Don’t You Just Hate It When Technology Doesn’t Work Right?

As a geek, when I implement new technology in my life, I always hope it’s going to go smoothly – but I also know that not every product is designed perfectly, and there’s a good chance it may take some extra work to get things working right. But what I wasn’t expecting three days ago, when I swapped out my D-Link 624 802.11g router for a Linksys WRT54G 802.11g router, was that a device on the network would stop working. Why the new router? I swore I wasn’t going to get a new router until the 802.11n spec was finalized and shipping routers were really up to hardware spec, but I’ve been seeing lame performance lately from the D-Link router that no amounts of reboots would see to fix, and I had some issues with it when I was testing out Slingbox mobile. The guy I was dealing with, Jeremy Toeman, told me that D-Link routers tend not to very very spec-compliant, and that Linksys were the most trouble-free in his experience. I’ve tended to avoid Linksys everything, because I think the hardware is ugly and I’ve seen a few Linksys routers go bad. But I was fed up with my D-Link, so I wanted something new.

Oh, did I mention that in the past 12 months I’ve also purchased a Belkin pre-802.11n and a Netgear 802.11n router? Both gave me trouble as well, constantly dropping WiFi signals and generally conking out and requiring reboots. I know part of the problem is that there are about eight wireless networks within range of my house, so my router has to content with a lot of interference. You’d think that those supposed kick-ass MIMO antenne on the pre-802.11n routers would have solved that, but they didn’t.

At any rate, I hooked up the Linksys WRT54G, updated the firmware from 1.00.9 to 1.01.0 (don’t you just love engineers?) and got all my machines working. Everything grabbed an IP ok, speed was awesome across all my machines. But my Roku M2000 wouldn’t connect and get an IP. Normally the Roku M2000 is amazingly stable and works well, but despite repeated reboots, it wouldn’t connect to the network. I checked the DHCP tables on the Linksys router, and I could see that the M2000 was getting an IP address…yet the M2000 claimed it has no such IP and reported an internal IP of 169.*….if you ever see a computer with a 169.*.*.* IP, you have a problem because that’s not a “real” IP that a router would dish out. I searched the Roku forums, and discovered a post where someone was having exactly the same problem as I was. The solution that worked for him was to roll back to the 1.00.9 firmware.

So I started down that road myself, only to discover that Linksys only offers their current firmware from the Web site. Here’s something good to know: if you ever need old Linksys firmware, you can get them all from the Linksys FTP site. I waited 30 minutes in a queue with tech support to discover that little gem of information. I’ve now rolled the WRT54G back to 1.00.9 and the Roku M2000 is now working perfectly. Things really shouldn’t be this hard.

Cool New Windows XP Theme

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There’s a new Zune theme for Windows XP that’s quite cool – I dig the black title bars and the orange start button. Anything but the green/blue combo until Vista arrives! You can download the theme here, although apparently the theme needs some tweaking in order to be perfect. I didn’t like the default background very much, so I replaced it with the above wallpaper. I’ve collected it, and a few other wallpapers that would go nice with the Zune theme, into a single ZIP file. Enjoy! [a note to you wallpaper graphic designers out there, embed an URL or something into the EXIF data of the JPEG so people can figure out where they got the image from]

A Blank Boarding Card/Airplane Ticket

One of the purposes that I want this blog to fulfil is to “fill gaps” in the online world. Meaning that if I’m searching for something in Google and can’t find it no matter how hard I try, if I’m able to discover/create it myself, I’ll post about it on this blog . Some of these posts will seem like nonsense to you, but as strange as they might be, I figure that if I’m looking for something, someone else out there is probably doing the same thing.

SMALLgeneric-boarding-pass-airline-ticket-blank-templateClick the image above for the high-resolution version.

The first such instalment is for a personal project: I needed a blank plane ticket or boarding pass that I could customize to use as part of a surprise for some friends, so I went to Google and did some image searching. None were quite right – most were low-resolution, making them impractical for what I needed to do which was layer some text over top and make a print out that looked almost as good as the original. So I fired up my scanner, did a 300 dpi scan of a recent boarding pass from my trip to Thailand, and used a clone brush to delete the elements of text that I wanted to customize. Voila! Took make 15 minutes total, and the results look awesome when cranked out on my colour laser printer (an HP 2600n). Yeah, it says Air Canada on it, but hey, that’s all I had to work with. Someone creative can take the high-res image and slap on a new logo if they feel like it…

2009 UPDATE: Be sure to check out the whole Object Collection category to find more scanned objects that I’ve created. Be sure to check out the whole Object Collection category to find more scanned objects. These objects are free for personal use, but commercial use is prohibited without permission. Please see my Creative Commons License for further usage details. And if you’re looking for another blank airline boarding pass, check out this British Airways blank boarding pass that I scanned.

Firefox Session Restoring: What the Hell?

I’ve been a Firefox user for a little over a year now, and think it’s a fantastic browser. However, with the new 2.0 release, they’ve managed to confuse the heck out of me and I can’t seem to find a solution. With Firefox 1.5, I had an extension (I think it was Tab Mix Plus) that would allow me to shut down Firefox with tabs open, and when I re-started Firefox it would restore all my tabs. This was handy for me because I often have tabs open for days (if not weeks) and I use the browser as my workspace – I’ll open a tab for a product I want to look at, but will ignore it until I have time to take a look. Firefox 2.0 has a “session restore” feature that works like this: if you have multiple tabs open and an extension or crash forces Firefox to restart, when it comes back up, all your tabs will still be there. Great! But, stupidly, it doesn’t seem to do the same thing if you click on the “X” to shut down the browser. I’ve dug through every option I could find, and even looked in the help file, but there seems to be no way to enable this session restore to work outside of the narrow scenario that the developers imagined people using it for. I’ve installed Tab Mix Plus, but upon first start of Firefox, the browser informs you that it already has a session restoration feature built in. I ignored the warning the second time I installed the plugin, went into the settings for Tab Mix Plus, and tried to configure it to not use the built-in session recovery. It still has no effect. If I have five tabs open, and shut down Firefox, the next time I open it I have a single homepage tab. What am I missing here? How could they have possibly screwed this up so badly? I’m keeping Firefox 1.5 on my main workstation for just this reason, which is completely ridiculous.

Forum Spam: So Frustrating

It’s amazing to watch how international spamming is getting, especially forum spamming where they try to be “natural” by having conversations where one spammer posts a question, and the next spammer answers by posting a “helpful tutorial” about the perfect product to help. Here’s a short example of some spamming that went on at Digital Media Thoughts:

momoko [IP 220.232.188.195, Hong Kong]: i suppose Imtoo dvd ripper is the gadget you are looking for, it can help you convert dvd to MPEG or AVI files so that you can edit them with ease~~~

mingming [IP 218.249.29.21, China]: haha ,monoko ,are you also using the software imtoo dvd ripper??glad to see that , i am using it now!!!it is really a perfect one ,isn’t it?

happyboy [IP 59.108.111.2, China]: I don’t konw much about these knowledgeI but I hope the software of Xilisoft can help you.There are many kinds of tools such as ImTOO DVD Ripper Platinum v4.0 ,you can look for more information here

First I find one of the IPs: 218.249.29.21, which I look up using the ARIN WHOIS tool. That tool directs me to the APNIC Whois Database, and I discover it belongs to these guys:

inetnum: 218.249.29.0 – 218.249.29.255
netname: BEI-JING-JIAO-TONG-DA-XUE
country: CN
descr: Beijing JIAO TONG DA XUE CO.LTD
descr: CO.LTD
descr: Haidian Distric, Beijing
admin-c: PP40-AP
tech-c: PP40-AP
status: ASSIGNED NON-PORTABLE
changed: lichao@bj.datadragon.net 20050603
mnt-by: MAINT-CN-DXTNET
source: APNIC

This is the worst kind of spam to stop, because at first glance it appears legitimate – but when you start to factor in the odds of three people from China coming to my Web site to discuss a “problem” that has one magical solution, the product they link to…you just know it’s spam. As a site owner you learn to think heuristically and trust your instincts. It’s like that old quote about pornography: you might not be able to describe it, but you know it when you see it. That’s what this spam is like. Now the question is, are these guys paying for this spamming service, or are these over-zealous third-party affiliates trying to be clever? I’d suspect the former…

Rock ‘n Roll + Great Photography = Awesome

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I’m a rocker (a geeky one, but a vocalist/bass player) at heart, and a photographer (trying to get better), so when I find something that combines the two passions, brother, that’s just plain cool. I discovered the work of Terje Sorgjerd quite by accident, but I’m glad I did. I haven’t heard of some of these bands, but even if the music sucks, the photos do not. The work is excellent, especially when you consider the difficult lighting conditions most live performances would entail. Great use of angles and wonderful colour tone – definitely check out the whole gallery if you’re into live performance photos!

Trying to Comment? Sorry About That. At Least You Have a Mobile Version Now…

It’s been pointed out to me that somehow the swanky template here is missing the link to register a new WordPress account so you can post comments. Yes, posting a comment requires an account registration – to allow anonymous commenting would be to invite hordes of spam onto the site. I had the blog mis-configured at first and that’s why no one could register for an account and post a comment. That’s now been fixed. I’ve also installed a slick mobile template plugin that, while ultra-basic (it’s XHTML which is like WAP 2.0), at least allows you to read the posts on this site using a Pocket PC or Smartphone.

Dell Semi-Horror Story

I’ve had some really bad experiences with Dell, and a couple of great ones. A couple of weeks ago was a “medium bad” experience with Dell. I ordered a 19″ LCD monitor for my mother-in-law on October 11th at 10:39 AM CST during one of Dell’s “10 Days of Deals” – the monitor was normally priced at $329 CAD and it was $80 off, making it only $249 CAD. I placed my order, got to the point where I had an receipt, which I printed off. A week passed, and when I went to check on my order, I realized I hadn’t heard anything about the monitor. I logged into my account on Dell.ca, and there was no record of my order being placed. HUH? I checked my email receipts folder (where I keep things like Dell electronic receipts) and I had no record of an email from them. I dug up my paper receipt, and unfortunately there was no order number on it. Yet I had the receipt, presumably meaning I was going to be charged for it.

I called Dell customer service – it seems their entire online sales group is based out of India – and tried to explain my problem to the agent. I’m not one of those ultra-patriotic types who believes that every job should stay in his own country – I believe that if a company can be cost-effective with a call center, while still providing excellent service, they should out-source. The problem is that the Dell call center does not, in my experience, provide excellent service. I quite often have to explain my problem over and over again, and the agents don’t seem to grasp the concept of “customer service”. It’s not a language issue most of the time, it’s a cultural issue, which isn’t something that can be put in database. At any rate, after explaining the problem to the agent, he explained to me that the problem was that the Dell Deal of the Day I ordered was no longer valid because the day was over. I explained that I had a receipt indicating that Dell had accepted my order. He explained that I had no order number because the monitor I wanted was out of stock. I explained that I had a receipt indicating that Dell had accepted my order, and that I wanted the product.

We went back and forth for a few minutes, where I explained that if Dell runs out of stock on a product but continues to sell it and take credit card numbers, then it’s their problem not mine. Eventually I asked to speak to his manager, which always makes the Dell sales agents very nervous – they must have some sort of performance metric tied into call escalation. He put me on hold, came back, and made me an offer: he’d sell me the monitor for $269 CAD, $20 more than the Deal of the Day. It was a good offer, and $20 isn’t much, but the principle of the issue was still the day: the big corporation offered a product at a certain price, and now they were trying to change the rules. I persisted, asked for his manager again, and he finally offered me the monitor for $249 CAD.

Here’s the kicker: after jerking me around and making the entire thing difficult, he had the nerve to give me his sales ID number (#1308) and ask that I’d use that ID number whenever I placed online orders. As if he had done me a huge favour and I should feel grateful for getting the product for the price I expected in the first place. Needless to say, I will not be using his sales ID number. As much as well frustrates me sometimes, their prices are hard to beat, and I really like the design of their monitors. Got any Dell horror stories of your own?

Sometimes I WANT To Be Marketed To

Most of the time, we all dislike advertising – but that’s usually because it’s not targeted toward our interests. When I was a kid watching Saturday morning cartoons in the ’80s, the commercials were an integral part of the morning – what new toys were out there, what new food did I want to ask my mom to buy? [she rarely did, she loved her kids enough to feed us healthy food] As an adult, I’m constantly bombarded by advertising that’s so far off base I do everything in my power to avoid watching it. Yet sometimes, I’m stunned at the way I’m NOT marketed to…case in point: a few minutes ago Ashley (my wife) called me to say that she heard an ad on the radio that Evanescence was coming to Calgary for a show in January and that tickets went on sale today. I’m a huge fan of that group (and Amy Lee in particular – what a voice!) but I’m not enough of a groupie to know that they were even on tour. I somehow assumed that the marketing machine would take hold and somehow I’d be exposed to an advertisement that a band I’d pay almost anything to see was coming to my town. That didn’t happen. I ordered tickets five hours after they went on sale, and ended up getting seats that aren’t all that great. Crap.

I found out after the fact something that I should have been signed up for: House of Blues Canada. A friend of mine knew Evanescence was coming, had access to early ticket sales, but didn’t buy tickets – and he didn’t tell me because he didn’t know I was a huge Evanescence fan. Doh! I’d gladly give up some non-aggregated personal information about my interests if it meant that I’d be presented with advertisements that really appealed to the things I’m interested in. There’s a lot of money to be made by the company that can figure this out.

Welcome to My Personal Blog…

So here’s the funny thing about creating and running Web sites for a living (which is what I do): you end up having really high expectations for each site you launch, and you want everything to be perfectly in place before you launch. Let’s take a brief inventory list here on this site. First, we have an easy to use CMS – WordPress, all set up and ready to rock as of two months ago. Check. Next, we have a killer template, courtesy of Mr. Darius Wey, finished more than a month ago. Check. My matching photo gallery template is also completed, as of two weeks ago. Check. So what was left? Nothing – yet somehow I was obsessing over the smallest details the way I do with a Thoughts Media site. Then I was reminded of a simple truth a few days ago: the entire reason I’m launching this personal blog is to give myself a no-pressure, talk-about-whatever-I-want place that has no connection to my “real” job. So what the hell was I waiting for exactly? And here we go – launched!

I wanted to talk a bit about the template that Darius designed for this site: when I work with Fabrizio (our resident developer/designer at Thoughts Media) on a site design, we strive for maximum usability, readability, brand impact, blah blah – all the usual marketing stuff. With a completely personal blog, I had much more freedom to create something bold, unique, and designed to make me happy, not necessarily everyone else on the planet. I love the deep reds, the bright oranges, and the simplicity of the design. Oh, and not a damn advertisement anywhere. How nice is that? If only all of my sites could be ad free!

The characters up at the top of the page are Japanese kanji meaning “Samurai” – I have a tremendous admiration for Asian culture and many of the precepts of Bushido (with a Christian view of death of course), even if the version popularized by modern thinkers never quite existed that way in history. The characters going down the right hand column are a Chinese characters. From top to bottom, the characters are faith, hope, love, courage, and honour. All are traits I strive for in my life. If you can’t see them all properly, it’s because you’re using Internet Explorer 6. There are some tragic flaws with CSS rendering that IE6 has never fixed, but the site looks great in Firefox or Internet Explorer 7 (which all you IE users should download immediately, though I recommend you give Firefox a try, it’s an awesome browser).

So what will you find here at jasondunn.com? Well, first and foremost this is about my life, the things I discover, the things I find interesting. In the early years of Pocket PC Thoughts, since it was my one and only blog, I quite often talked about personal matters, posted holiday greetings, etc. Over the years as it evolved and grew, the focus also became more defined, and I found that some readers were not very tolerant of things that were off topic. They came there for Pocket PC news, and if it wasn’t about that, then why was I posting it? I don’t blame them for wanting a site that was on-topic, but by the same token I’ve felt a bit restricted in not having a place to post whatever I felt like online. I don’t expect this blog to be updated on a regular basis – more whenever the mood hits me or I have something I want to share – so the best way to keep updated is to subscribe to the feed. I also make no pretence that every single entry will be worth reading – this is a purely personal project that will run the gamut from cool tech tips I discover, to updates for family and friends, to pure ranting and raving on subjects I find compelling – including religion, politics, and other subjects too hot to handle on my professional sites. You’re welcome to join in the fun, but remember it’s a personal blog, so the first person to say “Hey, that’s off topic!” gets a virtual poke in the eye. 😉 And here we go…