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July 31, 2008

Sign Up For Updates

There are always a few things I'm really eager to follow. I look for any and all information on the topic constantly. When there is a "Sign Up For Updates" mechanism, I sign up and hope to be the first to know about a new update. Oddly, I still find out about news through other mechanisms first. The originating source either notifies me much later or not at all. I don't get it, isn't that exactly what that the purpose of that mechanism is, to get the information out in a timely, if not early manor to those who are keenly interested? I'm extremely disappointed when I don't even get notified, it's a big slap in the face that they don't really care about me as [the consumer/the investor/etc]. For those that have the mechanisms, great, but those who don't can be even more frustrating. To keep up to date, I need to constantly poll their website, salesmen or worse yet, third parties to see if updates have been made. This is especially painful when I'm waiting on information for a time sensitive decision.

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July 16, 2008

Technical Pet Peeves

  • "Computer Desks" which don't fit a computer or monitor at all and a corollary for those demonstration cardboard computers displayed on the desks that aren't anywhere near actual size.
  • "Digital Lag", you know what I'm talking about, those few milliseconds that everyone puts into digital products that make them seem to react less than instantly, unlike their analog counterparts.
  • Websites that are taken down and worthless banners left up for extended periods indicating website reconstruction, out dated content is better than no content, especially when you leave it for weeks or months or years...
  • Websites without contact information for the company or webmaster, I wanna buy your product but I can't contact you, or I am being helpful and trying to report a website problem but can't, what is the problem, contact info should be a primary content item on a website.
  • Claims that a computer RAM module was manufactured by a company when that company only manufactured the RAM chips. The module manufacturer is the important part in my opinion, the PCB makes or breaks the module.
  • Sunday Maintenance: I haven't figured out why half the internet disappears for Sunday maintenance. Who works on Sunday, let alone, why is there a need to take all or part of your internet presence off line once a week.

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Troubleshooting 101

Here's my basic guide to troubleshooting. It always works best when you follow these steps in order and complete each one.

  1. Get a detailed problem report
  2. Replicate the problem
  3. Isolate and characterize the root problem
  4. Try a solution
  5. Check if the solution solves the root problem
  6. Check that the initial problem report is also solved
  7. Perform any regular testing to ensure no additional issues have been created

Start by getting a detailed problem report. If you don't know what the problem is, there is no way you can fix it. The more details you get the better chance you have of replicating and resolving the issue. Replicating the problem proves that the problem continues to exist and that you've found a use case which causes the problem, you may also find use cases which don't replicate the issue and this helps with the next step. Once you know how to recreate the issue, you now need to find out what is going wrong and what the root cause of the problem is. Often this would be tackled by varying the inputs to gauge the output response, inspecting key areas of operation that have been identified as potentially local to the issue and other general diagnostic techniques. Hopefully this narrows down the issue and a fix can be generated and applied. This fix should be extensively tested to make sure it solves the actual problem identified earlier and then tested against the specific problem use cause detailed in the initial report. Finally, regular testing should be performed to validate that no additional issues were created by the fix.

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Guide to Purchasing Computer Hardware

Rule #1: When purchasing computer hardware, don't skimp!
Why? Obviously it is impossible to test everything in the PC world, a half dozen different mainstream operating systems alone, not to mention the infinite hardware configurations.

Thus it is always wise to purchase high quality components which are popular, wide spread and built by a company with a dominant market position. This not only insures a solid company to back up the warranty and continue to produce drivers and maintain support, but a large group of peer users. It also helps insure that problems are less likely to show up due to diligent testing and any additional problems will likely show up en masse and be fixed by the manufacturer.

The extra cost typically associated with selecting these products is easily justified, especially with the competitive marketplace. Products outside this criteria often have increased ownership costs. Consider the time and effort spent isolating a single problem as well as the real costs associated with resolving the problem. Also consider more frequent replacements due to failure, lack of driver support or incompatibility, and the lost opportunity costs of not being able to use the product in question.

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July 14, 2008

User Interface Decline

User interfaces always seem kind of poor and never seem to improve. The usual answers seem approximately correct. I know that when I develop an application interface that it tends to be just pieced together with what is required and I'm not given the information about how it will be used to make it much better.

TiVo was one that stood out with an excellent interface. I say was on purpose, the version 4.x TiVo software I used on my first TiVo was excellent. Rock solid, predictable, timely, obvious and simple, yet it had powerful shortcuts built in that were great time savers. As they've been adding features to the software, now up to 9.x, they've introduced bugs, lag, complexity and disorganization. For example, nearly the entire interface is now rendered dynamically, slow enough that menus and options change as you are viewing them and if you get too far ahead of the unit, it will accept your input and then ignore it, assuming it was invalid since the display update had not finished. The end result, it doesn't feel solid anymore, stuff doesn't always work, or works strangely. It's no longer predictable either as menus, recorded shows and options change from underneath you as you are looking at it. And it's certainly not timely, simple options, once instant, now take seconds, more complex ones that seemed instant now take several minutes with no obvious sign they are even working. Obvious went out the window too as I have a hard time finding some options that are scattered all over the place and disorganized. The shortcuts, well, many of them have been removed. It sucks to be frustrated at such a great device that was once so much better.

On the other hand, the Xbox 360 interface has always been bad. Navigation is unusual and not intuitive, the selected item is not always highlighted in an obvious manor and the labels aren't obvious. Moving backwards out of hierarchal menus drops you into different locations than where you came from, annoying, unpredictable and counterproductive. Dynamically generated lists take forever to populate, have to repopulate every time you look at them and even though they are listed alphabetically they appear to populate by time stamp instead, which means you need to wait
for the entire list to load each and every time you look at it. Mandatory software updates happen without notice or information and often make changes to the interface that just make it more confusing. Games for the platform have no common user interface thread either, they use different buttons for the typical enter and exit actions for example. Many of the games are riddled with splash screens, movies, animations and advertising that just can't be skipped and can really detract from game play and enjoyability.

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July 07, 2008

RFID Credit Card

The inevitable happened, I received my first RFID enabled credit card in the mail. I didn't request it, heck I only got the credit card mere weeks earlier cause it had a good incentive to sign up. It has Mastercard PayPass. It sounds like a neat idea, but adoption seems slow and I'm not aware of anywhere I spend that has it. The weirdest thing is that when I signed up for the credit card I could pick the design. I don't really care, but I spent the time and picked the one I liked best. Weeks later they send me a brand new card with the default design, ignoring my choice. From the looks of it, you no longer have a choice. Although I don't care about picking a design, the fact that they asked then ignored my choice is quite irritating.

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