Thursday, April 28, 2005

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Out of the Blogosphere

I'll be on vacation for the next few days. I'll be out of the office, out of the Blogosphere, down to earth. Hmmmm. This looks like a nice place to land.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

109th Boston Marathon

Yesterday, Catherine "the Great" Ndereba won the women's race at the Boston Marathon for the fourth year straight. At one point she was a minute and 20 seconds behind the leaders. Amazingly, she started her surge in the hilliest part of part of the course and gained the lead at the crest of Heartbreak Hill. Her time of 2:25:13 was almost two minutes faster than that of second place Elfenesh Alemu.

An Ethiopian man won the men's race for the first time in 16 years. Hailu Negussie ran with the lead pack for the first 20 miles. After the Newton hills, he surged ahead and the race was his. His 2:11:45 time was almost a full minute ahead of the second place finisher.

Another big story in the men's race was Alan Culpepper's fourth place finish. This was the best finish for an American man since 1987. It was thrilling to follow Culpepper's progress -- especially as he passed two runners in the last two miles.

I spent most the day in the media room at the Fairmont Hotel in Copley square. My two sisters, my brother and I were volunteers on the Leader Board. This is a huge whiteboard flanked by video screens. Reporters from several major newspapers and magazines sit in front of the board and watch the race unfold. As split times came in from the course, we wrote them on the board.

This was a great way to experience the race. Even better, we were dismissed at around 2:30 and spent the next few hours in the bleachers near the finish line. We watched as thousands of runners sprinted, wobbled, strutted, walked or crawled across the finish line. The photo above is from the finish line on Bolyston St.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


A lot of people have been going Ga-Ga over Google Maps. I agree. The web site has a very cool, very un-web-like feel to it. Now there is a name for the technologies behind Google Maps and other state-of-the-art web apps -- Ajax. Read this excellent essay for more on the details of Ajax.

By the way, there is one web app that was way ahead of the curve. Domino Web Access (DWA) has been doing Ajax for years.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Stupid Support Tricks

Recently I was having trouble retrieving my POP3 mail. I created a "help ticket" on my ISP's web site. I described the details of the problem right down to the error message reported by Outlook Express. The funny thing was, once created, there was no way to check on the status of the help ticket. Oh no! I was reporting an email problem. Could it be my ISP was answering my question ... by email?

I won't go into the details here, but the problem "took care of itself." Sure enough, when I was finally able to retrieve my mail, there was this message waiting for me:
Our Mail Servers are working as designed, the error that you are getting is one that is generated by your Outlook or Outlook Express. This is a very common Outlook error and generally means that your "profile" in Outlook has become corrupted. We are sending you instructions on how to create a new profile, if this doesnt correct the issue then you may have to un/reinstall the application itself. Please contact Microsoft if you need help with uninstalling Outlook / Outlook Express as you may need to save your address book / inbox.
This was terrible advice, of course. My problem had nothing to do with a corrupt Outlook profile. This left me wondering how a casual email user copes with such nonsense. On the bright side, if it was a serious email problem, at least you would never see this bad advice.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Congress Considers Extending Daylight Saving Time

At first I thought this was another April Fools joke, but Congress really is considering making DST start in March and end in November. If you are over 35, you probably remember a similar experiment in 1974 and 1975. Allegedly, we saved energy then, but I remember there were lots of skeptics.

Even if we did save energy then, this is not the 1970s. I think there are big problems with this plan. The most prominent problem in my mind is the effect on people who use calendaring and scheduling (C&S) software -- unheard of in 1975.

Most C&S software stores event dates in terms of UTC (or GMT) and then uses time zone rules to render the dates in a user's local time. These time zone rules include information on when the locale observes DST. To accomodate the planned change to DST, three things will need to happen: 1) Software makers like Microsoft will have to update time zone rules, 2) Users will need to apply the updates, and 3) Users will have to reschedule events already planned for next November and March.

If ... no WHEN, these three steps don't happen, we'll have lots of confusion. The same event on two different calendars will apparently have different times. People will miss important appointments. This is not exactly a national emergency, but trust me, it will not go smoothly.

Monday, April 04, 2005

After the Flood

My house overlooks the Souhegan River in Southern NH. This weekend the river overflowed its banks because of heavy rain and melting of the snowpack. It wasn't as bad as last year and it certainly wasn't as dramatic as floods in the Midwest. Still, it was an impressive display.

Here is one scene yesterday, not too far from my house. (Click the picture to enlarge.)

The river is supposed to be behind the line of trees about one third below the top of the frame. As you can see, it isn't where it's supposed to be. Here's the same scene in Summer.

Friday, April 01, 2005

McAfee Internet Security Suite

Nine months ago I was looking for security software for my home computer. I wanted a virus scanner and a personal firewall. While shopping around, I discovered McAfee Internet Security Suite 6.0. It includes a virus scanner, a firewall, SpamKiller, and a privacy service. It was four products for the price of 1-1/2. I figured it was a reasonable deal, so I bought it.

Now I am ready to toss the whole thing out the window. Just a few of the many reasons:
  • It's all or nothing. Within a day of installing the suite, I decided I didn't want SpamKiller. I went to the "Add/Remove Programs" applet in Control Panel, and found there was no way to uninstall just SpamKiller. I could uninstall the whole suite, but I could not uninstall individual components. After much head scratching, I discovered I could disable the SpamKiller service, but I had to use Administrative Tools - Services to do it. That is way too obscure for most casual users.

  • It updates components constantly. Every time I connect to the Internet, McAfee starts downloading updates to one or more components. Even though I have disabled SpamKiller, it updates SpamKiller virtually every time I connect. That's just annoying.

  • Privacy Service is a headache. About a month ago I started having problems retrieving mail from my ISP. Outlook would get to the 13th message in a set of 18 and hang. Again, after much head scratching, I found I could work-around the problem by disabling Privacy Service. It turns out Privacy Service was setting up a proxy to my POP3 server and sniffing my mail. So far so good, but there is apparently a new bug in Privacy Service that makes the proxy hang. The bug must have arrived courtesy of McAfee's automatic update service. That was just the last straw for Privacy Service. I have had many problems with it, so I disabled Privacy Service too.
I actually have no complaints about the virus scanner and firewall -- the original reasons I bought the suite -- but this whole experience has soured my view of McAfee software. I have been working with PCs for twenty years and it has taken me hours of debugging and tuning to get the suite working. I can't imagine how a PC newbie would deal with it. McAfee is targeting products to the casual user, but not investing the resources to make it usable and reliable. They should be ashamed.