Home Depot Stock Check

September 27th, 2010 [Duke]

This is a story of trying to get a Home Depot stock check at a non-local Homedepot store, after finding it out of stock at my local store.

It all started on Sun, 9/26/2010. I was looking for a string trimmer and I eyed the Homelite 15 in. 5.5 Amp Electric String Trimmer, which my local Home Depot did not have in stock. At my local store I saw that it was not on the shelves so I grabbed an associate and asked him when they would be do in stock. He brainlessly read a label on the shelf which said “9/21″, “we’ll get them on 9/21.” I politely pointed out that the current date was 9/26, after which he gestured as though he was thinking about it for a minute and said “oh, we’re expecting them Monday or Tuesday.” Not having been born yesterday, I to look for the product at another Home Depot store reasonably close to me.

I go to their website and attempt to do a stock check online. All their site does is display a link which says “Sold At Your Local Store” if it believes that the product is available locally. This may have been impressive in the early 90s but is counterintuitive to anyone who’s accustomed to using the internet for shopping in the new millenium. Alas, I digress.

I decide to go thru the pain and inconvenience to actually call in. I get store #258’s phone number, call it and listen to the poorly organized menu which was 3-4 levels deep before I could speak with someone, at one point I got a list of departments that was like 1 for Plumbing, 2 for Lighting, … 9 for more departments, after I hit 9 I had to guess where my product was. I cheated, I listened for the category name as listed on their web site which in this case was “Outdoors.” I hit the #, get put on hold with some non-descript, waited for maybe 3 minutes. A lady who didn’t seem very content on answering the phone asks what I want. I tell her “I’d like a stock check”, she says “what?”, I repeat “I would like a stock check”. And, silence. She was totally stumped, stopped in her tracks like a deer in the headlights. Thinking maybe my call had dropped I said “hello?” to which she retorted, “you would like a.. what?” “I would like to find out if you have a product in stock. I would like a stock check.” At which point she said “hold on” and on hold I went. At which point I hung up.

Thanks for wasting my time Home Depot. Lets see how Lowe’s fares.

Installing Flash Player on 64-bit Ubuntu 8.10 (AMD64)

February 25th, 2009 [Duke]

It was a royal PITA to get Adobe Flash Player 10 installed on my Ubuntu 64-bit workstation, so I figured I’d make a quick note and hopefully spare others the pain. This is an Ubuntu 8.10 AMD64 install (a.k.a. 64-bit Intrepid).

You’ve probably gotten the following error while trying to install Flash thru either System | Administration | Synaptic Package Manager, or command line sudo apt-get install flashplugin-nonfree:

Download done.
md5sum mismatch install_flash_player_10_linux.tar.gz
The Flash plugin is NOT installed.

Go to Adobe Labs’ Flash Player 10 page, click Download & Install on right, then click “Download 64-bit Plugin for Linux” link. As of today, this will get you libflashplayer-10.0.22.87.linux-x86_64.so.tar.gz. Unpacking it yields a single file libflashplayer.so, needed in two places:

sudo cp libflashplayer.so /usr/lib/firefox-addons/plugins
sudo cp libflashplayer.so /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins

Restart FireFox and you should be good.

How Not To Do a Web Form – Air France

January 15th, 2009 [Duke]

I wanted to do something very simple, considering it’s the last year of the first decade of the 3rd millennium (Gregorian calendar, of course). Namely, to check the status of an Air France flight from Miami to Paris Charles de Gaulle.

I typed airfrance<Ctrl+Enter> in the address bar, which brought me to airfrance.com, where I clicked “USA Site,” which in turn redirected me to airfrance.us. I don’t think this is the best way to do things, but that’s just a minor complaint. Another minor one: it doesn’t automatically redirect on subsequent visits (hint: set a cookie!).

I had this scanned itinerary to go on (ignore date, AF95 flies daily):
Air France AF 95

I got to the flight status page:
Try 1 - af95
My first attempt was af95 (the fact that I’m counting attempts should give you an idea of what’s to come). I hit search, without crossing fingers:

No info!
No info! This is quite misleading. What exactly do you mean you have no information? Is it lost in your system, is it top secret, has the flight disappeared? If it’s bad input, be explicit and say “please check the flight number and ensure that you have not included dashes,” etc. This is a perfect time to include additional help, even though the user hasn’t specifically asked for it — I call it Just in Time Contextual Help™. Add things like “please don’t include letters such as AF in the input” if your developers are too lazy to filter it in code. Although really, they should — you want the user experience to be as seamless as possible. Especially when your target audience includes grandparents checking flight status!

But, the show must go on! Let’s try just 95:
Try 2 - 95
No info again. Nice. Let’s try af095:
Try 3 - af095
I wish I could say the 3rd time was a charm, however something seems to’ve been lost in translation. Attempt #3 was a non-starter, as the text input box only allows 4 characters.

I finally gave up and searched using “Departing from” / “Arriving in.” This hinted how to find it via flight number — it must be padded with a zero, as in 095. This is very, very bad and completely unacceptable in this day & age.

The icing on the cake? If you type something in the flight number box and hit tab, it deletes what you’ve inputted! That’s the result of an overzealous attempt to enforce strict rules while completely missing other use cases such as tabbing out to the submit button for those who prefer using the keyboard (hello, and goodbye, accessibility!).

This user experience takes me back to a time when web usability standards weren’t even an afterthought. Companies with an internet presence need to ensure their websites, today more than ever, accurately project their corporate image and vision. Due to the interactive nature of the web, usability is just as important as visual style.

The technology doesn’t matter

December 18th, 2008 [Duke]

The technology doesn’t matter. While technology matters, the technology does not. In the grand scheme of things, technology is a critical ingredient, and any particular technology may matter for a set time horizon. More often then not, the technology is just a means to an end.

Most successful internet businesses have not succeeded because of the technology they use. They succeeded because of their vision, creating all the technology they needed in the process of bringing that vision to market. It is easy to mistakenly attribute their success to the technology they developed. Google didn’t succeed because of the technology they developed, they created that technology in order to succeed.

For those like myself involved in technology-related fields, this may sound like a harsh reality — we are expendable, easily replaceable, anonymous production units on an mass production assembly line (the best Orwellian analogy I could come up with right now — sue me if you don’t like it). But fret not, it is not so! If you are at the top of your game, you are not so expendable, not so easily (or cheaply) replaceable, and people tend to start knowing your name. Ironically, paradoxically, in order to be relevant in a field which deals with something that does not matter, namely the technology, you must be the very best at it.

At the end of a project I was recently involved with someone asked me if I had a copy of the software stashed away somewhere. I pointed my index finger to my head and said “it’s all up here.” A replacement system would be superior, leveraging everything learned building the old systems while being unencumbered by them. That’s why smart companies invest in people, not technology. It is skilled, creative people that build the technology needed for your business to succeed. The technology itself doesn’t matter.

Health travel tip: zinc lozenges

October 1st, 2008 [Duke]

Here’s a hot travel tip of the medicinal kind for you: go run to your local drug store, pick up a bag of zinc lozenges and pack it away in your travel kit. Make this a priority item so you don’t forget! Although zinc lozenges have no expiration date, I recommend swapping in a fresh batch every 6-12 months.

I’ve found zinc lozenges to be an effective way to lessen the impact of colds, and the time I most want to prevent/shorten a cold is when I’m away from home. It’s a homeopathic treatment for sure, but either it or the placebo effect works for me; I’m of the opinion that it can’t hurt. Search the net for studies on zinc’s ability to retard growth of certain bacteria and fungi.

Remember — for maximum effectiveness you must start taking zinc at the very first sign of trouble (such as sore throat), so always have some on hand. Keep in mind that they may not be available outside of the US.

Stay healthy and explore the amazing world around us!

Broken control panel and no printing in Vista

September 24th, 2008 [Duke]

After installing, and subsequently uninstalling, some software on one of my Vista x64 boxen, Control Panel from the Start menu brought up a menu- & title-less window which hung for 15-30 seconds, then closed itself. Printing also stopped working, and trying to Add a Printer (the way I got some Control Panel functionality was by accessing it thru Windows Explorer) gave me “Windows can’t open Add Printer …”, continuing Redmond’s fine tradition of ironic (and funny, when it doesn’t happen to you) error messages.

First find was that the Print Spooler service (run services.msc for a list of services) couldn’t start (Error 3: The system cannot find the path specified). The culprit turned out to be a missing registry key, HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Spooler\ImagePath — it was completely gone! It needs to be of type REG_EXPAND_SZ (Expandable String Value — it will not work as REG_SZ!), and typically contains the value %SystemRoot%\System32\spoolsv.exe. Now I got the print dialog box, so I let out a deep sigh of relief and hit Print. Whoopsie daisy, spoke too soon!

Turns out the Software Licensing service was missing the same key (HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\slsvc\ImagePath); fixed it the same way with a REG_EXPAND_SZ containing %SystemRoot%\system32\SLsvc.exe. Finally, all is well again!

Real runners wear skirts!

September 18th, 2008 [Duke]

I consider myself a runner and I read running-related publications, including Runner’s World. A couple of months ago they had a special report about women’s running skirts, which are becoming mainstream. And, apparently, there’s a big divide between those that are for and against them.

The whole thing reminds me of when people were on the fence about listening to music while running. As an outsider to the skirt issue (I am a dude, after all), I can’t help but chuckle at all this sillyness. The cherry on top was a comment in the readers’ letters section in which a woman said “if you’re comfortable working out, then you’re not pushing your body” and “no one in a skirt is going to beat me.” Well, then! The air up there must be real thin.. I don’t get this fixation on trying to control how/what/where/when/why others do the things they do. It must be tied to the fear of change. I thought it was basic knowledge to focus on your own running/training and the things that work for you, and to not assume it applies to others. Life 101: don’t force your views onto others!

Of course, I could be a real dick about it – here’s a little something in dick-mode: You’re a loser who’s got nothing else in your life other than running and have put running up on a pedestal and are obsessed with it to no end. When you see that girl in a skirt listening to her iPod while she jogs, your inferiority complex kicks into high gear and you start attacking her. You don’t get that she doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your conceited opinions, and you don’t get that you’re inadvertently hurting yourself by making your view of the world so square. (/end dick-mode)

In the end, who cares? If something, anything, gets somebody to run, running has just become more popular and another person is healthier for it. You are a real runner when you go out and run on a regular basis. That’s it! Don’t listen to haters, don’t compare yourself to anybody, there will always be someone faster than you. Run for yourself man, run for your own PRs, run for your health, do any and all the things you enjoy doing while running, listen to music, run barefoot, whatever does it for you! As for me, I may just decide to put on a skirt and kick that woman’s ass in a foot race!

Clean Diesels in the US – too little, too late?

June 1st, 2008 [Duke]

I love diesels. I’ve always wanted one and I thought this fall I would finally get one in the USA, a 50-state-legal one. A nice, 6MT torque monster that gets 45+ MPG, ideally of the Euro sports wagon variety. And I’ve been telling anyone and everyone, “Don’t buy a hybrid! Unless you drive 25K+ miles/year, diesel’s the way to go!”

But lately at the pump, I’ve noticed the price disparity between regular and diesel fuels. At my corner Valero, it’s $4.059 a gallon for regular vs. $4.949 for diesel. That’s 89¢/gal, or 22%! So I got an idea: since the EPA recently rated the 2009 VW Jetta TDI, and I have gas mileage records for the past ~45K miles on my 2003 Accord DX 2.4L 5MT — why not compare them?

  2003 Honda Accord DX 2009 VW Jetta TDI
Class Midsize Compact
Displacement 2.4L 2.0L
Cylinders 4 4
Transmission 5 speed manual 6 speed manual
Curb Weight 2,989 lbs. * 3,241 lbs.
Horsepower 160 bhp 140 bhp
Torque 161 lb.-ft. 236 lb.-ft.
Pounds per bhp 18.7 lb./bhp 23.2 lb./bhp
Pounds per lb.-ft. 18.6 lb./lb.-ft. 13.7 lb./lb.-ft.
Passenger Volume 103 ft3 ** 91 ft3
New EPA (Cty/Hwy/Cmb) 23/31/26 30/41/34
Real-world observed MPG 32.2 MPG over 45K miles -

* Not many mainstream cars under 3,000 pounds these days!
** More (6 ft3 more) than a 2008 Mercedes-Benz E350 (also, 10 ft3 more than a 2008 CLS550 and… 15 ft3 more than a 2008 C350)!

So what am I getting at here? First, I’m bragging that my car weighs less than 3,000 pounds (handles great, especially since installing the Neuspeed STB) and that it boasts more passenger room than basically all (C/CL/CLK/CLS/E/SL/SLK/SLR-class) 2008 Mercedes-Benz sedans, coupes & roadsters save for the S-class (and yes, my back seats have a lot of Mr. Happy memories to prove it ;) ). But that’s not why I’m writing this post, which is getting to be rather long. I’ll take my observed MPG of 32.2 and compare it with the highest EPA-provided number for the Jetta TDI, 41 MPG. If we take out the 22% price penalty, the numbers are 32.2 vs. 41 * 0.78 = 32.0 MPG. So, price-adjusted, my “gasser” gets the same gas mileage! But.. there’s no funky/complex/unproven urea system to worry about, there’s no turbocharger to cook the oil, it revs to 6,500 RPM (with VTEC!), it’s proven technology, has Honda bulletproof reliability, is cheaper to insure (Accord is one of the best-selling cars in the US), is less likely to shred tires due to torque (45K miles on Potenza G009s, should last another 30K with regular rotation), and so on, and so forth.

I really wanted a diesel. A diesel passenger car in the US of A. But unless diesel prices here drop to match regular gas (or be cheaper, as is/was the case in Europe!), it simply isn’t a smart move to replace a perfectly amazing gasser and spend all this money (yes, there’s a price premium) on new/unproven-in-the-US diesel technology at this point. A better move may be to wait a few years to see how it all pans out, after all there are many competing alternative technologies on the map — the race has just begun! Of course, this only applies to people with Accord I4 or better gas mileage — if you drive an SUV or some other monstrosity, by all means run, don’t walk, to your nearest VW dealer and put a down payment on a Jetta Sports Wagon TDI 6MT! I’ll even forgive you if you choose the DSG (as I would :) ).

[Update 6/2/08: A reader pointed out that the '09 Jetta TDI meets the 50-state emissions regulations without an urea system. My bad.]

Linux makes Romanian better!

March 11th, 2008 [Duke]

The few times I had to use proper Romanian in emails, a language I’m fluent in, I used Windows with a Ro keyboard layout to type its 5 extra glyphs (ăâîşţ). I’ve grown somewhat accustomed to using keys like [, ], ;, ‘ for input, and its strange flip of letters Y<->Z. I always thought there had to be a better way — it’s only 5 measly extra characters, no need to make it so hard on the user.

A colleague wants to learn Romanian (cool!) and at work I run Linux/KDE. So I added the Ro kb layout using the KDE Keyboard Tool and enabled it. I tried [, I tried ], but no Romanian characters showed up. I first thought it wasn’t working, then I looked it up: somebody had actually found a better way! When you switch to the Ro kb layout under X, it behaves the same as it does for English. With one exception. Want to type ş? Right-Alt-s! ţ = Right-Alt-t, and so on. Right-Alt is great as a modifier key because I never use it for anything. I now leave my KB in Ro mode all the time; I see it as English with Romanian benefits. As my buddy Luis would say, in his rather thick British accent: brilliant!

A frank look at Linux Kernel Development

August 17th, 2007 [Duke]

As some of you may know, one of the more popular Linux kernel patchsets is going away. Con Kolivas has released the last ever -ck patchset. This may not seem all too important, but I became curious as to why this was. So I started to scour the net for info, educating myself as to what exactly th -ck patchset was, skimming thru the mailing list, reading user reports and so on. And it all started to look like something great was coming to an end.

There’s an entire wiki page which tries to document what happened, and Mr. Kolivas recently granted an interview to APCMag.com. It is this interview, which is a highly recommended read, that sheds a lot of light on the innards of Linux Kernel Development and its upper echelons.

It starts off with CK’s views on the history of the PC and how he sees M$ as having stifled innovation in hardware design (citing the Amiga as an example of innovative competition which was completely killed off when the PC market became monopolized by one OS), then talks about his motives for getting into kernel development (prior to which he didn’t even formally know how to program!) and describes his journey and the fun he had along the way, before culminating into a chillingly-frank look into the reality of LKDev and how he basically became disgusted with it all. It’s easy to understand his pain, it’s almost like listening to the story of a soldier returning home from war, a soldier who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and doesn’t want to hear about it anymore. I found the following passage quite revealing:

The Linux kernel mailing list is the way to communicate with the kernel developers. To put it mildly, the Linux kernel mailing list (lkml) is about as scary a communication forum as they come. Most people are absolutely terrified of mailing the list lest they get flamed for their inexperience, an inappropriate bug report, being stupid or whatever. And for the most part they’re absolutely right. There is no friendly way to communicate normal users’ issues that are kernel related. Yes of course the kernel developers are fun loving, happy-go-lucky friendly people. Just look at any interview with Linus and see how he views himself.

Read between the lines to understand some of the major things that are broken with Linux [kernel] development and why it’s a long, windy road for Linux to become successful on the desktop. It probably won’t happen until the fat lady sings, and all Con was trying to do was to “warm up the fat lady with some singing exercises.” But they didn’t let him.. :(