Archive for June, 2005

7-Zip file compressor

In one way compression is becoming less essential in a world of high speed internet. The difference between downloading a 500kB file and a 1MB one is a couple of seconds, however to the provider of the file, it can mean the difference between a medium or large monthly bandwidth bill.

I used to use WinZIP, but with every release it mutated into a larger and larger tool with more eye candy and less raw functionality. Don’t get me wrong, it has some neat things like the Setup button, but the fact that you have to pay for it lead me to look for alternatives.

7-Zip was my saviour. For a start it’s free. Secondly it handles most files you’ll encounter on a daily basis. ZIP, RAR, TAR, BZ2 etc, but perhaps the best feature is its native file compression ‘.7z’. Compression is a weird science. Prior knowledge of the type of data can help use algorithms enhanced to work well, and ZIP does a good job on most things but it can be beaten. For instance RAR files generally handle media files better than ZIP. .7z however appears to beat it under almost all circumstances I’ve encountered to date.

On a source branch I regularly compress, 177MB compresses to 40MB under ZIP, but to 17MB under .7z. Now the gains encountered are not always that impressive, but they’re normally good enough to make it worthwhile. Especially given the price tag.

Check it out here: http://www.7-zip.org/

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Actual Court Transcripts

Some daily humor… these are from actual court transcripts:

Q: What is your date of birth?
A: July 15th.
Q: What year?
A: Every year.
______________________________________

Q: What gear were you in at the moment of the impact?
A: Gucci sweats and Reeboks.
______________________________________

Q: What was the first thing your husband said to you when he woke up that morning?
A: He said, “Where am I, Cathy?”
Q: And why did that upset you?
A: My name is Susan.
______________________________________

Q: Do you know if your daughter has ever been involved in voodoo or the occult?
A: We both do.
Q: Voodoo?
A: We do.
Q: You do?
A: Yes, voodoo.
______________________________________

Q: Now doctor, isn’t it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn’t know about it until the next morning?
A: Did you actually pass the bar exam?
___________________________________

Q: The youngest son, the twenty-year-old, how old is he?
_____________________________________

Q: Were you present when your picture was taken?
______________________________________

Q: So the date of conception (of the baby) was August 8th?
A: Yes.
Q: And what were you doing at that time?
______________________________________

Q: She had three children, right?
A: Yes.
Q: How many were boys?
A: None.
Q: Were there any girls?
______________________________________

Q: How was your first marriage terminated?
A: By death.
Q: And by whose death was it terminated?
______________________________________

Q: Can you describe the individual?
A: He was about medium height and had a beard.
Q: Was this a male, or a female?
______________________________________

Q: Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to deposition notice which I sent to your attorney?
A: No, this is how I dress when I go to work.
______________________________________

Q: Doctor, how many autopsies have you performed on dead people?
A: All my autopsies are performed on dead people.
______________________________________

Q: ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK? What school did you go to?
A: Oral.
______________________________________

Q: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?
A: The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m.
Q: And Mr. Dennington was dead at the time?
A: No, he was sitting on the table wondering why I was doing an
autopsy.
______________________________________

Q: Are you qualified to give a urine sample?
______________________________________

Q: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
A: No.
Q: Did you check for blood pressure?
A: No.
Q: Did you check for breathing?
A: No.
Q: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
A: No.
Q: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
A: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
Q: But could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
A: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law somewhere.

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Tech support

My most recent call to HP was almost a recording of this:

http://www.illwillpress.com/tech.html

Just when will the corporations learn?

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Best Film of 2005 (so far)

This year we’ve had some good movies including all round action like Star Wars and chick flicks like Hitch, but the film that has totally exceeded my expectations and in a way potentially revived a dead series (at least for me) was Batman Begins.

The original Batman movie was very good, but with each subsequent release, the films and actors just didn’t do it for me. All this has changed with an excellent film from Christopher Nolan, which takes a big step back in time and refines the history of Batman. At times you have to ignore the conflicts with the ealier(later) films, but the action, acting and excellent story telling far outweigh any possible complaints.

Liam Neeson is truly brilliant. Christian Bale makes the perfect Bruce Wayne and is supported by a cast that probably won’t be matched this year. Only Katie Holmes feels out of place, but I’m not sure quite why. Perhaps it is because she is so pure that you couldn’t imagine her having the job as a DA, perhaps it’s her acting, or perhaps because she’s one of the few American accents in the film, and so stands out a mile away.

The film is well worth a watch. So much so, that I may enjoy it again.

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The Blind Pilots

The door opens, two men dressed in Pilots’ uniforms walk up the aisle. Both are wearing dark glasses, one is using a guide dog and the other is tapping his way along the aisle with a cane. Nervous laughter spreads through the cabin, but the men enter the cockpit, the door closes, and the engines start up. The passengers begin glancing nervously around, searching for some sign that this is just a little practical joke. None is forth coming.

The plane moves faster and faster down the runway, and the people sitting in the window seats realize they’re headed straight for the water at the edge of the airport territory. As it begins to look as though the plane will plough into the water, panicked screams fill the cabin. At that moment, the plane lifts smoothly into the air. The passengers relax and laugh a little sheepishly, and soon all retreat into their magazines, secure in the knowledge that the plane is in good hands.

In the cockpit, one of the blind pilots turns to the other and says, “You know, Bob, one of these days, they’re gonna scream too late and we’re all gonna die.”

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Visual Source Safe Admin Password Reset

We used to use Visual Source Safe (VSS) 6.0 for projects, and so have some older projects that are not routinely accessed. So what happens when you forget the admin password a few years down the line?

There are various suggestions around the net, but this little tool should help: Reset VSS 6 admin password

Simply run in the Data directory of your VSS 6.0 project (where the file um.dat is located) using a command prompt, then rename the files as instructed and your admin password will become blank.

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Spyware cleaning tips

I had real fun the other day cleaning a PC of spyware off a work PC!

Adware was already installed didn’t find a thing.

Spybot installed and then ran and stopped in 1 second, so was being blocked and therefore didn’t find a thing.

Microsoft Antispyware installed and found 56 processes/tasks/trjoans etc.

It managed to automatically clean all apart from 1 (a toolbar in Internet Explorer), which then nothing would even identify let alone clean. My saving grace came from a tool called HijackThis.

HijackThis is a small tool that is useful for cases when the scanners just don’t know of a particular flavor of spyware. It lists all browser extensions/processes/services/startup programs etc, and allows you to remove them. Word of warning: you have to know what it’s showing… typically people use it as a last resort and post logs to forums for the techies to take a gander at and offer advise. You can break your PC with it, so take care to ask if you don’t know.

I also would recommend anyone who thinks they have spyware to open the Task Manager and look at the Windows Process list.

For each process, do a google on it. E.g. search for ‘iexplore.exe’. The top few pages always give someone’s summary like ‘This is Microsoft Internet explorer’. As long as they are talking about programs you think you have installed, and they are not saying it is spyware, it’s safe so look at the next. Otherwise investigate that more by posting questions to forums, or reading other posts people have made.

Another thing Microsoft Antispyware does is blocks future installation of spyware. While I’m not always a pro-MS person, they actually have a neat product which is currently free, so why not try it…

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HP Printer Support – OfficeJet 4215

Unlike the rest of my posts relating to customer service, this is a positive report.

I have a HP OfficeJet 4215 all-in-one machine. It’s a printer, fax, scanner etc. and is really really good. Even though I have had a problem and had to call support, I’d still recommend it and would buy another. Value for money, you can’t beat it, especially with support like this:

Rather than calling them, I thought I’d try out their online chat system and got through to an Andrew. (I’m never sure if the people are actually the given name, but there you go.) Anyways, Andrew listened, took me though some logical steps of printing test pages, realignment, cleaning the cartridges and then diagnosed the printer as faulty. He waited patiently when I had a telephone call come in, and then arranged for a new printer to be dropped off so I could send this back. Amazing. So simple, and exactly the right customer focus. It’s left me happy, very pro-HP. And they’ll get more money out of me in the future when I have a decision between an HP or another brand.

The problem? Well the printer was printing bands on the page, making some lines appear smudged. Perfect vertical lines were not perfectly vertical. I hadn’t noticed it until I printed some forms that had straight line box edges, so I don’t know if it was there from day one, or if the problem occurred when using it, but I’ll have another one this week… without loss of use.

Spot on HP!

Update 6/17: I got the replacement unit and it was the same as the previous one.

This time I decided to call technical support and was connected to a little man in India. He had clearly never seen my printer yet alone used one, as it was the worst support call of my life.

Ironically, after being on the phone for an hour, appeasing him with cleaning cartridges etc – following all diagnostics done on the previous call, I got so frustrated that I wanted to talk to his supervisor. After 15 minutes on a transfer hold, I solved the problem myself, so gave up and hung up. The problem? Simply that the printer was in draft mode, and in that mode vertical lines are not pure vertical lines.

So… they still got me a replacement quick enough, fat lot of good it was, but HP seriously need to look at how painful it is to talk to unskilled cheap labour half way around the world and what that does to their reputation.

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American Express Customer Non-Service

What a night… a call to both the Blue and Gold card lines to report a problem, but on both got people who could barely understand English. My blog is slowly becoming a vent of my frustration of contacting corporate customer service numbers and getting non-service.

Tonight’s calls were because I wanted to complain about something (I wasted 20 minutes in Walmart trying to pay by AMEX… not because of authorization problems or anything, but because Walmart self-serve consoles blow up if you try and pay using AMEX in my local store… but that’s another story.)

I wanted to find out if they could complain to the store, because the store was effectively penalizing and making life difficult for AMEX customers. Sadly the Blue line girl couldn’t understand English, and the Gold line while her English was better, had no concept of customer expectations, analyzing the issue or taking responsible action etc. (it took 10 minutes to get to a 50% understanding of what I was asking).

I gave up in the end but might call again tomorrow to determine if there is an American at the end of a support line somewhere. Someone who understands what I say and has a concept of quality, responsibility, etc. and knows what a Walmart is. Basically someone I can talk to.

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Dell camera purchase

4 weeks ago I ordered a camera from Dell when they were having a good promotion on. A spangly new Canon SD500 to replace my self-lost S400 (don’t ask). At the time of order placement there was no sign of a delay, but once the order was processed an ETA was given for the end of May. That came and went and an email was sent out moving it to June 9th.

On June 9th I had a telephone call and was just about to hang-up because there was apparently no-body there when an automated voice notified me that there would be another delay and the current estimated time was . No date was spoken. It would be nice to have a meaningful automatic call if you’re going to make it automatic.

Checking on the online website now gives an ETA of June 30th. The camera is no longer listed.

Am I seeing a pattern here? Why is it that Dell don’t have stock of this camera when the rest of the world appears to have it?

The price was good. Perhaps too good. So perhaps their policy when they have a stack of such orders is to just put them on indefinite hold until the device cost comes down or the customers get bored and cancel? Something I’m very tempted to do… perhaps that’s what Dell does to build customer satisfaction?

6/6 update: Got another of those wonderful automated calls which actually gave a date this time of 6/28. However it now said that the order would automatically be cancelled unless I phoned or emailed and told them to keep it open. I should phone or email some number and some address that was blurted out far to quickly to expect someone to actually remember or have to to write down in one hit. Are we supposed to have photographic memories?! What a system. Customer satisfaction… down another point.

6/7 update: Got another of those wonderful automated calls and was of course prepared to catch the number this. Interestingly this was after haven spoken to Dell online yesterday and asked if the order was going to be cancelled, and told not. So today the automated call again tells me I must call to prevent cancellation of the order.

I called and got through to an answer machine. I guess that figures given the automated telephone calls. Perhaps there is someone in Dell that doesn’t live in a box or India that I might one day talk to. This cost saving through outsourcing has gone far enough!

Perhaps tomorrow’s excitement will be having the order cancelled despite leaving a message to the contrary.

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