Apple, Computers, Events, Hardware, Open-source, Personal, Ruby, Software, Thoughts, Web, Windows

3 Days Down, 40 Years to Go

Yesterday at 5:00pm marked the end of my first week at Beacon Interactive Systems. My coworkers are all really nice, and there is a surprising geographic mix between them. Some folks have lived in Massachusetts their whole lives, while others come from Maryland, and Michigan. The cultural differences between “down South” and here are pretty minimal, unless you just feel like having a good laugh. There have been two big adjustments however: Snow is really not a big deal up here – people hardly notice it outside. The second is restaurants don’t have sweet tea. You would have to drink sweet tea to understand why this is a big deal.

In general:

  • The job is much less stressful. Even during crunch times, you hear Southpark and Big Lebowski quotes (“I’m not your pal, guy!”).
  • The environment is a lot less structured. You come in whenever, you leave whenever. If you want to go outside and toss around the football, go for it. Good team-builder by the way.
  • The skill sets of my coworkers are all very impressive. Its the rifle vs shotgun approach.
  • The job area is nice – its next to Harvard. Getting there is rough – I have to cut across the city. My 20 minute commute takes about an hour.
  • Developing on a Mac is an easier transition than I thought. I won’t say that I’m in love with it yet, but its workable. The biggest pain has been this silly bundled keyboard and mouse. No one else uses them. Also, package management on Mac sucks compared to Linux. I think I would actually prefer to use Linux. Time will tell on this one.
  • The coffee isn’t as good.

An interesting collision of viewpoints occurred my second day at the job, while I was shadowing a coworker on a joint project. He was showing me their (complex) system of bug detection, and correction. They write up a use case, file a ticket, branch the code, create a changset, rebase it, merge it into QA, verify it, then push it back upstream. Not coming from anything near that complex (“Hey Ben – login to the production server and change it!”) I was amazed that they spent so much time on this process. I asked if they ever just ignore a bug that would be too minimal to matter. My coworker asked me to clarify what I meant. I replied with “You know, its good enough for government.” He paused and looked at me funny, then reiterated that they address all bugs that are discovered. A bug is a bug. It will take me a while to harden my resolve to be like theirs, and aim for perfection. Perfection wasn’t possible before because we had the typical scenario of overworked, underpaid, and on a deadline.

We are moving into our new building in a few weeks. When we move, there will be a train station across the street from the new building, and I will probably make the transition to riding into work. Its about the same amount of time, but I would have the ability to sleep, read, surf the Internet, etc all without causing an accident.

Wish me luck for next week – its been a difficult adjustment.

Computers, Events, Linux, Open-source, Personal, Software, Thoughts, Windows

Windows 7 RC Initial Impressions

Windows 7 logoFor those of you who hate Windows Vista, don’t stop reading just yet. I hated Windows Vista too, but for objective reasons that were derived from my experiences, instead of being a sheep. I think its important to try new things, if nothing else but as a base of comparison.

Installation:

Windows 7 won’t win any speed contests here. The installation took so long that I left and made breakfast (bacon…yum) , ate it, and came back and we were still “Uncompressing files”. What is most interesting is that this install seemed to take LONGER than Windows Vista. Compare that to the 15-20 minute installations offered by Ubuntu Linux.

Out of the Box Experience:

Windows has historically been a weak OS out of the box, and Windows 7 makes improvements, but is still arguably in last place. The tools are bare metal, with the usual roundup – notepad, paint, calculator, and a few games. Interestingly paint has undergone a significant upgrade. Too bad no one uses or cares about paint. The most significant changes in the OOTB experience is the revamped Windows Media Player, Internet Explorer browser, and Windows Explorer file manager.

I have never cared much for Windows Media Player because it has historically done WAY TOO MUCH. The result is mediocrity across the board, and a difficult to user application. I did feel like this version has separated quality from quantity resulting in a nicer experience. It still relies too much on contextual menus, and hunting-and-clicking to perform the action you want. There is no Windows Explorer context option for “Play in Windows Media Player” or anything when you want to play a whole folder on your computer. Also, dragging music folders onto the WMP icon doesn’t play them.

Internet Explorer is now at version 8. Microsoft has supposedly spent a lot of time and effort in revamping the browser experience. All I can say is that it rendered the download page for Mozilla Firefox without any noticeable problems. It may be a good browser now – I will never know first hand, because I will not use it out of principle.

Windows Explorer has been revamped. It does start the browsing location at the root of the drive – something that earlier versions didn’t do, in favor of landing you “My Documents”. I would have like to have seen a consolidated file transfer dialog window that gets appended to instead of having a separate pop-up for each operation. Another annoyance is that the tree on the left no longer follows your navigation on the right – making it basically useless.

The Operating System:

The operating system layer itself is responsive and stable. Windows updates have been moved into a new Action Center component that resides in your system tray. If you care what it says it will nag you about needing to apply updates, and scanning your computer with Windows Defender. Updates still require a full reboot, and the “reminder” to do so is still very annoying and intrusive. God forbid I need to do work – my computer is too busy bothering me about installing the latest security patch for Internet Explorer 8.

The UAC is still alive and ticking – of course you can turn it off anytime you want. It does hinder the download and install software experience, as you have to acknowledge that you do actually really truthfully DO want to install application ‘x’ about four different times.

Appearance and Task Management:

The appearance of the operating system is largly a carry over from Windows Vista, but somehow less masculine. Animations have a purpose, and everything seems to be more fluid, and organic. I would sum it up as being like Windows Vista, but with more creativity and design. That being said, it is dissappointly uncustomizable. You have themes, and gadgets, and your wallpaper can cycle backgrounds – but if you love to tinker you will be dissappointed.

The task bar now has the icons of applications open instead of having labels of what they are. It is any easy setting to change, but a poor default setting choice. Another task management feature is that the task switcher application previews are too small to even pick out details of the window you want to focus on. If the point is to show the application, then SHOW it – don’t make me squint.

Compatability:

The core of the operating systems seems to share a LARGE code base with Windows Vista, and I think that it is advantageous to Windows 7. Vista gets to be the bad guy that broke everything, and Windows 7 is seen as the version that works with everything. In reality, it was just a matter of time for the device drivers to become compliant with the next-gen Windows base. I doub’t Windows 7 is any more compatible with software / drivers. I even tried the emulator on a Dell printer driver – after the hype it was a just a let down.

I installed Adobe Reader, Corel WordPerfect, Google Picasa, Microsoft Office, and Mozilla Firefox without any problems. The Dell printer driver was another story entirely. After fighting with installer files that reported missing post script drivers, and OS incompatability, I finally did a “Windows Update” for printer models. Luckily for me I am on the list, and the process finished successfully.

Initial Conclusion:

It is a rare day indeed when I review a new distribution of Windows. Extremely long development cycles mean the operating system appears to always be just behind the technology curve. Vendors rush in and make software to address the inadequacies of the Windows platform, and make a killing. Vendors get rich, and Microsoft sells more copies of Windows.

I view Microsoft with an overly critical eye, because while they are inovating now, and trying to change, they are a very seedy company. They want to control a lot of aspects of computing, and have the money to try. They drive out competition that offer superior products, and stifle innovation. They are also a monopoly that is so big the world seems to be its hostage.

I am glad to see a breath of fresh air come into the Windows 7 development now that the dust of the disaster codenamed Vista has settled. I truly believe that Microsoft realized their market share is not to be taken for granted anymore, and they will have to fight to hold it.

The real test will be to see what my wife thinks. If she doesn’t ask me to reload her desktop, then I know that the product is “there”.

Computers, Events, Hardware, Linux, Personal, Software, Windows

Back from Catastrophe

What a horrid last few days. Around lunch yesterday I restarted my Windows box at work, and I was greeted with unpleasantness. At the login screen, I got an error informing me that some instruction in memory has performed an illegal operation. After clicking on that, I got the infamous “NT Authority” says you have 60 more seconds with Windows error.

On rebooting the machine, I was notified that “C:WindowsSystem32hal.dll” is missing. I called shins, but sure enough, my entire Windows directory appeared to be empty. On closer inspection, Ubuntu informed me that it wasn’t empty, but instead, it was receiving an Input/Output error when trying to “ls” the contents. I ran a “chkdsk /r” wholly expecting that NTFS has fucked it all up again, and I seem to have been correct – at least in part.

After the chkdsk, I advanced two seconds further than my last attempt to boot Windows, only to be greeted with some cryptic error informing me that my registry looks about like that train over there. Repairing was not an option, so after much fingernail biting, and a few choice words, I decided that my only remaining option was a reinstallation.

Let me take a moment here to talk about the Windows reload process. My problem isn’t that I think its crappy and that I think someone should do something about it. I actually know that its crappy compared to any other Operating System’s standards. I can’t tell you how many damn “Next” buttons I had to click. And then how many preferences I had to change. This would have been much easier if I could have used something like Synaptic to check all the programs I wanted to install in one swoop. Additionally, on a *NIX platform, all of my application preferences would have been saved under my home folder. Windows is a tard in that department so it took me about five hours to get it back to usable.

After that got resolved I fired up my Virtual Machine containing my webserver (cheap hosting solution I know) and found that the MySQL database wouldn’t start. It ended up that the filesystem on my Linux box was corrupted as well. I ran “fsck” and fixed a dozen or so errors, rebooted, and realized that one of the files that was corrupted happened to be the MySQL user’s table. Long story short, I learned alot about troubleshooting MySQL, and got everything restored without losing any data.

Now I am finding other files all over the place that are 0 bytes in size. I have backups, but since the original file still exists when the backup is made, the backup is successfully overwritten with the new (0 kb) file.

John (and I partly) suspect VMWare may be the culprit. This is an incomplete theory however, and the entire process has left me visibly shaken. We run financial systems on these things. We run nuclear power plants with these things. My net worth is just a number sitting on some hard drive in a basement Wachovia owns somewhere. What happens when that dissappears?

Computers, Hardware, Linux, Open-source, Personal, Software, Thoughts, Windows

Ubuntu – How I Have Missed You…

Since I started working in Administrative Systems, I have been tasked with supporting a myriad of Windows-only applications. I assumed that it would be close to impossible to try and continue running any form of Linux on my work machines – especially with my boss popping in my office and telling me to pull up application X at any given second.

However, now I am tasked to work with Solaris about 90% of my day and I have to say that despite how great Putty can be – it just isn’t the best solution. Nothing beats a native terminal connection. Especially given that Windows doesn’t know jack about any filesystems other than its own. This makes editing files on the Solaris machine difficult and slow.

Slowly Linux started creeping back into my mind, and it made me homesick everytime I would go visit Scott and Chris over in VS (Well that problem took care of itself…). I have had much time to ponder how feasible a switchover would be (and what I would need to take care of as prerequisites) and I came up with a list of issues I would have to resolve first:

  1. Where can I place files that would be common to both Windows and Linux?
  2. How could I synchronize my email clients, and web browsers (history, bookmarks, passwords)?
  3. How can I access Windows applications if there is no other alternative?

These issues required some research on my part, but I finally found the following solutions:

  • ntfs-3g:  This particular piece of software is the read/write driver for NTFS partitions for Mac/Linux.  am counting on this to read/write data on the NTFS partition. It has matured so much recently that the latest version of Ubuntu can be installed inside the Windows NTFS partition. Condition #1 satistied – the files can stay where they are.
  • Mozilla Thunderbird / Mozilla Firefox: The Mozilla corporation did something so clever I have to applaud them (*clap clap clap*) – they made all application data, as well as settings reside in a profile folder. On Windows, Firefox is located at “C:Documents and Settings<user>Application DataMozillaFirefoxProfiles<profile instance>”. In Linux, this is located at “/home/<user>/.mozilla/firefox/profiles/<profile instance>”. Mozilla Thunderbird is essentially the same. The applause is becase the settings are the same on any OS! I placed the folders on the Linux partition by symlinking them to the Windows partition. Condition #2 satisfied – Email and Web browsers are always in sync because it is the same instance.
  • VMWare Server: No surprises here – this kind of software is a dime a dozen today. However VMWare offers a feature where with a bit of configuration the Operating System you can run can be the physical partition of your existing Windows partition. Pretty slick – that is after Windows throws a bitch fit that its configuration has been change and you absolutely positively must activate it again. The solution for that is to create a seperate hardware profile for Windows (a configuration that Windows made mandatory because of its bitch fits). Condition #3 satisfied – if I need Windows I can just flip over to Workspace 4 (I named it hell) and Windows is waiting for my input.