The Haphazard Blog


Capital One May Want to Follow Their Own Advice

by on May.04, 2014, under Bills, Finance, Technology

This week I received a statement for my Capital One credit card for $0.00. It even says my payment is due by May 19. Also at the top of it?


Your trash could be an identity thief’s gold. Manage your account online and end the paper trail.

This reminds me of a story a software engineering professor told me. Every month she would receive a Visa bill for $0.00. She would call and ask them to stop sending them and there was nothing they could do about it. How did it finally stop? She actually wrote a check for $0.00 and sent it in as a payment. They processed the payment! I would hope their computer systems would be more advanced by now, but apparently not. On the upside, there are no blackout dates…

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Perils of Updating Python on Your Mac

by on Jun.08, 2013, under Software Development

As part of improving my skills, I started to learn Python, a popular scritpting (it can do more) language. So the natural first step was to get it installed. Mac OS X comes with many programming languages installed. My version of OS X Lion came with Python 2.7.1. While Python 3.1.3 was also out at that time, that was not included. They are now up to 3.3.2 and it seemed to make sense to me that I should get the latest. After all, I was learning the language, right? It’s easy enough to install, but the default python (which python) remains 2.7.1. So I set out to make 3.3.2 my new default. I found a tutorial on how to do this here. Learned some good things about OS X under the hood and everything seemed fine, until I went to update Office 2011.

I had started the Office 2011 update and then let it sit there when it asked me to quit Chrome (why does Office need me to quit my browser to update?) but I had some tabs open while working on some other stuff. A couple days later, I went to finish it up and it failed. So I thought maybe it was because I let it sit there in an intermediate state. So I tried again, and again (hey Microsoft, maybe you can save the installer locally instead of downloading it every time after it fails) with no luck. I then started to look into the install log (Command+L) and saw this error:

./preinstall: ImportError: No module named ‘popen2’

popen2 is a Python module. And I realized the problem was Python 3 vs Python 2. So I restored the symbolic links in /usr/bin back to Python 2.7.1 and the update worked fine. I did still leave 3.3.2 with the other versions and added 3.3 links to /usr/bin like the 2.7 ones. This seems like Microsoft’s fault because it’s crazy to think you should never upgrade Python. At some point Apple may (or maybe already has) install 3.x as the default. But reading more, it also seems to be my fault. Making changes to /usr/bin is a bad idea in OS X.

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My Popcorn Hour Drive Died

by on Oct.09, 2010, under Computer Hardware, Technology

Last year, I added a 1.5 TB Western Digital Green Caviar drive to my Popcorn Hour A-110. Last week, I was going to play something back from the hard disk and it wasn’t listed as a source. I did a hard reboot and the drive was back, but playback was horrible (took forever to play a few seconds and then it would pause). Browsing the drive from my PC also was real slow.

I figured it was dying, but from past experience with Western Digital I had to run the diagnostics and give them the error code. I also had a fair amount of video stored on the drive that I wanted to get off the drive. So I hooked the drive up and rand the diagnostics first.

After that, I had to find a way to mount a Linux (ext3 file system) drive in Windows.  I used Ext2 Installable File System For Windows to do it. Unfortunately, the drive wasn’t dismounted properly so I kept getting a message saying:

The disk in drive X: is not formatted. Do you want to format it now?

That’s the last thing I wanted to do since I wanted to get data off the drive. Digging around led me to a utility to check the mounting status of the drive. It was simple enough to run from the command prompt (change directory to the folder containing the executable):

mountdiag X:

It told me the drive was not unmounted properly and there were items in the journal that needed to be completed. Unfortunately the Ext2IFS doesn’t have any mechanisms to mount a drive in this situation. I needed to mount/unmount it in Linux. For this, I turned to SystemRescueCd and created a bootable USB stick. From there, I used my extremely rusty Linux knowledge to mount and unmount the drive.

I was able to mount it in Windows and start copying the files. It took 4 days to copy 204 GB (to give you and idea about how messed up the drive was) and another day to delete 27 files from the drive.

I took a look at the Western Digital support site at the Warranty/RMA information and saw that they had an option to upgrade your drive during the RMA process. I thought I’d take a look at how much a 2 TB drive would cost. After the laughter, the cost was $108 and Newegg had a new 2 TB drive for $100. I thought I’d be willing to pay $20, $25 at most for the extra 500 GB.

So, I called up Western Digital expecting to have to talk to tech support, jump through a couple hoops and get a RMA number, but they have changed how they handle RMAs. Basically, no questions asked. If your drive is in warranty and you want a replacement, you ask for a RMA. Then you have the option of sending your drive first or having them ship first (they take your credit card and put a hold on the funds in case you don’t send your drive back). So I chose to have them send it first since I didn’t need to worry about a weird situation where they get the drive back and determine it wasn’t defective. (Now they take anything back and if the drive is good, it will become a replacement drive and if it’s bad, they toss it.)

To my delight, Western Digital sent me a 2 TB replacement drive. So I ended up getting a free 2 TB upgrade (well, it cost $6 to send the old drive back) which is really nice.

One last note for anyone doing a RMA for their hard drive. The warranty on the replacement drive is initially 90 days. Western Digital transfers the old warranty over after they get the original drive back. So if you check it when you get it, you may be surprised. I will still double check that the warranty gets updated in a month or so to be safe. I still have 2 years left.

October 18 Update: Western Digital got my bad drive back and transferred the remaining warranty to the replacement drive.

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My Plate Is Overflowing

by on Sep.19, 2010, under Computer Hardware, Entertainment, Football, Life, Patriots, Sports, Technology, TV

It seems like my todo list is endless now. I’ve been working long hours on a project with a tight time schedule. It’s a good project, but it does take a lot out of you to work so many hours a week. It makes me think about people who work two jobs to support their family. To do that week in and week out (and I’m sure at least one of those jobs is one they don’t particularly like) just shows their commitment to their family. It’s mentally and physically taxing. I’m fortunate to have a job that’s pretty much 40 hours a week the majority of the time.

I have yet to fully catch up after my vacation last month. My MacBook was buried under 3 weeks of mail and bills. I finally got through all that so my desk is actually clean. I hate when my desk is covered with stuff that needs to be taken care of or put away. I still need to go through all the pictures from my vacation and put some of those online.

My DVR still has shows on it from when I was on vacation. Between work and physical therapy, I’m recording more shows than I can watch. The positive out of it is I’m dumping marginal shows this fall. Hopefully between the canceled/ending shows last season, shows I dump this fall and the new shows this fall, I end up with less to watch.

I have managed to watch sports live at least. West Virginia is 3-0. They had an incredible comeback against Marshall (avoiding their first loss to them) last week. I thought they were done when they went down 14-3. I suppose I had some hope of a comeback because I did record the rest of the game and checked in between shows. I was able to tune back in on their TD drive to make it 21-13 and watch the rest of the game to see them pull off the win. I got to miss the suckitude in the middle. Yesterday, they looked better to start the game. Looking similar to the Patriots against Cincinnati to really jump on Maryland in the first half. Then Maryland was making a game of it before WVU had a 9-minute drive to put the game out of reach. It’s nice to see a QB who can pass the ball. It’s been a long time (since Marc Bulger I believe) since we had a guy who can throw the ball accurately and stand in the pocket.

Needless to say, I was surprised by how the Patriots played on defense last week. It was just one game, but they had a great game plan and the young guys executed it about as well as anyone could expect. It certainly adds a new level of anticipation and excitement about the 2010 team’s potential. Hopefully it’s not just a tease. A good test this week against a team with a very good, attacking defense. This will be a real test for the offensive line. If the game was in New England, I’d feel real confident the Patriots will win. I guess I’m still skeptical that the defense is as good as they were last week. I don’t think New England will try that whole whiteboard nonsense again this year. They will have Welker (he had a huge game in the only one he played vs. the Jets last year) and possibly Edelman who is a lot better than he was in week 2 last year. It’s going to be another test, but I think New England will win a close game because the Jets defense is better than Cincinnati’s.

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I Am Now a Mac Owner

by on Sep.06, 2010, under Computer Hardware, Life, Technology

Four or five years after I first considered getting a Mac (I was thinking a desktop tower back then) I now have a MacBook Pro, courtesy of my brother. I took it with me on vacation to the National Parks two weeks ago as kind of a trial by fire thing to learn the nuances vs. Windows with no alternative. This was partly derailed by how busy we were (out the door by 8 AM, back after 8 PM for dinner) and the poor Wi-Fi reception until the last night.

There are a fair amount of nuances that I have had to pick up. The command key is the equivalent of the control key on the PC. Made slightly more confusing is there is also a control key on the Mac. The multi-touch takes getting used to and anything requiring 3 or 4 fingers as gestures are out. I can manage some two finger gestures like scrolling, but pinch/expand requires 2 hands. I see the value in all these gestures, but it would be nice to have the option for some legacy touchpad stuff like scrolling by using the edges of the touch pad. Maybe alternative gestures for pinch/expand like double tapping and dragging from a corner for example.

Some other things that I had to learn was the symbol for alt key. For some reason, Apple makes heavy use of the symbol in the menus (to tell you what the keyboard shortcut for the command is) but then they did not print that symbol on the key itself. The other thing is the lack of the page up/down and home/end keys. Those keys are very handy when using web browsers or navigating documents. So that leaves me with the multitouch for page up/down or fn+arrow keys.

The Mac also has forced me to reconsider syncing stuff. Until now, I had my work PC that I used for dual purposes and a Windows laptop. I’d use remote desktop to gain access to my e-mail or webmail for my domain. Now with two operating systems and my desire to use the Mac for more than an interface to my PC (there is Remote Desktop for Mac), I’m rethinking my strategy. My first step will be to move my e-mail to Google Apps. This also ties into my newly acquired iPod Touch. It has mail, contacts, etc. So when I also get a smart phone in the future, that’ll be another thing to sync. Google Apps is looking like it will make the most sense. One obstacle is I will need to determine how large my mailbox is at this point. I have e-mail going back to 1996. In all honesty, I don’t really think I need to keep 99% of it, but I don’t know that I want to sift through it all either. I should investigate e-mail archival options.

I’ve managed to run iTunes on both machines using the same library. It will also let me sync from either machine. I’m going to start using iPhoto to manage my recent vacation pictures next. I also need to download the iOS SDK so that I can start to play around with making Apps for the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch families. Also on the list is installing Windows 7 with Boot Camp (and eventually using Parallels) and getting an SSD. Eventually I will have moved my entire personal life over to the Mac. Overall, I’m pretty happy with it so far. I feel like I’m jumping on the bandwagon a little late, but oh well.

A couple quick comments on the iPod Touch. I’ve been using it for a couple days now and it’s also interesting like the Mac multitouch. I’m going to be a lot slower at typing on that than with a keyboard. I’m basically reduced to using one finger. I have also started to figure out that it seems I need to hit just a little to the right of what I want to avoid mistakes. Again, the pinch/expand gestures are a problem, and in this case more difficult because you normally wouldn’t have it on your lap or on a table when you’re using it.

It’s interesting that ~15 years ago, PCs were very difficult for people with physical disabilities to use and got easier with voice recognition, laser ice, trackballs and touchpads. Now there is a movement to gestures and multitouch that makes it more difficult again. The same thing is happening with video games. First there was the addition of tons of buttons and now the movement to full body movement. It’s interesting what computing power has done.

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Nikon S70 Review

by on Jul.12, 2010, under Photography, Technology

Nikon S70

I’ve been looking for a point and shoot camera that I can use. For the most part, it’s hard for me to keep the camera steady and press the shutter-release button. I thought a touch screen camera would be ideal. I could simply tap the LCD to take a picture. So with that purpose in mind, here are my thoughts on the Nikon S70.

First, if you can use a regular point and shoot camera, don’t get this camera. You can make adjustments to your settings and zoom way faster than you can with this camera. It will generally take noticeably longer to take a picture with this camera than it will with a normal point and click. I’m also not much of a fan of having to slide down the front of the camera to turn it on/expose the lens. It’s fine for the owner, but if you are prone to let other people take pictures with your camera, someone is going to slide that down and rub their finger across the lens.

Moving on to how the camera worked for me. Pretty much the entire back of the camera is a touch LCD screen except for a small part of the far right side, less than 1 cm. I found this means that you have to hold the camera in a way that avoids touching the screen. My preference would’ve been to hold the camera with my right hand and take pictures by touching the LCD with my left. Unfortunately, the way that I hold the camera, my right thumb is constantly touching the screen. So when I’m not hitting the “Home” icon, it will not register any other touches. How I envisioned I could use the camera wasn’t going to work.

I figured out if I had some type of small post connected where the tripod mount was, I could hold the camera with my left hand and work the camera with my right (I’m right handed). I found a simple 3″ long screw (1/4″-20 type) that I screwed into the camera. Now I was getting somewhere. I could hold the camera and take pictures. So, I took it out into the real world to use.

We went to the Museum of World Treasures in Wichita a couple weeks ago. I found that it was difficult to keep the camera steady (I believe I was essentially “balancing” the camera on my left hand and the screw just ensured it did not topple over vs. having a very good grip on it) to get good, level pictures. Also, most things weren’t at the best height for me to take pictures. It was best to be standing, to either get a downward angled picture or “eye level” picture. This limitation isn’t a function of the camera however. Just an observation in general about taking photos.

At the end of the day there were quite a few pictures that were blurry (too much movement when tapping the LCD) and quite a few had this inexplicable yellow tint on them that for some unknown reason would not go away. When the pictures came out right, they were very clear. I have included some samples below (I lowered the resolution, but I feel they convey the overall quality).

I came across one other problem with the camera. When I fully charged it via USB the camera would not turn back on unless I removed and reinserted the battery. This did not happen when I partially charged the camera. I didn’t investigate this much further than that since this camera really didn’t meet my needs. I returned it and will keep looking for something that will work better.

Given what I have learned from this camera I need to keep looking for a touch screen camera, but one that does not have an LCD that covers the entire back of the screen. I think that will be hard to find because if there is nothing there, it’s simply a waste of space. The more likely thing would be to have a camera that has all the buttons, but also allows a user to take a picture by tapping the touchscreen. Other far-fetched ideas would be if yo could partner with a camera manufacture and re-program the button functions and re-assign the shutter release action to another button. This would not make much sense for the vast majority of users. It would really only be for a very tiny percentage of people, but it would enable them to use a camera. A similar concept would be if the camera came with some software that would let the user “program” the controls in a way similar to how video games let you change the control scheme. Ultimately. the improvement in the cameras included with smart phones may have the most promise.

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ASP.NET, MVC and Ajax

by on Jul.12, 2010, under Software Development, Technology

For any developers out there who are going to develop using ASP.NET and considering using Ajax, I would strongly recommend that you learn jQuery. Microsoft bundles jQuery with Visual Studio so the library is available to you, along with some helpers to get you building Ajax enabled sites quickly. It’s a nice benefit to have, but what it exposes is limited. jQuery is capable of so much more and when you hit a wall with the limits of the Ajax.* helpers, you will find a lot of what you want to do is part of jQuery.

Books about ASP.NET are mostly going to cover the Ajax.* helpers and briefly mention jQuery. But, once you get the hang of it, you can abandon the use of the Ajax.* helpers (if you don’t, you will still be writing JavaScript to initialize and process events in more complex manners.) and build more advanced web sites with the features of jQuery.

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