Wrapping up the HVAC work

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the final phase of our major surgery on our house’s respiratory system. Having installed a fully functional two-zone cooling system, our contractor team will be installing hot-water coils in the blowers, adding a new gas-fired boiler, and removing the radiators and the oil-burning boiler from the house.

To prepare, I did one last bit of ceiling demolition in the workshop/mechanical room (which now hosts my workbench on one wall and the downstairs AC system on the other), and installed plywood panels over the cement wall of the basement for the new boiler. The Viessmann boiler is a wall-mounted unit, and it will sit on the same wall as the media wiring box on the opposite side of the room from the blower. Pictures forthcoming once the work is finished.

This, needless to say, was another major cause of arm pain. Nothing like swinging a crowbar (plus a hammer and chisel to mark the line in the plaster, plus the drill for the concrete anchors to secure the panels) to really get the forearms screaming.

Oy. ow. Spam hurts

I think that carpal tunnel may be rearing its ugly head here. I’m about two-thirds done deleting the comment spam and my arm is killing me.

The worst part is, I’m finding some previously unnoticed trackback spam too. The worst: a post from last year that had somehow accumulated 116 spam trackback pings.

Things that Manila needs to better manage comment and trackback spam:

  1. Email notification for Trackback pings
  2. “Delete All” on comment and trackback pages
  3. A way to delete multiple messages in the discussion group without opening them one by one

There are other things that could be improved, I’m sure, but I hurt too much to think about them right now.

Beach. Beached.

We spent a great day on Cape Cod. The wonderful day was almost enough to make up for the nasty surprise waiting when I got home. I had almost 300 comment spam messages. All from the same person, left over the course of the day on messages all through my blog. It’ll take me hours to sort them out.

I’ve had enough of this crap. I’m removing the comment links from my posts until I get this sorted out. Until I do, you can create a login on the site the old fashioned way (see the link in the right navigation) and use the Discuss links. I’m sorry to inconvenience everyone, but unfortunately if people insist on pissing in the pool, I eventually have to make everyone get out so I can clean it.

New machine setup joys

I seem to be averaging 0.8 laptops per month at this firm, not that I’m complaining. The new machine finally has enough RAM and processor power to run both our OEM’d applications and our core technology servers without breaking a sweat. Of course, there were more than a few minor things to be done in transferring everything over.

The one thing I always seem to forget is to install IIS on a new machine before upgrading to the new version of the .NET Framework. If IIS is installed when the new version of the framework is loaded, it can register ASP.NET automatically. If IIS is not installed, setting up ASP.NET is a manual process.

It’s easy enough to do, fortunately: just navigate to %system directory%Microsoft.NETFrameworkv.1.1.4322 (or whatever) and run aspnet_regiis.bat. And bounce IIS for good measure. Maybe now that I’ve written it down I won’t forget next time…

The shoe! the shoe!

It’s interesting when your hobbies cross with family memories. I followed a sidebar link at Houseblogs.net to discover an old family friend in a list of odd-shaped houses and other dwellings: the Shoe House in York, PA.

Driving up from Bad News, VA to my grandparents in Lancaster County, we would cut through York on Rt. 30 and would always pass The Shoe, as we knew it. We never stopped, but it was always a good sign that our six hour journey was nearing its end.

Additional information on the Shoe House and its colorful builder at an alarmingly familiarly named site.

Phone shuffle time

sony ericsson s710a cell phone

We’ve been back in the Boston area just short of a year, so it’s probably time for me to get a cell number with a 781 area code.

Actually, the move is precipitated by increasingly flaky performance from my once-trusty Nokia 3650. The phone has never had great reception at our house, and now it’s not answering some calls and dropping others. Time to move on.

I did my research and decided to make a few changes. First, after looking at the available models, I decided against getting another Nokia right now. I like the Symbian platform, but frankly I’m not using it. The only apps that I run on this phone are available on other platforms too. And Nokia has really fallen behind in terms of phone design.

I realized how far behind Nokia has fallen when I looked at phones from LG, Samsung, and even Sony Ericsson. I had once sworn never to get another Ericsson, but the S710a changed my mind. This is a slick little phone, and despite its association with Star Wars Episode III seems to provide some serious features, including a 1.3 megapixel camera (with a lens cover!) and built in Bluetooth. Plus that screen… and of course the EDGE network stuff. Compared to it, the runner up, the Nokia 6820, just didn’t look good.

Second, I decided to buy the phone, and my new service plan, from Amazon. Over the last few years I’ve grown to realize that there is nothing magical about the activation service that the cell phone dealer provides, and a look at the activation instructions provided for Cingular phones confirms that. So I bought a new plan with the phone and reaped the relatively massive discounts that came with it, and I’ll cancel the old service when the new phone arrives. I don’t know why I thought that would be hard. (Though maybe I should wait until the whole thing is done before making that assessment.)

It will be nice to have a cell phone that is a little smaller, and I won’t miss the circular keypad.

Peer review process artifacts

High time, I think, that I started a dedicated news item department for software development. For one thing, I’m increasingly thinking about software processes as we move further along the planning for our next release. For another, I tend to think about and comment on these things a lot already, in departments like Internet, and I’m too categorical a thinker to be happy with that grab-bag category.

So to kick it off, a link to a site that’s been in a tab of my browser for weeks: Goodies for Peer Reviews from Process Impact. This is a set of documents, provided as shareware, that includes both sample artifacts and a strawman process. Unfortunately, the process is so well defined as to be almost useless in a small firm, but at least it provides good food for thought as well as showing some considerations that may need to be managed for larger teams.

The calendar culture

I was forcibly reminded yesterday that many aspects of software that we consider intuitive and automatic are actually cultural, and have nothing whatever to do with GUI design. My mini-Waterloo? Calendar management and responding to meeting invitations.

I was baptized early in my career in the religion of managing a calendar. Early on it was the Franklin Planner, which really is a religion. Then it was the calendar system in Lotus Notes. At Microsoft, of course, it was Outlook. —Of course, Microsoft takes calendar management to dizzying heights. Invitations are sent to secure half-hour chat times with someone down the hall. People spend hours looking at shared calendars for multiple individuals to find ideal meeting times. Calendars are blocked off with “work time” appointments so that you don’t get pulled away by someone who has observed that you don’t have anything scheduled for the afternoon before something is due. When you can’t find a time for everyone to meet together, you start triaging meeting attendees and making calculated decisions about who can reschedule their conflicts and who cannot be moved. And finding spare time in a conference room becomes an art in itself. All of this is done through Outlook’s interface without ever speaking to anyone.

With that as background, it is perhaps a little more understandable that I forgot that the calendar culture is a culture, and not everyone understands its rules. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when no one RSVP’d for a functional spec review for which I sent out an invitation two weeks previously. I was a little irritated that day when no one showed up, however. I spoke to my counterpart in engineering about it, and he was sanguine: “I don’t use Outlook’s calendar,” he replied. “I view the meeting invitation as a reminder about the time, and then I delete it.”

Computing is a cultural artifact. Things like the “Accept,” “Decline” buttons on invitations only have meaning in a shared context where everyone agrees on how they are used. This is one of the reasons that specs are important, of course—they provide a formal definition of an agreed shared context for how something appears and is to be used. But we can never forget that specs and user interfaces and user scenarios are just the beginning. As William Gibson wrote (several times) and I am continually relearning, “The street finds its own uses for things.” It is how your users interact with the software that defines what it can do, not what is written in the spec.

Others on the Outlook culture of meeting management: Jeremy Gilby on meeting request filtering and Kirk Allen Evans on taking a Microsoft class on using Outlook more effectively. Allister Frost is practically a computer anthropologist’s dream. Read these posts and ask yourself why you would want to filter the Outlook 2003 calendar by labels, think about sending information as tasks vs. calendar items, integrate tasks and the calendar to block out free time, memorize a keyboard shortcut to transform emails into calendar appointments, or use Outlook as a backup brain to remind yourself what you have been doing.

Hoosoffline, Hoosonline

My mail is now working again. For the curious and other UVA alums out there, the problem alluded to in my previous post was caused by bad data in Hoosonline. It appears that when the UVA alumni association migrated Hoosonline from its original custom-developed platform to Kintera, some of the data for lifetime email forwarding was incorrectly migrated. Some people had their forwarding addresses forwarded to their forwarding addresses (holy circular routing, Batman!), while others just had things screwed up. Fortunately, after a few calls to the help number (434-243-2935), I got a live person on the phone named Tammy who was able to fix the problem.

The data issue was apparently compounded by the fact that the mail containing the temporary password for the new system was sent out the day before the changeover. Lesson for implementors of software: always give your users three times as much time as you think they’ll need to adapt to your new platform, or else your support call volume will triple.

I did learn one thing during the process, which is that the team that runs the project, UVAIM, has a blog (though no comments or trackback). Subscribed, obviously. I can only hope they check their site logs enough to find this message and that they consider involving alumni on the web in future decisions that affect alumni services.

Other reactions to the Hoosonline platform switch at the ever-vituperative message boards at TheSabre.com.


It just came to my attention that the forwarding address that I use for this site is down, and, thanks to a bureaucratic snafu, I can’t get it fixed right now. If you’ve been trying to contact me, you can reach me for a limited time at toj8j at mac.com. Apologies to anyone who’s gotten a bounced mail notice from me. Some heads are going to roll…

Bad, bad AOL. No takedowns for you.

You’re a blogger. You find the AOL listings for Live8. All of Live8. And you post links to them. You don’t rehost the clips, you don’t try to sell them, you just point to them. No problem, right? Um, apparently, wrong. Sonician, as indicated in this Google cache snapshot, is taken down completely. I’m looking forward to working down the links anyway, but damn it: why on earth would you do something so boneheaded, AOL?

Oh right, I forgot, you’re AOL.

If I had a Paypal address for the author of the site, I’d be flowing them some coin, but as it turns out, all I can do is to call AOL and the site’s ISP and bitch. Maybe you should too. Because as the author of the site says, “Since when is linking to another website a crime? Isn’t that what the Internet is all about?”

Squicky Wagnerian drama at Tanglewood

Lisa and I went with Charlie and Carie to see the Wagner doubleheader yesterday at Tanglewood. It was a hell of a concert—certainly symphonic but just as certainly operatic.

We brought our customary picnic: homemade calzones with a cold tomato, basil and garlic salsa cruda, along with a few bottles of wine, some taralli, and cheese. We had the low table (to keep from blocking everyone’s view behind us) and Lisa’s Provençal tablecloth. Alas, no candles.

The music was spectacular—at least the first half, comprising Act I of Die Walküre. Deb Voight, who also performed with us in the Mahler 8th, sang a convincing Sieglinde and Clifton Forbis did a spectacular Siegmund. Stephen Milling as the jealous Hunding was even more impressive, both musically and dramatically. But the love aria between Sieglinde and Siegmund was the topper—at least, as long as you weren’t reading the supertitles, which made the incestuous nature of the lovers’ relationship entirely too clear. As Lisa said, repeatedly, “Ew.” Which brings a question: how, exactly, is one supposed to react to a work of high art that rates high on the squick scale? Judging from Voight’s facial expression just as she sang her final line, she struggled just a little bit with the issue as well.

Still, Wagner’s weird take on Germanic myth aside, it was a phenomenal performance, and we had a heck of a time. I kind of wish I were singing another concert this summer, preferably not in the rain.

Some hope for iChat 3

In the “following up old threads” department, I went back to Apple’s site to check if there was any news regarding the “insufficient bandwidth” issues that have kept us from using video chat features since I upgraded to Tiger. And sure enough, Support Article 301641 has been updated. Where it used to discuss QoS related issues with ISPs, it now suggests upgrading to 10.4.2 (which contains iChat AV 3.0.1) to fix the problem.

I’m looking forward to trying this out tonight. It will be nice to be able to chat with my inlaws again. The update apparently doesn’t fix all the issues, though this thread on the Apple forums is a pretty good rundown of troubleshooting methods to address remaining problems.