shut off the stove, just go to the store and get it. If the store’s closed, camp out on the front step. You will not regret it. Sammy went from crying to laughing in about 2.3 seconds when we first put him in it. And it’s funny; he doesn’t care much for swings, or for floor gyms or bouncers, but he loves this Jumperoo. Loves it. This has got to be the Best. Toy. Ever!