whinoceros

Recently an article came up on my Google News about the new “background image” option on the Google homepage. It was an article on PC World ruminating about why some people are complaining about the new background image. I read it and agreed with most of it, but most honestly, I was wondering, “What kind of people would actually complain about this?” I expected it to be some minor percentage of people who have nothing to do, but as I scrolled down to the comments section, I was really flabbergasted by the number of people who actually had an issue with the new homepage.

To recap, Google added the ability for you to specify a background image on your Google homepage, the effect of which made it look a bit like Bing (but in reality a lot different–Bing’s graphical homepage is actually a lot more feature-ful). Furthermore, you could actually choose which “theme” you wanted and could even upload your own stuff or do a Google Images search for a graphic you wished to use. What’s the issue?

Apparently some Google users feel like they have some ownership of how the page should look. There were actually people demanding that Google return the homepage to the default state or add some sort of “easy to click” option to do so. Really? It’s just a homepage. The page behaves exactly the same. The only thing I’m really worried about is whether the Google logo will still be customized on special days–as that’s the only reason I actually go to the Google homepage (I use my Firefox search bar for everything else).

Seriously, people, find something better to complain about. Like that oil spill or whales dying or something.

psyched about iPhone OS 4

Apple held their iPhone OS 4 event today and I must say, I’m pretty psyched by the features that they are rolling out. Some of them are things that should have been part of the OS from day 1, in my opinion, others are pretty good innovations. All in all, I can’t wait to see how they turn out come this summer. Let’s take a look at the features I’m most interested in…

Multitasking

Whooooohoooo! Multitasking has *finally* come to the iPhone. This is a feature that users have been asking for years now, and Apple has finally delivered. Their method of delivery is kind of interesting, though, in that they are not allowing for full-featured, automatic multitasking. Effectively, if you want to add multitasking to your app, you’re going to have to do a bit of work. Multitasking is exposed via 7 different APIs that allow you to plug-in to different things from background audio to VoIP. This is different from the standard computer paradigm of multitasking, wherein you save whats in memory and all your valuable stack pointers, load something else into memory and then set up your new pointers correctly. Whether this is a smart way to implement it, only time will tell, but it’s likely to decrease the latency in switching between applications and actually using the foreground app, with all that bookkeeping not being relevant any more.

Folders

Of late, I’ve been suffering from an inability to organize my apps as I want them because there are too many/too little of a certain type. I tried to be as categorical as I could from the beginning–organizing by things such as games, social network, etc. However, the issue is that if I want to reorganize a category, or if a category overflows to another page, I’m pretty much screwed. Or not screwed, but in a situation where I spend a bunch of time moving apps around. Folders have been part and parcel of the BlackBerry OS for ages and they are one feature that I used extensively when I still used my Curve 8310. This is a welcome addition to the organizational freaks such as myself.

Game Center

This is the last thing that seems like it could be useful–it’s basically XBox Live for the iPhone. Meaning that you can create match-ups, track leaderboards, etc. Many games currently do this through manual leaderboards driven through web-service calls–this would obviously be an improvement since there would be a standardized API to be able to handle all that stuff, and also the more stable Apple servers running it.

Amongst the other features mentioned, there was better mail management, better enterprise integration, etc. I didn’t really find much of that relevant, but I’m sure there are people who are elated by that news. Amongst the announcements that I didn’t like was their iAd offering. This is basically an effort to counter the in-app ads that are currently being pulled in by many apps (through AdMob and the like, I suppose). While the framework allows ad developers to basically create a lightweight app (one that in many ways will be like a pre-OS 4 app), I think it will be detrimental to current apps. We may see a bunch of apps being rejected/removed because they don’t embrace the iAd platform. While the idea of having these app-like ads may seem novel, I wonder how many people seriously click on an ad. Then again, given that Google built its empire on ads, maybe I’m just a minority.

That’s all for now!

the customer ain’t king

This is a rant directed towards NBA League Pass.

A few weeks ago I complained about ridiculous blackout restrictions that prevented me from watching the Rockets here in Austin, just about 200 miles away. Since people had been complaining for ages without the NBA or anyone who could do anything giving a shit, I decided to stifle my voice and instead purchase a pricey NBA League Pass package. I bought the cheapest one available–that allows me to watch games that are not blacked out by regional restrictions for any 7 teams. It came out to something like $90 for regular season, which isn’t all that bad since that’s equivalent approximately a month and a half of cable for me (which I’ll be downgrading as soon as I can, since the only reason I bought this, more expensive, package is because it has the regional Fox Sports channels, which I found out later they blackout for NBA).

My experience with League Pass has been decent. I’ve been annoyed at the fact that they use a proprietary Flash player which means that I cannot do anything to change the ratio (they output 4:3 whereas my TV is a widescreen 16:9), the scores that take up about half the screen and the fact that they don’t show actual half-time shows. These issues I can understand because (a) they wouldn’t want to provide free advertising to the half-time show sponsors and (b) the entire system was designed by UI dimwits.

What I cannot accept, though, is the fact that sometimes games will just not show. And the reason is that whoever is behind their intricate UI setting up the streams has messed up what channel outputs what game. I had this occur sometime a few weeks back when the Rockets were playing a no-name team. That didn’t matter so much. Tonight, we’re playing the Cavs and were playing them pretty well. Of course, League Pass decided to output the Hornets-Timberwolves game. It went down to the last second–but I don’t give a crap about either of those teams. I was hopeful that the problem would be fixed after the Hornets game was finished and the pivotal fourth quarter began in the Rockets game, but now I have a blank screen staring at me that says “NBA League Pass Broadband Channel 1”. Googling a few forums, I found that the Rockets game is actually playing on the Spurs-Kings channel (who knows what channel that game is being played on?). Of course, the awesome part about this is since Austin is in the Spurs’ hometown sphere of influence, its blacked out on my League Pass. So my options for watching the game are basically down to one: watch an illegal stream from some site (justin.tv, ustream.tv, myp2p.eu pop into mind immediately).

Argh.

But wait, there’s more! The last time, in my frustration, I sent the folks at League Pass an angry email. I got a response about a week later saying sorry because of technical difficulties. Today their chat line happened to be open so I logged in to that. After waiting for about half an hour and posing my query, the representative, “Rebecca” told me that it was a technical issue that they had been notified of and that they couldn’t do anything. I guess their chat line is open for far more pressing issues such as “OMG I can’t install Flash”, which can be solved by using the great Google.

Thank god myp2p pointed me to a Chinese stream. Too bad I can’t understand the commentary…

karma?

I’ve been riding the Microsoft high for the last week or so, so it was only fair that they would let me down and really screw up. Oh well, thankfully I’m not a Microsoft fanboy, so I will go ahead and call them out on their faults.

This story has to do with the Windows Installer framework and how poorly it is designed. On or around October 14th, Microsoft released a “critical security patch” that fixed SQL Server 2005–KB970892. Great… I always keep my patches up to date–or try to–so I went ahead and downloaded it. I didn’t actively do it, of course, since Windows Update takes care of all that. Unfortunately, the update was poorly designed and kept failing. All the time. Every time I opened my start menu, the little “Updates will be installed on shut-down” shield was winking at me. I didn’t realize it was the same update over and over again, and thought that perhaps updates are being triggered by each other, so that different updates are being installed.

However, a visit to the Windows Update page showed that the same KB970892 patch kept failing. With the descriptive error code of “Unknown error”. Awesome. If I had been a lazier, less obsessive person, I would have ignored the problem and let it fix itself. However, I decided to use “teh Google” to help me out. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with the issue. Apparently lots of people were having the problem. Solutions ranged from registry fixes to starting/stopping SQL services to many other random options. All suggested by third parties, since Microsoft didn’t think this was big enough to address. Even on their own damn forums.

The option I chose, that was marked the answer on one particular MSDN forums thread, involved downloading the Microsoft Windows Installer Clean Up utility and getting rid of all the installers for SQL Server products. This seemed like a viable solution since I haven’t and don’t plan to ever use SQL Server, so I set about my business. Now, a word of warning (unfortunately from hindsight). Just because it is called a “Clean Up utility” doesn’t mean that is what it does. I thought “clean up” had to do with cleaning up temporary files and the like that were generated on program installation. In actuality, clean up means to actually delete the installer files for the products you choose. Why anyone would want to do this is something I won’t understand, but why the utility is called clean up is something I’m pissed off about now. Very.

So I went through and removed all the installers for SQL server, inadvertently. I then happened upon a post later in that thread saying that following those steps broke Office. Hmm… interesting. I opened up Microsoft Word and sure enough I was greeted by a flurry of installer dialogs followed by an error message saying that Office wasn’t installed for this user. No Office. Fine… I’ll just repair it, right? Wrong. No repair allowed. Apparently you need to have the installer for SQL server to repair Office. Okay, gah, I’ll just uninstall and reinstall it. With a flashy new computer, the process is going to take 15 minutes tops.

Strike 3, I’m out. I can’t uninstall Office either, using the installer. Apparently to uninstall Office, you need to have the installer for SQL Server 2005. The logic here was beginning to baffle me. How many freaking dependencies did I have to fulfill to remove a freaking program? I Googled and found Microsoft-provided instructions for removing Office 2007 manually. There was an automatic utility I used first that seemed to succeed but I still wasn’t able to install Office since it was apparently still “installed”. But not for me, for some mysterious user that didn’t exist, so I wasn’t able to use it.

I used the manual-manual instructions, finally, and backed up the registry and set about deleting files here, there and everywhere. It took about 30 minutes to do and once I was done, I restarted. And the freaking SQL Server 2005 update was still sitting in Windows update, accompanied by a “Microsoft Office 2007 System Update”. WTF? I just went through and REMOVED MS Office… how the hell could I now be getting an update for it? Nonetheless, I selected both to install and it seemed to… WORK! I restarted my computer and guess what? Failed update… again.

Getting thoroughly annoyed, I decided to try and use System Restore to restore to before I had tried any of these shenanigans. No deuce there, either. Apparently system restore depended on some file that had been removed, and hence kept failing. I was under the impression that system restore files were stored in some alternate location so they could be used to usefully recover from a system “failure”. Apparently, not. So now I’m left with a computer with a mysterious version of Office 2007, an update for a program that doesn’t exist and a major headache.

Microsoft’s installer framework has baffled me. It seems like a ridiculous prerequisite for an installer to depend so heavily on another component such that it cannot even uninstall a program. I mean…. any program I install should be completely uninstallable, right? If I remove ALL Microsoft Office products, it should handle all the dependencies and remove EVERYTHING, not leave things here and there. This is nothing new, of course. If you install Visual Studio 2008 and then the service pack, you cannot actually uninstall the IDE without manually uninstalling the service pack first. And they don’t even tell you that… the uninstaller just goes through a process and then fails with a generic error message. Ridiculous.

Thankfully, I had made a backup of my entire registry before I set about removing any installers. So my plan of action tomorrow will be to restore the entire registry and hope things work from there. Of course, I’m not hopeful, since I have technically removed all the files for the Office installation now, so having the registry recovered is probably going to create a ton of deadlinks. Whooptee doo daaa!

On another note, I started re-watching Lost. I figured if I started now I would be all refreshed by the time the new season rolls around next year.