Purr Purr, Crunch Crunch

It might be premature to begin describing my weekend in the early hours of Saturday morning, but were time to end at this point, the description most apt would be “variable”. First the bad news, because then I can deliver the good news and have it act as a chaser to remove the grayscale and leave you with a pleasant hum of electric blue.

This evening I attempted to watch the second disc of Awkward Season One. In order to do this I first needed to eject disc one, which I had been watching in small doses over the last two days. Upon clicking eject, the Mac protested in a chorus of dejected mechanical whirs and taps, before sucking the disc back in and re-initialising the drive.

I’ve tried all the software based resolution steps I know in both Windows and OS X and none of these have had any positive effect. This leads me to believe that whatever is wrong is very likely a physical hardware problem best solved by a visit to an Apple representative and probably the outlay of considerable amounts of money should the drive require replacement.

On to things less crappy. Last night I bought Just Cause 2 after initially seeing it on the NerdCubed YouTube channel. I can say that the few hours I’ve payed thus far have been very enjoyable.

As a consequence of my recent decision to switch primary OS to OS X, prudence behoves that I upgrade from Lion to the current Mountain Lion release.  I’ve just completed this process so can’t yet offer a reasonable overview of the difference between the two, but I do like the more subdued style applied to the dock in Mountain Lion.

I wonder how long it will be until Apple has used all known big cat names, and when they do what will they move on to?

It’s All Big Cats And Turtlenecks: Why I’m Switching To OS X

Those who know me will know that I have been a Windows developer and user for the vast majority of my computing lifetime. I first encountered Windows 3.11 Professional as a child in the mid-90s, however my usage was limited to clicking Exit to DOS on the way to games such as Wolfinstien 3D and the original DOOM.

Eventually, we upgraded to Windows 95 A and very rapidly on to Windows 98 where I began my obsession with software development after receiving a copy of QBASIC for Dummies from my Granddad.

And there I stayed until roughly 2002 when my family purchased a new computer running the still relatively new and shiny Windows XP which remained with us until at least 2010. During that time I learned JavaScript (before anyone had heard the terms Web 2.0 or jQuery) dabbled in C++ with Borland’s VCL and most memorably was introduced to C# and Visual Studio with Visual Studio Codenamed “Orcas” (a.k.a. Visual Studio 2005, IIRC). 

I still remember the joy i felt when the Visual Studio 2005 Express Editions were announced as I wouldn’t have to stop using IntellSense which by now I’d become so accustomed to I was annoyed it wasn’t in Word.

 Around this time I also took part in several  pre-release programs including “Kahuna” which would go on to become Windows Live Mail. as well as several pre-release versions of Messenger that would form the basis of Windows Live Messenger. I also took part in the pre-release program for early versions of Office 2007, which may have have a cool name that I’ve long since forgotten.

So…if I’ve spent such a large amount of my life living and working with Windows. why am I now switching? Good question. The simple answer is frustration.

Last night I couldn’t get to sleep and decided that watching a DVD (specifically Season 1 of MTV’s Awkward) would be a good idea, so I inserted the disc only to be told that due to some non-specified incompatibility between the DVDs copy protection and my system would mean that either I jumped the traditional troubleshooting hoops, or I watched something else.

I’m quite capable of troubleshooting most computer issues I encounter, and troubleshoot I did, but no media player would touch the disc despite the fact that I had the Media Centre feature of Windows 8 installed and the codecs required to play this DVD were present on my system and I’d used them to play this very media on this very system in the past.

Tired and annoyed I rebooted into OS X, inserted the disc, clicked DVD Player and it played.

Being both a person of sound and reasonable mind and one accustomed to computer use in general, one isolated incident is not in itself enough to justify a change of platform. The incident described above was just the final trigger.

I’ve always maintained that despite the widespread criticism it has (rightly) received for the Metro interface, there are positives to Windows 8, but I’ve found the level of inconsistency between 7 and 8 uncomfortable for reasons other than the user interface.

The fact DVD playback and TV support via Media Centre is not included out of the box is just one such frustrationThe cumulative effect of several small frustrations over a period of several months has me at the end of my rope as far as daily use of Windows 8 is concerned.

To remedy this, I’ll be booting into OS X on a daily basis starting today. I will still maintain a proper windows install for games, and my software development will be done in a VM from within OS X.

Initially, I am expecting to need to reboot a bit to use Office applications until I can afford to replace them with Apple’s iWork suite. I am aware of Office for Mac, but I’d at least like to try the Mac native solution first.

So that’s that. I’ll keep you posted with how the switch is going.

PS: Suggestions for apps that I might need on OS X are welcomed

I’ll Cut Off Those Cute Little Ears: Disabling the side-buttons of an Apple Mouse in Windows

Due to the recent failure of my regular mouse I have been using the mouse supplied by with my iMac (Late 2009 iMac 27″” for those of you playing at home) for the last few days. While this mouse is generally an acceptable replacement for the recently departed one, I find that I am frequently pressing the buttons on the side of the mouse inadvertantly, causing me to spontaneously navigate back one or more pages in my browsing history whenever this occurs.

I found the  XMouseControl by way of this question on Super User. The utility works by intercepting mouse clicks and performing an action in response to those clicks. One of those responses is “disable” which causes the click to be ignored, thus preventing my browser from interpreting it as a request to go back.

To disable the side buttons:

  1. Install XMouseControl
  2. Launch XMouseControl
  3. Press the left side button
  4. One of the drop down menu’s will highlight orange to indicate that it is the menu corrosponding to the left side-button
  5. Open the drop down menu that went orange
  6. From the list of actions in the menu, choose Disable.
  7. Click Apply

XMouseControl user interface with combo-box corrosponding to the side-buttons highlighted orange.

With my mouse, the left and right side buttons are treated as a single button as far as XMouseControl is concerned so I only needed to set one of the buttons (button 4 in my case) to disabled in order to disable both the left and the right side-buttons

Somewhere, A Pipe Has Broken

If you are reading this then my luck has changed. It seams due to some application and router issues TelstraClear cable has been down for me all day (0900 – 2301). I hope this resolves itself without me having to call support because support at TelstraClear has gone downhill in recent times due to it’s recent outsourcing to the Philippines. The CSRs have an annoying “so close to american, but not” voice that I really really hate. The silver lining to  all this is that TelstraClear’s network staff are permitted to talk on Twitter so there is a more direct interface with the people whose job it is to fix the problem and it is my preference to deal with these people rather than a CSR who can’t even convince me she knows anything more about the service she’s “supporting” than what’s written on her script.

I want my internet back. Indications are that service has been restored for some but not all at this stage. For now only the morning will tell whether I shall endure another day of frustrating disconnection from the world.

Confusing Dilution: Virtual Printers

Has anyone else noticed the number of applications that feel the need to install one or more virtual printers. If you haven’t here’s just a short list of some common applications that register one:

  • Microsoft Office 2007 (XPS & OneNote)
  • Windows Journal

These devices allow you to “print” to their respective applications in some way.

Unless I’m misunderstanding something, these are some quite unique applications of the word print as a verb. At what point does exporting a document to an XPS file cease to be a a save or export operation and mutate into something requiring the installation of a virtual printing device?

Even if I am misunderstanding the metaphor in some crucial way, I wonder how the average non-tech savvy user perceives and deals with these “printers”?

When a user selects Print from the file menu, the majority of the time the intended result is to initiate printing of a physical document.

Typically when a system does not have any printing devices configured, then the operating system asks the user to configure one before continuing. If the user chooses not to configure a printer then the printing operation will fail.

Virtual printing devices dilute this metaphor somewhat. Virtual printing devices are generally used as a means to begin an operation involving the “printed” content using the target application. In the case of the XPS writer Word is used to create an XPS formatted representation of the printed content.

Since virtual printers still count as a device in the printing device class, their presence means that a user with no physical printer would still receive the standard print dialog, and the virtual printer would be selected by default.

What happens when these devices receive print jobs is up to the device driver that registered them, but none of them are likely to do anything that would correspond to the intended action of the user.

While I understand the value that these virtual printers provide for the people who do use them, I would wager that these people are a minority, and I wonder if the majority of users are better served by placing the facilities provided by these printers in other places to avoid the confusion that usually ensues when some foreign application opens because a user sent a print job to a printer they can’t see, which opened an application they don’t use, or didn’t know they had.

Bad Manners: A Cautionary Tale

WARNING: This post is very long

 


As those in my inner sanctum will know, I have embarked on an online vendor certification course. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of vendor certifications, this is a qualification whose content is determined by a software or hardware vendor, and those who pass the qualification exam are recognized by that vendor as having completed the qualification. My course is supported by a vendor, but delivery of course content and qualification examination are outsourced to third party providers who specialize in these areas. The company supplying me with course content for my qualification does so through an LMS (Learning Management System) provided by a third party.

 

The LMS has two major components as far as the user is concerned:

  • Website

    Here you provide authentication and can access any of the courses you have purchased the right to access. I have very few problems with this particular aspect of the product.

  • Content Player

    The content player is the piece of the system that actually delivers the course content for the user and comes in two flavors, java applet or java application, both of these I have a problem with, but we’ll get to these in due course.

The Meaning of Compatible

On today’s internet the two biggest browsers are Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer for Windows. The general consensus among web developers is that web applications should be written in a way that allows a comparable experience in both of these browsers. To the credit of the LMS provider, the website component of the system does actually work with Firefox, however, I can’t seem to get the content player component to actually play content in anything but Internet Explorer, despite the fact Firefox is officially supported.

If the extent of the issue could be summarized as “it’s broken in Firefox”, then this issue would hardly be worth the time I’ve spent writing this, but the scope of this issue is much wider.

This morning I decided that since my net is quite often unbearably slow, I would download and install the offline content player.This is where the fun begins.

Initial installation of the content player required me to

  1. Allow a popup
  2. Grant elevated permissions to the java applet used as the applications installer
  3. Elevate a second app launched by the applet as a component of the installer
  4. Manually launch the installed application
  5. Enter my LMS credentials and then contact support when they failed to work.

We’ll get to why I had to contact support, but first I’d like to address the issues I have with the installation process.

The installer for the content player is a Java applet. I suppose this in itself is not a problem, but I’m sure I’m not the only person who has a disdain for granting a java applet write permissions to the filesystem. I think this would have been better deployed as a java application. Furthermore, the installer didn’t actually work. After the installation apparently succeeded, my attempts to login to the player application failed because, as far as the player was concerned, my account didn’t exist. I contacted support to resolve this issue and learned that some portion of the installation had failed resulting in some missing profile information that had to be re-created manually.

I’m also rather disappointed that the default installation location is a subfolder of the drive root. This is a sin and everybody knows it. I’ve said it once, but I’ll say it again:

Program Files is the correct place for application binaries and has been for well over a decade, there are no excuses for installations to anywhere else anymore, especially not the root of a drive!

The Content Player

The content player is also written in Java and requires elevation in order to run which I think represents a failure on the part of the software developer. The login form seems to have major control focus issues, sometimes when you press a key focus will just move to the login button and you have to click back into the text box, sometimes multiple times, in order to enter a user name.

Local Web Servers: WHY?!

The installed app appears to be little more than a shell, once you click play a Firefox window opens pointed to the locally installed web server that serves the very same applet I would have been served at the website. Why not just write the application to display content itself?

The Moral: Raise Your Software Right

While this tale is a sad reflection on one piece of software, it is mirrored all too often. Software development is something akin to child-rearing ; as we create a piece of software, we are responsible for making sure it is well behaved by the time we release it onto the web servers and hard drives of the masses, sadly a great many developers are neglectful of this responsibility.