Old Skool Tools

I have been going back and listening to old skool Hanselminutes.com podcasts. Show#8 points out some free tools that may still be somewhat useful:

  • TeamViewer
    TeamViewer connects to any PC or server around the world within a few seconds. You can remote control your partner’s PC as if you were sitting right in front of it.
  • cr-documentor
    DXCore plugin for rendering real-time XML documentation comment previews.

Hurricane Ridge, Olympic Nat’l Forest

Here are a couple stitched panorama shots. MS Research’s ICE was used to do the stiching, and it is pretty cool and easy.

Stitch 1
Photo: 11MB
Stitch 2
Photo: 18MB

PLEASE NOTE: These panoramas are big. The files may take a bit to show in the lightbox pop-up, and they may still be tough to see. It may be best to just “right-click, save as” or “right-click, open in new tab” to view them.

The first panorama is 7 individual shots stitched together. The second is 13 stitched. ICE lets you drag and drop the photos and it figures out how to do all the stitching for you. Pretty amazing stuff.

Hobbscene 2.0

Well, the Oxite MVC blog test failed. It was difficult to work with and they are changing it so drastically and there is so little documentation, I just decided to scrap it. I tried to go for a .NET engine, but in the end I went with the tried and true. If it ain’t broke I guess.

I am going to slowly manually convert each old Oxite post over to the new blog. Here goes nothing….

[EDIT: Thank you, Google cache. I did not have many posts anyway, so I was able to copy/paste them from the cached versions. Of course, the other content was not accessible, but I have it all on my laptop anyway. I’ll get that all transferred over sometime in the near future. Some links may not work until then. Sorry…]

Run VS in admin mode on Win7 for remote access

This is really one of those duh kinda things, but I thought I’d just put it up here in case it helps at all.

Once I made the switch to Win7 on my work PC, I noticed when I remote desktop’d in I could not run the debugger for an already open VS instance without shutting down and starting as admin. I noticed in some screencast from people such as Phil Haack that the VS window had “(Administrator)” in the title bar. This made a little light bulb appear over my head as I had an “aha!” moment: just run VS as an admin.

I had already pinned VS to my taskbar, so I stopped for a second when I right-clicked on the VS icon and saw no “Run as administrator” option. I quickly realized I could right-click yet again on “Microsoft Visual Studio 2010” fromt he jump menu and lo and behold there was my “Run as administrator” option.

jQuery Star Rating Plugin

I am thinking about adding a star rating to one of the sites at work, so I started poking around for what was available in a jQuery plugin. Surprisingly, there are quite a few plugins but none that I totally fell in love with. they either don’t degrade, or use form elements I don’t hink they should, or whatever. I thought it would be a good exercise to try and roll my own plugin.

I started of checking out some how-to’s for jQuery plugin writing, but I usually learn better by doing, so I started with the closest thing I like, Wil Stuckey and John Resig’s rating plugin. It is pretty good, but it just needed a little nudge to be better. I figured this was a good way to start. I would not have to write an entire plugin from scratch, and I’d learn from one of the guys that created jQuery, so how could I go wrong?

It took a few days, with a few hours spent here and there. All in all I feel pretty good about the plugin, though I am sure I could make it better, and I likely forgot something important. If you are interested, you can grade the code from my code section, and there is a demo available too. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Javascript beautifier

I am looking into a jQuery star rating plug-in and I cannot seem to fins one that fits exactly what I want. There are a few out there, but many require javascript, and those that do degrade with js off aren’t exactly what I want.

I stumbled on starbox, but it is for Prototype. It looks really nice and I thought it might be fun to try and port an existing plug-in. I’d get something I like and get some good jQuery experience in the process, which is a win/win in my book. The problem is starbox isn’t a freebie, and being the cheapskate that I am I don’t want to pay for it when I am really not going to use it (other than for the porting). Starbox is packed, so I needed an easy way to unpack the code, and I figured it might be tough without paying for it.

I did a quick search and found a way to use the FF error console to unpack code, but I also found the online javascript beautifier. This little nugget will unpack and format packed js code. Pretty sweet stuff, and just what I needed.

In the PC market? Do NOT buy an HP!

Less than 2 years ago I needed a new laptop. I went with an HP mainly for the following reasons: 1) it was from Costco so the warranty was longer than the typical warranty, and 2) it was one of the only ones in my price range at the time. When I bought this laptop, it was about $900. Right now I could get an equivalent laptop for probably $350, but oh well.

I like laptops for the portability. I travel occasionally and I love to be able to bring along my PC. Another frequently used feature of any laptop is opening and closing it. A few weeks ago I closed my laptop and a small plastic piece broke off. As I mentioned, I travel some, but I take great care of my laptop. Mostly it just sits on my desk, open and ready to go. So the fact that something would break off when I closed it irked me a bit. It was a small piece, so I wasn’t worried.

When I opened it the next day, another piece broke off. Now I was a bit concerned. I opened and closed it again to see if anything else would happen, and basically the entire hinge broke. Now, I couldn’t even close the laptop properly. My laptop is still under warranty, so I contacted online support and told them the problem. They said I was covered under warranty and that a box would be sent. A couple days later, I get the box, pack up my PC and send it in.

Now it is a week or so later, and I get a few calls from HP. Their service hours were not working well with my work hours so I was unable to contact them for a few days. Finally, when I got them on the phone they said the hinge wasn’t covered under the warranty and that it would cost me somewhere in the neighborhood of $420 to fix it?!? For a hinge? I told them to forget it and send it back. I was so angry I couldn’t even argue with them at that point.

About a week goes by and I finally receive my laptop back. When I open it I find HP’s “standard” customer refusal form included. I think any company that has a standard form has lots of practice screwing their customers. Anyway, the reason selected for not covering my laptop under warranty is that electronic parts won’t be covered under warranty if they have had liquid spilled on them. Huh? The PC is a bit slow for my taste, but totally operational. I couldn’t let this BS fly, so I called in to dispute this rationalization.

Long story short, I get hung up on by a case manager (nice customer service!), and my subsequent call to ask if hanging up on customers is common HP practice yielded a very enlightening conversation with another case manager. HP gives their service reps no capabilities to override anything, thus eliminating their ability to actually help customers. The reps cannot give out any contact information for the tech service department (which makes the decisions to not cover items under warranty), and no help with finding out how to dispute anything. This effectively allows HP to operate much like an insurance carrier. I guess they figure if they give customers the run-around enough they’ll go away? Normally, I would, but I was quite irate with the situation. What is the point of a warranty if the company that makes the item won’t fix/replace normal wear and tear? I could have pumped ridiculous voltage through my PC and fried everything and they’d replace it, yet they won’t fix a hinge that broke because I opened and closed my laptop?!? Next thing you know I’ll want to turn it off an on…

I started doing some web searches, and it turns out this must be common practice. I found a Yahoo! Answers question from someone in the exact same situation as myself. I found other stories of how HP help product until the warranty expired then attempted to charge the customer, and I read yet another story of HP claiming Amazon sold a woman a fake PC with a mysterious motherboard.

Ultimately I found contact information for a VP of Customer Service at the headquarters in Palo Alto, CA. I sent an email and actually received multiple email responses and numerous calls. Now, I have been on vacation for the past week, so nothing has come of it, but I imagine in the end it’ll be the same old, same old. They won’t cover the repair and I’ll tell them again, as I am telling you and everyone else I know: I WILL NEVER BUY ANOTHER HP PRODUCT AGAIN. EVER.

Even if they offer to fix it, I am going to tell them it is too little, too late. I went on eBay and bought 2 hinges (1 for each side) for less than $20 shipped! They wanted me to pay $420, and I got the parts for less than $20? No thanks, HP. I’ll buy from a company that stands behind their products and doesn’t try to screw their customers.

One other thing: I contacted Costco and told them of my story. I told them if the continue to sell HP products they’ll be losing my business. The service rep apologized for not being able to do anything, but said she was glad I called to voice my displeasure since Costco would never know any better if I didn’t. So, if you have ever had issues with HP (or anyone else for that matter) don’t let them walk on you. Tell everyone. tell the store you bought it from. Start a blog just so you can tell the interwebs. Speak with your wallet. Scream it from rooftops. Whatever…

Just know you don’t have to take it.

If you are interested, here is my email I sent to the VP:

From: Tim Hobbs [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Friday, August 07, 2009 8:53 PM
To:[email protected]
Subject: Poor support and poor business tactics

Mr. Bulnes,

Unfortunately, my experience with various support reps (including the case manager that hung up on me) has set the bar rather low. Perhaps that is fortunate for you as I fully expect the “company line” from you as well. Anyway, her goes…

The right hinge on my Pavilion dv9000 series laptop recently broke. It simply crumbled under normal use (most likely due to a defect in materials or workmanship). I contacted live chat support, was told I was covered under warranty for a broken right hinge, and sent a box with FedEx shipping prepaid.

Per the email below, I was told that the hinge I was not covered under warranty and that it would cost approximately $420 to replace the hinge. I believe the retail of the laptop was $899. I am expected to pay almost %50 for a part to be replaced. Ridiculous. I told the rep to send it back since I was too furious to try and reason with him.

Today when I finally received my laptop I found the HP_NB_Refusal_of_Repair_Service_RevB standard company form in the box. The reason for refusal was electrical components won’t be covered under warranty if liquids are spilled on them. Explicitly stated on the form is the following:

“Your HP warranty protects you against defects in materials and workmanship.”

Feeling cheated I called the number provided on the form for “Award-winning HP Total Care”. I had 2 nice reps and waited about 20 minutes before I could speak to a case manager. As I told him of my frustration, he proceeded to ask me if I read the warranty when I bought the PC. Anyone who expects users to read warranties and/or user agreements is a fool, and I resent the implication that it is my fault that I did not read the fine print when the issue is an obvious materials issue. Admittedly I did lose my cool a bit and raised my voice (which isn’t acceptable), but what is even more unacceptable is that without any warning the case manager hung up on me. I expect that isn’t part of the “Award-winning” experience.

I immediately called back and just happened to get a manager that answered. He was  very understanding and helpful, and basically told me exactly what I was told before, and what I have subsequently read repeatedly on various internet sites. In the end, I hope for the best. I hope that you will recognize the poor customer service. I hope you will fix the hinge on my laptop. However, I doubt it will happen. If you are interested in making things right my case number is included below.

What I know is that I will never spend another dime on an HP product again. (I am a geek. I buy a lot of gadgets.) I will tell everyone I know about my experience. I will make sure when my employer buys new hardware for the office that they are never HP (I am in the tech department so it isn’t just an empty threat). I am my family’s tech guru, so they won’t be buying HP either.  I’ll post it on my blog and comment on others. I’ll tell everyone I know to avoid HP. Individuals  and businesses alike cannot rely on HP to back their products and do what is right, so they can’t afford to buy HP if they value their money.


Tim Hobbs

HTML 5 Video Codec Debate

My co-worker sent me an interesting article from Ars Technica about the current HTML 5 video codec stalemate over whether to use Ogg Theora or H.264 as the de facto video standard. I don’t know much about either, but it is an interesting read and both sides make valid points.

My 2 cents on the whole thing is why choose anything that requires royalty payments (H.264), as MPEG LA are looking to collect licensing fees starting in 2010. Worse than that, these fees may be a whole lot:

The language used in the current license treats Internet streaming just like over-the-air television, implying that the licensees will have to pay broadcast fees per-region. That could prove to be extremely costly for Internet video providers who make their content available around the world.

Theora is open source and currently free from any subversive patents (or so it seems), but there are questions about the validity of that “freedom”. Either way, I am sure the big video players (a la YouTube) will wind up determining which wins the “format war”.

I do wonder why the HTML 5 spec cannot support both? I am sure that is not ideal, but couldn’t it work similarly to <object> and <embed> tags?

NDC 2009

Lots of great streams from the Norwegian Developers Conference 2009. My favorite is the “HaaHa Show” where Scott Hanselman creates a site and Phil Haack uses XSS exploits. In a later .NET Rocks! podcast (also live from the NDC and available via stream) Phil talks about how the intent was to let people know about the security holes, but he thinks it probably just scared people. I kinda agree, as it is a bit scary to see what Phil was able to do.

NOTE: when I tried to watch the streams they were out of sync and started about 14 minutes in. I am not sure if they have this fixed, but they are still worth checking out.