Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Proof read. Please.

I'm not a writer, I'm a computer guy, but I strive for my writing to be as clear as possible so it will be understood.

One of my major pet peeves is technical writing that doesn't get proof read.

In a study guide for a certification exam, the author described how to create partitions in SQL Server 2005. The code sample for the right partition was a copy / paste of the code for the left partition but neglected to change LEFT to RIGHT, so both code samples were identical. Good luck with the exam. (The book was not from MS Press.)

Another example was in a technical magazine, in a Q & A column. The reader's letter stated that he wanted to display all parent records that did not have a child record, showed the T-SQL he would use, and asked how to perform that query using LINQ. However, his sample code used EXISTS instead of NOT EXISTS which obviously would not yield the desired result. Nobody at the mag caught that, and the columnist simply replied with a LINQ example that answered the original question. If you happened to see the original question & used the reader's code sample, your results would be opposite of what you expected. Imagine that you need to send a reminder letter to all customers that have not paid their bill, but instead you send the notice to those that paid. Oops.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

February fables redux

Nine months ago I listed some predictions about MS products, let's see how I did...

SQL Server 2000 Service Pack 5; support is extended beyond April 2008. Wrong. Many shops are still using it but all support including hotfixes has evaporated.

SQL Server 2005 Service Pack 3. Soon. The Community Technical Preview (CTP) is out now, which rolls up all prior patches & includes some compatibility tweaks for the 2008 Windows and SQL Server editions.

Internet Explorer 8 is released; IE 6 is still the most-used, but continues to lose ground to Firefox. Soon. The beta is out, but Google's Chrome is also in preview form.

Visual Basic 6.0 Service Pack 6; support is continued due to developer demand. Wrong. Classic VB is dead for all practical purposes, however it remains alive & vibrant in the persona of Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) in every Office app thru the 2007 version.

Windows XP Service Pack 3. Correct. Thank goodness they're still keeping this one alive, and even extended the timelines for OEM's to preinstall the OS.

Windows Vista Service Pack 1; still nobody wants it. Correct. It is finally being recognized as a consumer OS. The upcoming Windows 7 will probably be what Vista should have been.

And let's not forget that MS made a $44 billion offer for Yahoo. Reject. Lots of stories about this, but nothing ever became of it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Online Plumbing

I've been doing online banking and bill paying for quite a few years, so when I needed to order parts for some plumbing fixtures I just went to the manufacturers' web sites to save time. The names have been changed to protect the guilty ;-)


Ordered the part without having to register. Fine. Received an email confirmation, but it stated:

"Unfortunately, due to the fact that you chose not to register, we are unable to provide you with any follow-up information concerning your order."

Fortunately, I did receive a shipment confirmation which stated:

"The status of your order placed on 09/19/2008 has changed. Items have either shipped or been cancelled by you."

Was it shipped or cancelled? The email went on to say that order had in fact been shipped, and it provided a link to the carrier's web site that worked just fine.


This site required me to register, fine. They provided a handy set of drop-down lists like kitchen / bath, lever style, etc. that helped me quickly locate my faucet, and identify & order the part. Great feature, because I had no idea what model number I had.

Received the confirmation email with a link to review the status of my order. Clicked the link, had to review & accept my registration data, clicked Submit and got "you are not logged in" so I did it again, this time it worked. There was a link "click the order number" which worked, but the order status page had a tracking number that said "Click Tracking Number for tracking information" but it was not a hyperlink. oops.

Received the shipping confirmation email with two links:

"To track your package you can click on the link(s) below:" but that link took me to the carrier's site for a package that was shipped & delivered to Wakefield MA in June 2007 (my order should be going to Phoenix AZ in September 2008). oops.

"If you would like to check the status of your order, log on to:" but that link took me to a page that stated "[M---'s] web site has undergone a major redesign. Links and/or bookmarks based on the prior design may point to pages which no longer exist." oops.

I then returned to the vendor's web site, logged in (again) and checked the order status, apparently it really has been shipped but the tracking number link points to the Wakefield shipment.

Oh well.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Legacy systems, part II

In a previous post, I made a comment regarding the NASA mission to Pluto that "there are no service packs in outer space" but I was wrong - check this out from just two weeks ago...

'Brain Transplant' Successful as Checkout Continues

"The first major order of business in New Horizons’ second annual checkout was accomplished as planned, as operators uploaded an upgraded version of the software that runs the spacecraft’s Command and Data Handling system."

and get this:

"New Horizons is more than 200 million miles beyond Saturn’s orbit and more than 11 astronomical units (1.02 billion miles) from the Sun, flying about a million miles per day toward Pluto..."

I still think NASA's engineers are amazing.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Vista vs XP

The technical press seems to be really pushing for the adoption of Vista. A frequent comment is that migration to Vista, although slow, is not unlike the slow migration from Windows 2000 to XP.

Just wait a minute there...

When XP came out, Win 2K was a mere two years old. The business migration from NT to 2K was a major effort since it often included moving to Windows 2000 Server, so many shops decided to stick with 2K.

Consumers who had upgraded from Win 98 to the ill-fated Windows Me had no desire for yet another OS change-out.

XP came with the comic-book interface, the rolling hills & clouds background known as "bliss" which made it look like a consumer OS. not something for business.

XP introduced Product Activation, which at the outset did not work 100% of the time, requiring a lengthy phone call to activate legitimate copies of the product.

A certain number of peripherals did not work with XP, so moving from Win 2K would require replacing those devices, making the migration cost more than just the OS upgrade.

XP needed significantly more RAM to run efficiently. Officially, the "required" RAM for Win 2K was 96 Meg, and for XP 128 Meg. But if you've ever seen XP with 128 Meg it is truly painful to watch, it takes a long, long time to load.

Years after the initial release, migration to XP was driven by the introduction of Office 2003 which was a much improved Office but wouldn't run on the older Win 2K. In contrast, Office 2007, even though it runs on both XP and Vista, is certainly different but not necessarily better.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reconsidering Vista

I've never tried to hide the fact that I am not a fan of Windows Vista, and I've often posted issues that I've run into when running the OS on my test PC's.

A recent issue of ComputerWorld ran an opinion column titled "Reconsidering Vista" and although the author's intention was surely to encourage migration to the new OS, I've pulled a few quotes from the column that pretty much sum up my opinions on the subject. If you Google the original article, you'll find that these were definitely not pulled out of context...

  • OK, its not perfect
  • perfectly serviceable for many users
  • has its share of glitches and issues
  • requires state-of-the-art hardware
  • reasonably stable
  • probably more secure
  • the incessant barking of security warnings is annoying
  • Vista has fallen short of very public expectations

Not exactly what you'd call a glowing endorsement. In addition. the article fails to mention the fact that most of your peripherals and much of your software, both Microsoft and third-party programs, need to be updated to be compatible with Vista.

The author also derides users who stick with XP, "an operating system designed in the late 90's to run on millennium-era hardware." But the fact is that the PC architecture itself was designed when the IBM Personal Computer was introduced in 1981.

Friday, May 16, 2008


I recently switched this blog to use moderated comments, which is a Blogger feature that allows me to preview comments before they are actually posted online. I hope that doesn't discourage future comments.

There was an anonymous comment added to my prior post about junk email that I felt was inappropriate - the comment mentioned a person by name and gave their email and cell phone. I have no way to verify the information provided, so I felt that it was improper to leave the comment as-is. I re-posted the comment, but deleted the personal reference.

The point of my prior post was to alert the community that senders of junk email are getting more aggressive in trying to pry your personal information from you. If you receive an email from an unknown source, you are far better off simply deleting it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Spam that threatens you

Just received a spam message that actually threatens you to NOT report the message as spam, with dire consequences if you do:

"You are receiving this email message because you opted to at one of our affiliate websites on 10/16/2007 10:20 with a sign up IP of If you no longer wish to receive these messages from us, Please DO NOT Press Spam In Your Email Account! To remove from further Email Messages From Us Please Press the Link Below. If You Do Claim That We Spammed You, Your Email Provider Will Report Right Back To Us Electronically Your Email Address, and By Email Address We Can Identify Exactly Who You Are In Our Database By Name, Postal,Phone etc- And We Will Do Everything Within The letter Of the Law To Defend Your Bogus Claim, Which Ultimately May Cost You Money. So If You Do Not Want To Here From Us Again, Then Be Smart And Press The Link Below To Remove Yourself From Our eMailing List, and You Will Never Hear From Us Again! "

This was received from "Democratic Campaign" using an email address of support @

I have never opted in to this list, and that IP range is not even in the U.S., it is assigned to an ISP in Amsterdam, so I instantly recognized this to be total BS.

What nerve do these people have? And what lengths will they go to, in order to get you you click a link & have something evil happen to your PC.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Aloha to VB6

According to Wikipedia, "Aloha in the Hawaiian language means affection, love, peace, compassion, mercy, goodbye, and hello, among other sentiments of a similar nature. It is used especially in Hawaii as a greeting meaning hello and goodbye."

I can't think of a more fitting term to describe the end of Microsoft's extended support on 4/8/2008 for Visual Basic 6.

A recent article by John K. Waters in Redmond Developer News announced VB6 Support About to Disappear but reads in part:

"In fact, Microsoft intends to support the VB6 runtime for the full lifetime of Windows Vista -- five years of mainstream support followed by five years of extended support -- and will continue to support the runtime on Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 for the support lifetime of those operating systems. That means, says Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond, that with Vista, VB's runtime future is assured through 2017."

...and the article was accompanied by a sidebar with Gartner Inc. estimates that 14 billion lines of VB6 code still exist in the enterprise, which may eventually cost $11 billion to migrate to .NET or other platforms.

Surprised? Not me. Visual Basic is a true rapid development (RAD) language, easy to learn & not difficult to master. Its roots in the original Lawrence-Livermore BASIC remain to this day. In fact, even the new Office 2007 has retained Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) as the core programming environment. I remember attending an Office 2002 launch event & asked the presenter when VBA would be replaced by VB.NET in MS-Office; there was no response given.

Granted, the transition to .NET requires the developer to invest significant time and effort to learn the new paradigm. My first assignment with .NET was using Visual C#; besides VB6 and VBA, I had previously programmed in C and JavaScript, so I found the curly braces and semicolons to be more familiar than the VB.NET environment. But the object orientation still took quite some time to comprehend.

But the fact is that things change, and as Microsoft continues to retire their older product lines, the smart developer will need to master those new technologies. Mainstream support for SQL Server 2000 just ended, and both Windows XP and Office 2003 will meet the same fate in April 2009.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Resumes for IT

There is certain information that should never be included in a resume - age, weight, height, marital status, religion, or political affiliation. The only exception would be if any of that data is relevant to the specific position you are applying for. Examples - IT positions at a health club, retirement community, or a religious or political organization.

You should never include salary information, references, or a photograph.

A resume should generally be one page, with a simple layout in MS-Word (97-2003) format so you can email it - many companies will run your resume through a scanner to extract the data & will save time in filling out forms.

Each resume you write should focus on the specific skills that are being sought by the company, so you might wind up with several different versions of your resume if you have significant skills in several different areas.

Use the Internet to its fullest - research the company, not only via their Web site but also what information may be available from other sources.

There are different types of resumes to match your personal situation - the standard chronological resume works well if your work history shows steady growth patterns, but functional resumes are better when changing careers, or if you have either periods of unemployment or work history that is unrelated to the position being sought. Creative electronic resumes might be appropriate if your specialty is Flash or other interactive media to showcase your talents.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Legacy systems

Legacy seems to have become a bad word lately. If you're not running the latest software from (fill in the blank) then you need to upgrade. One software vendor has even portrayed users of their old product versions as dinosaurs.

The fact is, the reason legacy systems are still around is that they still work. Change for the sake of change doesn't make sense to me. Old is not necessarily bad, and new is not automatically better.

Consider for a moment the NASA New Horizons space mission which was launched two years ago in 2006. Last year, the spacecraft passed Jupiter, and in another seven (7) years is expected to reach Pluto. Then, in 2016-2020 it will reach the Kuiper Belt of objects extending beyond Pluto. At that point in time, it will be 10-14 years old.

Granted, NASA's budget is certainly far above what any private-sector company could imagine. But their engineers have proved that it is possible to design something right the first time, and have it work & continue to work for a very, very long time.

There are no service packs in outer space.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Yahoo mail problems

Yesterday 2/20/2008 Yahoo mail was running incredibly slow, but the company did not post any sort of notice on their web site. Maybe they thought nobody would notice?

I sent an email via Yahoo to a customer around 8:00 AM, stating that I would be in the area & offered to stop in if they needed anything that morning. They received the message two hours later, around 10:00 AM.

Around 1:30 PM, I sent two more emails as a test - one from my Cox account, and again via Yahoo. The Cox message arrived about 1 minute later; however, by closing time (5:00 PM) the Yahoo message was still "somewhere" on the Internet.

As a final test, I sent a message from my Yahoo account to my Cox account yesterday at 4:35 PM and then waited. And waited. And waited some more. It finally arrived in my inbox at 3:54 AM today. Eleven and 1/2 hours later.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Deja vu, again

This week's automatic updates from MS cover the same old ground - security fixes for Windows XP, Vista, Server 2003, and "the operating system that would not die" i.e. Windows 2000. Once again, it plays the stealth update game - the update icon appears in the system tray, then disappears, but when you go to shut down, the option reads "install updates and shut down." A previous post describes how to work around that little gem.

The first hour on Wednesday was spent updating my four active PC's (the Vista machine's power supply croaked, so it's being retired) skipping the Win 98 machine which of course no longer receives any updates.

That being done, I shut down everything & went off to a customer. Upon returning, at startup all the PC's reported "updates available" (again) but it was a false alert - clicking the icon did a quick run-through of everything that had already been installed that morning.

Yet another gaffe - my XP Pro laptop reported that I needed Visual Studio 2005 SP1 which was already installed - I let the auto update run anyway, and "installation failed" no surprise there.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

February fables

One thing that is always certain, you can't predict what is coming from MS, and 2008 is no different. Here are a few things that could happen.

SQL Server 2000 Service Pack 5; support is extended beyond April 2008.

SQL Server 2005 Service Pack 3.

Internet Explorer 8 is released; IE 6 is still the most-used, but continues to lose ground to Firefox.

Visual Basic 6.0 Service Pack 6; support is continued due to developer demand.

Windows XP Service Pack 3.

Windows Vista Service Pack 1; still nobody wants it

And let's not forget that MS made a $44 billion offer for Yahoo.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Browser and OS Wars

My web site at Office Live has some nifty user reports that track page views, browsers, and operating systems. This is not my main web site, so the volume of traffic is slight but the user reports are interesting. Submitted without comment...


IE 6 at 83%; Mozilla and IE 7 are tied at around 8%; the last 1/2 percent being Opera.

Operating systems

Win XP at 93%; Vista at 2.4%; OS X and Linux tied at 1.6%; Win 2000 at 1%.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Outlook Connector for Hotmail

Microsoft has released a new add-in for Outlook that allows you to view, respond, and otherwise access your Windows Live or Hotmail account. From my testing, it works wonderfully.

I happen to be running MS Office 2007 Enterprise on a Windows Server 2003 Standard R2, but results on PC's would be expected to be the same. When you install the add-in, it create an additional Inbox-type folder in Outlook named the same as your Windows Live address, e.g.
And you can take manage your Live Mail or Hotmail account comfortably with all that thick-client desktop power that Outlook offers; virtually all PC users have at least some experience with Outlook, which reduces re-training when MS decides the change their Hotmail pages and navigation, as they're done three times since I had beta-tested several iterations since the program's inception.

The Outloook Connector works with Outlook versions 2003 and 2007 only.

The download I used was this (URL's shift around all the time) if this doesn't work, then do a Google search on "Microsoft Office Outlook Connector" and the file as of this writing was named "OutlookConnector.exe" (Office Validation is required, of course) and the link is

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Patch Tuesday, again

This week Microsoft released two security updates via Automatic Updates, this time it was one for TCPIP and the other for LSASS security vulnerabilities. Plus, another version of the venerable Malicious Software Removal Tool which has yet to find anything malicious on any of my systems.

Both of these "security issues" affect Windows 2000, XP, and Server 2003; the TCPIP issue affects Vista, but that OS had a few other non-security updates as well.

It never ceases to amaze me how most MS security updates require a reboot. When I was actively testing Ubuntu Linux 6.06, there were always tons of updates due to the multitude of installed software packages, but the only time a reboot was required was for an update to the kernel. Makes you think that Windows does not have a "kernel" in the same sense as Linux, but rather an interconnected set of pieces. Changing out any one piece requires a reboot.

For the most part, this patch worked like the patches of old - the gold shield pops up in the system tray, alerting you to available updates. Except of course with Vista, which plays the new game - the updates icon appears and then disappears, but when you go to turn off the PC it shows "install updates and then shut down" which forces you to do the workaround - launch Windows Update, view what is pending and then check / uncheck what you wish. Vista still thinks I need the Office 2003 service pack, even though it has 2007 installed (never had 2003, ever).