Saturday, December 24, 2011

The amazing slowness of Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 Organizer

Having upgraded the hardware, the software must follow, sooner or later.  The old Photoshop Elements wouldn't run on my shiny new SSD-equipped Core i7-2600K Win7 x64 machine.  Eventually it was time to upgrade, once PSE10 went on sale for Xmas.

I liked Elements for the tagging and organization, but always hated it for it's slowness.  On my 'old' Latitude notebook, it would take at least 10 seconds to flip between full-screen photos - something Irfanview could do in milliseconds.  Tagging, importing, and all that was OK, but not being able to view the pictures to rate them quickly was a ball-breaker.  It got so unbearable that I stopped putting new photos in, figuring I'd fix it all on the new workstation.

So I got Elements 10 installed, and it found and imported the old catalog (after performing some kind of 'conversion' that it never explained).  Unfortunately, it mangled the links to over half of my 10,000 photo collection, forcing me to the dreaded "reconnect missing files" function.

Clearly Adobe has never actually had any of their staff actually USE the reconnect.  It has always sucked.  It sucked hard before, and it sucks even harder now.  Really hard.  Super hard.  Almost unbelievably hard, in fact.

It's amazingly bad, and for so many reasons.

First off, the search it uses to locate missing files is massively slow.  Maybe not Adobe's fault - it seems to use the default Windows search.  Why not use something like the FileSearchEX engine instead?  Don't know.

Of course, if you know what you want, you skip the search and pull up the Reconnect dialog box.  But that  dialog box is laid out excruciatingly badly.  There is tons of wasted space, but the information that is actually important - file names, paths, and so forth - is cramped almost beyond recognition.

Even worse, you CAN'T RESIZE THE DAMN BOX.  I find this unbelievable every time I see it.  What kind of program does this - or, rather, DOESN"T do this?  This means that the crappily arranged information STAYS crappily arranged, and you CAN'T FIX IT by resizing the dialog box to a rational size.  You can only resize a couple of columns to get a very, very slightly LESS crappy view of the information you want to see.

Now, I may be weird, and run into some weird problems, but I know that I'm not the only person in the damn world that keeps photos on a central server.  Weirdly enough, the paths to that server do tend to get a tich long - say, longer than the approximately 15 characters that PSE shows in the reconnect box for the path name.

The photos also have weird names too.  You know, like DSC_7429.JPG.  Those are really weird, obviously - I mean, every camera in the universe uses the same file naming format weird.  And they're longer than the approximately 7 characters that PSE 10 shows for the file names of the photos you're trying to reconnect.

So you're trying to reconnect oodles of photos (potentially) with only a partial view of the file names and original paths?  WHY?  Who knows.  Surely not Adobe, who has obviously never even glanced at their UI layout.

But wait - it gets worse.  At first glance, you are led to believe that you have to reconnect each photo, individually, one at a time.  This is from the layout of the dialog box, which doesn't seem to support a "multiple reconnect" function.  There is only one obvious button - "Reconnect".

Actually, there is a way to reconnect multiple files in a batch - but you wouldn't know it by looking at the UI.  It's completely non-intuitive, which further reinforces the idea that nobody at Adobe has ever really tried the thing.  Or, maybe they have, but they never asked their dad/wife/cousin to do it, because they would never figure it out.  I can see about six easy ways of fixing that right off, but Adobe didn't see fit to use any of them.

(Yeah, yeah, RTFM.  If we believed that, you'd still be using DOS.)

In my case, somehow, the program managed to mangle all 6,000 photo paths exactly the same way.  If only Adobe had put in some way to edit the paths manually, I could do a simple search and replace for the bad string and fix things in seconds.  But they didn't.  Why?  God knows.

Even more unbelievable, there is nowhere you can type in a path.  This kind of idiocy is usually only reserved for tiny freeware programs written in Visual Basic by people who didn't want to bother with a text input field.  I don't expect to see this nonsense on a commercial program on it's 10th major revision.  What in the world makes Adobe think I want to have to painfully navigate my entire directory tree, FOR EVERY IMPORT OPERATION, with a mouse?  It would be so much faster if I could just cut & paste a path into the box, but it doesn't work that way.

Worst of all, the process is AMAZINGLY slow.  And don't anybody tell me it's my machine, or network either.  I have Gigabit Ethernet everywhere, and my machine can handle Solidworks, 3-D Altium PCB renderings and terabyte network transfers seamlessly.  It's a bloody fast 8-core SSD-equipped 16 Gb triple-monitor monster.  The problem is Photoshop Elements just does a horrible job.

Even as I've been writing this, PSE 10 has been attempting to "update the catalog information" for a single photo of the 5,892 broken pictures.  I pointed it to the right directory and started the process, yet nearly 10 minutes later it has yet to fix the catalog information for a single picture - or so it says, anyway.  (Edit:  it seems to have opened up a tiny box behind my browser, and is showing a raw percentage, so hopefully it's faster - but that's not what it's saying.)

Add the non-standard windows (which don't work with Gridmove), frequent hang-ups/excessive pauses/general lack of responsiveness, and other niggles in there, and I'm wondering why I'm bothering.

Am I wrong?  Is Elements 10 simply not capable of this?  Should I recreate my 10,000 photo catalog, and have to re-rate/re-tag everything?  Or should I go with something else after all?

Adobe:  You can't be serious.  Wise up, for God's sake.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Am I the only person in the world having problems with Launchpad?

The TI MSP430 Launchpad is absolutely great.  For a great take on the thing, watch EEVBlog #92.  [Dave, you are great.  Sometime I hope I can do similar stuff, even if I can't be as good as you are.]

I like the Launchpad too, but it has been a bit of a love-hate relationship so far.

Every emulation tool has quirks.  However, I must be the only one having problems with the Launchpad, as nobody else seems to be mentioning it.  That makes me very unlucky, very inventive, or very dumb (or all three).

Here's what I've found so far:

"Failed to initialize" error:  can be caused by several things.  I've had a terrible time figuring this one out.

Fixes so far:

-  If you unplug the Launchpad while IAR EW is running, IAR may fail to reconnect.  Restart IAR.

-  Oddly enough, rebooting the machine does actually help sometimes.

-  In one case, the mini-USB connector was plugged in far enough to give power, but not fully engaged, leaving the serial comm lines unconnected.  (That was a fun one.)

-  Unplug the USB cable and check the power LED of the Launchpad.  Is it still on?  If so, you are getting parasitic power from an I/O line or other connection, which appears to royally screw up the emulator code loading process.  Check all your I/O to see where the offending line is, and fix it.

-  Disconnect everything.  (This is where the header/socket system provided with the Launchpad is handy.)  Unplug/replug, restart IAR, try again.

-  Go back to the 'flash the LED' program.  Sometimes, it seems that code will download when others will not, after which your code will again download.

-  Go back to one of the two stock chips provided with the Launchpad.  I have not been able to get a 'G2152 to load, no matter what I try, but the '2231 loads the same code just fine.

Timer A not running from ACLK / ACLK not running from 32.768 kHz crystal:  mine did not oscillate reliably until I unsoldered the crystal from the ground pad.  (Why TI would thoughtfully provide a mounting pad on the PCB that you're not supposed to use with the supplied crystal is beyond me.)  The crystal would oscillate, but only in short bursts, and with terrible accuracy.

I didn't figure this one out until I grabbed the crystal lines on the pin header and it suddenly started to work (albeit crappily).  It was obvious then there was some kind of issue with the load capacitance.

You can look at ACLK (and SMCLK) by setting the right bits and scoping P1.0 (ACLK) or P1.4 (SMCLK).  This drives the clock output to the I/O so you can observe it without unduly loading the crystal itself down with the scope probe.

If I can just get past the "failed to initialize" problem, I'd be a lot happier.  So far, it's been pretty random, pretty intermittent, and pretty irritating.

10-second review of Camera ZOOM FX (Android)

I downloaded Camera ZOOM FX during the Android Market 10 cent sale.  Here's what I found out in the first 30 seconds:

  • Stable shot mode is cool.
  • Macro focus.  Awesome.
  • Zoom is fast.

  • There is no exposure compensation.  Pretty piss-poor.
  • FX settings are useless.  Seems to be the main claim to fame, really.
  • Pressing the hardware camera button caused a crash.  

Restarting it, it claimed it "could not connect to the camera", and suggested either a task killer (without suggesting which task to kill) or a phone reboot.

Finally, on the Xperia X10i, Camera ZOOM FX is unable to mute the shutter sound.  The FAQ claims this is unavoidable due to operating system restrictions - yet, somehow, the native app manages to take silent photos just fine.  Obviously there is something there the CZF developers don't know (or don't have access to).

The non-muting shutter sound is a dealbreaker for me, as I generally do not want people to know when I'm snapping pictures.  It's embarrassing.

I got it for 10 cents - your mileage (and value) may vary.

Update:  Muting system sounds seems to somehow mute the shutter sound.  I'm not sure exactly how to do it - Timeriffic is in charge of that on my phone.  But I tried CZFx today, and the shutter sound is gone.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Windows XP machine cannot access Windows 7 x64 shared drive

Windows 7 file sharing has got to be the biggest PITA since Windows 2000.  It may be in the name of security, but come on!  2 hours to set up a damn share is stupid.

Like so many others, I tried every snake-oil fix and setting I could think of.  Basically running through a zillion sites telling me to turn off password protection.  No shit, Sherlock!

However, W7 has things locked down so tight that the required settings are no longer obvious, nor will they be applied "automatically" according to your desires.  You will probably need help.

Fortunately, I found a decent video that walks you through the correct share setup process.  You need to set up the network sharing.  So follow the steps below.

This guide assumes your XP machine can "see" the W7 machine shared folder/drive, but cannot access it (yet).  If not, you have other problems.

Here's what *I* had to do.  YMMV, so good luck.

In the "Advanced sharing settings", you may have more than one profile.  The display may or may not make this obvious, but if you look to the right-hand side you will see an upward-pointing "collapse me" arrow.  So be sure you are modifying the settings for the "Home or Work" profile, and not something else!

In Advanced Sharing Settings:

-  If network discovery is OFF, turn it ON.
-  Turn file and printer sharing ON.

These ones are pretty obvious.

-  Turn Public folder sharing ON.

I had to do this, even though I was NOT sharing a "Public" folder as defined by the Win7 documentation I read.  So turn it on anyway.  I don't think it will hurt anything.

-  Turn Password protected sharing OFF.

This is supposed to eliminate the need for login credentials at the XP machine.

In my case, I also did changes to the Local Group Policy Editor to try and get around the "Logon Failure: User Account Restriction" error.  The original article is here and is partially copied below.

-  Finally, to *properly* set up the share, I followed this video.

The video walks you through the sharing process (which is straightforward) and the security permissions (which are neither obvious nor straightforward).

Note:  The video is unclear if the group name is "EVERYONE" or "Everyone".  W7 appears to correct the case for you, so it shouldn't matter.

Also, when you apply the security settings, W7 will go ahead and modify the settings for EVERY file and folder in the share.  So if you have a lot of stuff there, expect a few minutes of delay.

In my case, I had it all set up right except for Public folder sharing.  It was on, and I turned it off because it didn't seem to be making a difference.  Turns out I did need it on, at least when sharing the root of the drive.

Hope this helps somebody.  Good luck!


While troubleshooting the above, was getting a "Logon Failure: User Account Restriction" error.

I did the steps below, although I don't know if it was actually necessary to do so.  For my case, it did appear to make a difference.  YMMV.

The issue is that W7 defaults to requiring user accounts for remote logon. 

Like so many people, I do not have any password set up on my Windows 7 machine, so it is not possible to enter a password when accessing the share from the XP machine.  When you get the "Connecting to xxxx" dialog, asking for the user name and password, you have to leave the password blank, and this is not allowed by default.

To get around this, I tried the following to explicitly allow local user account with blank or no password to be used for network logon:

To change the policy, perform the following steps on the remote computer which you wants to get connected (the Windows 7 machine):

1.  Open Local Group Policy Editor by typing gpedit.msc in Start Search box and hit Enter.
2.  Navigate to Computer Configuration -> Windows Settings -> Security Settings -> Local Policies -> Security Options branch.
3.  Locate and double click on Accounts: Limit local account use of blank passwords to console logon only option.
4.  Select the radio button for Disabled to allow user account with blank (or no password) for remote login.
5.  Click OK.

Not all versions of Win7 come with the Group Policy Editor.  If you don't have it, visit here ( to find other workarounds.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The great hard drive shortage myth of 2011

Yet another self-fulfilling prophecy has come to pass, courtesy of the mass media.

Anyone who follows the news (especially technology news) will have heard about the floods in Thailand.

It would seem these events are newsworthy not for the infrequency, severity, or consequences of the events. 

Indeed, flooding is common in Thailand, as well as other nearby countries and regions.  Disruptions in basic services are also common, as are health problems, food and supply shortages, and their accompanying hardships on the people who live there. 

Over one hundred thousand people have been displaced - a number roughly on par with the number of evacuees from the Fukushima area of Japan.  I have not been able to find out how many facilities, factories and homes have been affected, nor what the impact will be to basic necessities and in terms of human suffering.

Oddly - or perhaps not so oddly - the media has chosen to largely ignore most of this.  Perhaps flooding is too ordinary or routine an occurrence to be considered "newsworthy".  Strange, since by some accounts this is the worst flooding in fifty years.  It is likely that the total impact for the people is larger than Fukushima,

Instead, the media has decided to focus on the fact that a few hard drive factories have been shut down by the floods.  Of course, it would seem this is a rather significant dumbing-down of the real situation for people unable to think for themselves.

In other words, never mind that several million people are affected.  Never mind that various other kinds of industries have also been affected by the flooding.  Never mind any kind of humanitarian crisis.  Instead, let's create another Rice Panic of 2007 - another wholly manufactured situation where perception and reality bore no resemblance to each other.

Western Digital, Seagate, Hitachi and Toshiba are the top four HDD manufacturers in the world.  It is undeniably true that both Western Digital and Toshiba operations have been affected as a result of the flooding.

Perhaps more worthy of note is that many companies manufacture hard drive components in those areas.  Production of base plates, motors, suspension components, and other parts has been significantly affected.

This situation is akin to the Sumitomo epoxy factory fire in 1993, in which a factory that supplied some 60% of the epoxy used for ICs was destroyed.  At the time, it was hyped as the "only" such factory in the world, lending the disaster a halo of epic proportions.  Uncertainty reigned, even though there was a second supplier, as well as several companies in the field that had the potential to begin producing the required product.

In response, computer IC makers raised their prices significantly.  They were no doubt having to compete with each other for a more limited supply of materials, with the natural consequence that prices would go up.  The supplier or suppliers involved may also have taken advantage of the situation - all the market will bear, and all that.  That is the free market system, and there is nothing wrong with it.

What was, and is, wrong with the situation is the misinformation being pushed to the general public around these types of crises.  Certainly, global hard drive production will be curtailed for a while.  But it is in the manufacturer's interests to get production back as quickly as possible.

First, not ALL hard drive factories are in Thailand.  Thailand is actually #2 in output, next to China. 

Western Digital has many major factories completely outside of China.  It seems likely that one or more of these facilities could increase output.  This might even be a fairly short ramp-up if there was excess capacity available.

Seagate has had no factories go down, nor has Hitachi.  Seagate is #2 in the world right now, and so comprises a large proportion of total production.

Then there is the question of components.  Examples cited include suppliers that provide about half of the total demand.  That means there are others out there who supply the other half, and will be more than willing to fill in the gap. 

Now, prices will definitely go up.  It's inevitable.  Logically, you would be looking at a 10-50% increase in price, depending on the situation.

But 200%?  300%  No way.  Yet that is what is happening.

I know for a fact that Seagate 1 Tb hard drives were just under $60 at Memory Express a few weeks ago.  I know because I was worried they were going to be obsoleted before I finish upgrading my main server.

Today, the same drive goes for $160.  Why?  The answer is obvious - we're into the Great Hard Drive Panic of 2011.

Notwithstanding supply and demand, and the actual situation, HDD prices have rocketed to levels not seen for years.  People are panicking - and over hard drives, of all things!

Fortunately the situation is self-correcting.  People will stop overpaying for drives and PCs, and wait until prices drop again.  To some extent, anyway.  And only after the irrational panic that is driving the markets dissipates, which it will not do until the media and the general public get their heads straight.

And I suppose you can't blame the HDD makers.  They're in it to make money, after all.  If they can increase prices 300% over the holiday season, and people buy it, then good on them.  It will mean they have more money to reinvest into getting their factories back into action.

But it is irritating.  And here's a big fat raspberry to all the idiots out there who are paying these prices and keeping them high for everybody else.  You idiots.

I'm left wondering who to get mad at.  Economists?  Business?  But I'm still left with the media, for inventing crises where none really exist.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Omegacell Communications - not a rip-off

On browsing for a new phone (yes, I still have my Xperia X10i), I realized that I never posted any feedback about where I bought it.

I got my Xperia from Omegacell Communications.  I checked them out beforehand, and they had a decent physical store and all the phones physically in stock (i.e. in hand, you can pick them up and use them). 

I was initially leery because they appear to sell 'grey market' phones.  These phones don't seem to be distributed in Canada, but they get them anyway.  Which probably means they're not "sanctioned" by the manufacturers.  However, I took the chance after seeing that they actually had a phone to sell.

The advantage is that they sell several leading-edge AWS compatible phones.  Good news for those of us who like WIND Mobile, but don't like the WIND Mobile phone selection.  They also correctly identify the 2100 MHz band as being completely unnecessary, kudos for that.

Anyway, I did end up buying from them, and everything was exactly as advertised.  My phone did indeed come with a European charger (plus American adapter plug), a multilingual manual and a web browser preloaded with bookmarks for Belgian sites, so it is obviously intended for European markets.  But it works fine except for a couple of minor, Sony-related glitches that were fairly easy to sort out.

Caveats:  The warranty is not factory, so if you run into problems you may be SOL.  They have a limited return policy, so be sure you are buying what you want.  And all the phones are (obviously) unlocked, so the prices are the full, unsubsidized price, which can result in sticker shock for the inexperienced.

Also, you will have to do some of your own technical support.  To be fair, WIND was exceedingly helpful and did a great job supporting my "non-WIND" handset when things were not working so great.  But they can't solve everything, so off the Google you may have to go (once in a while) to figure out what is what.

Anyway, I just wanted to mention that although this outfit appears small, and a touch sketchy, they did deliver the goods.  Their Amazon ratings also look solid, so presumably my experience is not the only good one they have delivered.

They now carry the Samsung Galaxy S II (AWS model) with that huge 4.52" screen on it.  I mocked up a 5.0" Dell Streak (too big) and the 4.0" Xperia X10 (no problem).  I wonder what the 4.52" would be like...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

Steve Jobs is dead.

Much will be made of his accomplishments, followed (inevitably) by much being made of his shortcomings.

He may be the best example possible of how enormously successful people are still - well - people.  Like you and me - only human.

The great cable swindle continues

So today I receive an email from My Cable Mart, a cable vendor in the USA that I used some years ago.  I used them because I needed long HDMI cables (50') and they were one of the only places that had them at a reasonable price.

The email was punting a 15% off sale they are having.  It's been a long time since the last promo email - I can't even remember when that was - so either this is something unusual or times are tough (or both).

Looking back, I paid $105 ($USD) for a 50' HDMI cable back in 2007 - same cable is now $102, with a much better exchange rate.  A quick check shows Future Shop selling them - finally - at $200 now, for their "house brand" no-name cable.

I have nothing against no-name cables.  I love them.  They work, and you don't pay for all the marketing and other bullshit.  But it's pretty plain that the markup on cables is still huge.

And why not?  When I worked in retail, we sold camera filters worth $1 to people for $15-$30.  And people bought them.  Cables are no different than other "accessories", except for the fact that you HAVE to have them.  Which makes them easier to sell than filters, which are ultimately optional.

But it is still sad to see this level of gouging.  And that's not even beginning to mention the "premium" brand cables, which are much more expensive.  All they are is a bunch of the same wire, made with a touch of thicker insulation and put into a pretty package that will get thrown away the instant it's installed.

Future Shop doesn't even sell Monster cables any more, or at least not the more expensive ones.  I guess that sort of crap isn't exactly flying off the shelves in recessionary times - who wants to spend $200 for a three-foot cable when you're unemployed, anyway?

Unfortunately, even My Cable Mart has cottoned on to price differentiation.  They offer various "grades" of HDMI cable, with different wire gauges and so forth.

Well, here's news: all the cables get tested the same way.  And since they're for digital signals, they either work or they don't work.  Period. 

So, barring any special features (like right-angle connectors, which can occasionally be very handy) a cable is a cable is a cable.  You don't need to punt up for the "premium" brand from anybody - not even the discount vendors.

Now, I suppose that the "high-speed" cables might find some future use.  Maybe.  Somehow.  That is, if Blu-Ray somehow gets replaced by something even MORE high-def, that needs to carry even MORE data. 

Somehow I doubt it - HD was always a solution looking for a problem, and Blu-Ray has not decimated DVD sales like the studios hoped it would.  Nor have HD channels replaced standard TV en masse.  With 1080p being the 'gold standard' of video - and enjoying less than stellar uptake - why would anyone care for even more resolution?

3D TV is the same way.  Nobody wants 3D TV.  The industry created it because it was the only thing they could think of to get more profits.  Pretty much.  Sure, there's the odd 3D movie - Disney is reportedly coming out with several  3D remakes - but that doesn't demand any kind of special high-speed cable.

This one is not even worth linking about - there is information all over the net on cables.  Linking would be futile.

Times are tough, and most people are more careful with money now.  Maybe - just maybe - we'll see more people doing their homework in the next few years.  Then people will start to realize what is worth paying for - and what isn't.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Where did FireFTP go?

Somewhere along the path of Firefox upgrades, my FireFTP menu item got lost.  It is no longer in the Tools menu where I expected it to be.

The solution was simpler than I thought.  It got moved under Tools/Web Developer.  Why anyone thinks it belongs there is beyond me, but there it is.

Triple-monitor grid file for Gridmove

Gridmove is a fabulous little utility for those of us with lots of screen real estate to manage. Having become somewhat addicted to Gridmove, I was sore to see that the default .grid files didn't support my new third monitor.

Fortunately, this was easier to fix than I thought.  If you're interested in custom grids, skip the help file - it's loaded with terminology.  Just open up an existing .grid file with notepad, you'll see how it hangs together pretty fast.

Here's the grid.  All I did was expand it to three monitors.  Eventually I might delete the elements I don't use, but it works well as-is.

Friday, September 16, 2011

DVD rentals die a quick, unexpected death in some neighborhoods

So the neighborhood video store is now a thing of the past.  But not quite in the way that everybody expected.

There never were a lot of services in my immediate neighborhood, but when my family moved in we were pleased to see a Blockbuster just down the street.  Very handy for picking up the weekend entertainment for the larger family - being the only couple with a theater room, we were the de facto nominees every weekend.

About three years ago, the Blockbuster closed.  Pity, we said, it seems the grocery store next door is moving in to the space.  We ended up going to Rogers Video, only a few more minutes away, for the most part.  Occasionally a trip to the next closest Blockbuster was in order, but for the most part it worked fine.

Oddly enough, the grocery never moved in.  Eventually we realized that particular Blockbuster location was an early casualty of the shrinking DVD rental business.

Then BAM! - all gone.  Blockbuster is bankrupt, and all the stores are closing.  Rogers is also closing their local store - God only knows why, as it's the only one for miles around.  Not to mention it also seems to do a decent business in cell phones and accessories.

I even looked at VHQ, but it was purchased by some failed US video company, and seems to have been sold to Zip some years ago.  There was a VHQ not too too far from here, and close to the McDonalds where I get my weekly coffee fix, but it's not listed anymore, and calls to their number remain unanswered.

So - what the hell are we supposed to do?

Shaw VOD?  Nice, although I do not like not having a physical disc.  They do advertise VOD availability the same day as the DVD release, which is a plus.  Also - at least in theory - there is never a problem with availability.

However, I've never had need for a cable box in the theater room - a fact that caused Shaw employees some significant dismay during my last job interview with them.  So now I have to invest $100 into more equipment, for no other reason than I can't get media for my existing high-quality, region-free upconverting players that have never once let me down.  Seems stupid.

Netflix?  Face it, getting the latest releases from them on physical disc is impossible.  And all reports say their streaming selection stinks. 

(Months ago I recommended "Parndorum" to my brother, but when we looked it up on his PS3 it was not actually available.  For shame, Netflix, for artificially enhancing your catalog listings with unavailable titles - that's called dishonesty.)

Even if I can get the latest via streaming, you're still paying the subscription fee plus another $160-$200 for Netflix-compatible streaming hardware.  And no, I don't have a PS3, Xbox 360 or Wii - I don't have time for that kind of crap - so I don't have the stuff lying around. 

The least expensive option is a Samsung BD-D5490 from Costco for $156.  That gets me a Blu-Ray player that I don't want in order to get Netflix, which I don't want either.

Not to mention the teeny-weeny problems of "bandwidth shaping" and download caps imposed by ISPs like Shaw and Telus.  I'm on Shaw, and never had a problem, but watching HD movies over the net will certainly eat your bandwidth in a big damn hurry.  As one blogger observed, even getting sick a few days and catching up on some flicks could put you over your bandwidth cap for the month! 

Add the potential unreliability of the internet connection and NO, thanks.  My experience with non-HD streaming video from "major" players has been poor, to say the least.  I prefer my media local, uninterruptible, and unlimited, of a quality and format >I< dictate.  That's how I set up my personal theater room and I'll be damned if I'm going to let that go for the dubious advantages of streaming video.

Zip?  I had Zip ages ago, and it worked for what I wanted - older films.  The wait times for the latest releases are so long, they're no longer "latest releases" by the time you get them - if you get them at all, that is. 

I had 50-100 titles listed on my want list, and I rarely if ever got the ones I would have preferred to get.  Eventually I cancelled because I was running out of old stuff to watch again, never having gotten some of the better titles that I listed.

Their streaming service is not ready for prime time, despite promises of a "spring" launch.  (I guess they meant Spring 2012?)  And oops, there's the bandwidth elephant lumbering around again.  Pass.

Amazon Prime?  USA only, so up yours, Canada.

Walmart?   Ditto!

Youtube?  HA!  Yeah, right.  You can't be serious.

So I guess I'm stuck with VOD - at least it's "cable TV" and not an "internet" service, meaning it doesn't count against my bandwidth, and it shouldn't be relying on the internet bandwidth for functionality.  Here's hoping the damn thing doesn't stutter, glitch, or break up when we try to use it.

I guess I'll have to pick up the DVDs when they hit the bargain bins - in a year, or so.  Fortunately, Movie Collector lets me carry my collection around on my Android, so at least I won't be buying movies twice - or missing out on some good bargains.

The other option is to just go to the next nearest store, about 15 minutes away.  Which, in all honesty, we'll probably do for a while.  VOD rubs me the wrong way.

90 million DVD players out there, plus a perhaps equal number of DVD-ROMs and in-vehicle units, plus who knows how many Blu-Ray and console units - and nowhere to rent media.  Go figure.  How long before someone realizes there's still a market?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Emergency preparedness and antique lists redux

Moving on to the last item in my little rant about the antique-ness of most emergency 'preparedness' lists:

The #1 item missing?  The smartphone.  Lest ye think I'm off my rocker, let me explain.

The smartphone represents many things in an emergency situation.  First, and most obviously, it's communications.  Communications are so important that emergency first responders invest millions of dollars into infrastructure-independent communication systems for their personnel, so there can be little argument that it's important for Joe Public as well.

Sure, the infrastructure can fail, or be overwhelmed.  This happens pretty often during disasters in urban areas - the cellular infrastructure just can't handle the call volume.  So it's certainly not perfect.

On the other hand, some people don't even have a landline any more, and many people that do have moved on from the POTS network on to IP phones or other such rigamarole.  (The author is among the guilty.)  Those old enough to know will remember that the plain-old telephone systems were independently powered and had battery backups, so they work in a power outage situation.  IP phones and other fancy modern gimcrackery will not, which may leave your mobile as the last line of communications.

Not to mention that your mobile can be recharged from your vehicle, as mentioned above.  And even if voice calls don't work, sometimes little miracles can happen with text messages.  An SMS telling someone you're OK, where you're meeting, or what's going on can be a godsend.

For an example of where a little basic communications would have come in really handy, you need look no further than the curious case of one Aron Ralston.  Granted, in his particular situation, only proactive communication would have prevented his situation, but many disasters give little to no warning.

After basic communications comes data.  Again, reliant on external infrastructure, but if something is working then you may be able to get your phone (or laptop) onto the cell networks for news and information updates.  Not so likely, I admit.  But possible, and useful in later days when municipal, federal and emergency services may just be getting back into working order.

Even if the cell network is kaputsky, the smartphone (and, to a lesser extent, the laptop/netbook) still has its uses.

Firstly, it probably already has a list of everyone you need to contact.  Not a bad start.  I doubt you can remember everyone's phone number(s) any more.

Assuming you did some basic homework, it can also have a copy of an emergency plan.  Maybe the plan isn't any more complicated than finding Aunt Magdalene, but if it is, you can have it on there - just in case.

Next up:  apps.  (No, I'm not going to say the catchphrase, thanks.)  As cliche as it may sound, there are mobile applications for most platforms that can be pretty handy references in a bad pinch.  Witness one Dan Woolley, an American trapped in the Haiti earthquake, who managed to both put his affairs in order and survive after being buried alive.  Peripheral credit was given to third-party first aid application First Aid & CPR for helping him survive and cope.

Now, things may or may not have turned out differently had Mr. Woolley not downloaded the app.  But he does point out the single most important thing about the phone - he had it on him.  A pocket first aid kit, however, was not something he would have likely carried around, any more than anyone else does.

Without belaboring his exact situation, the fact remains that there are a lot of resources you can load into a phone.  In addition to first aid (adult and child), you can load in emergency numbers, lists of radio stations for updates, locations for muster or emergency stations, websites to access when possible (such as weather, government emergency or crisis sites), a database of emergency supplies (complete with expiration dates and reminders), lists of emergency supplies (for when you have to stock up in a hurry), and measures to take for various types of disaster.  There's even a bunch of "Emergency Button" apps that let you carry out pre-programmed actions with one button.

Remember, none of this stuff is going to be available on-line in a real disaster situation - you can't just hop on the net and get it.  Having it preloaded standalone could be the difference.  And obviously you want the phone for SMS/voice calls, once service is restored.  Being able to recharge from nearly anything should keep it going for any reasonable period of time.

(One can certainly imagine situations where your significant other may be screaming at you for playing with the phone while someone is bleeding to death, but having the information there is still better.  And it's no worse than trying to flip through the table of contents of a printed book.)

Many of these items come from FEMA, the Red Cross, and other established organizations.  Strange how although they have hopped on the mobile bandwagon, mobile hasn't made their lists yet.  I guess with all the new mobile stuff, nobody really looks at those 1950s-era lists any more.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Emergency preparedness and antique lists

Like most people, I don't worry overtly about disasters.  We live in an area that has few severe disasters, and are so used to long winters that most of the time we can cope.

For whatever reason, Irene prompted me to get curious as to what the latest thinking was with regards to disaster preparation.  I don't know why - perhaps photos of stores charging $10 per bottle of water or some fool buying 52 frozen pizzas had something to do with it.

Anyway, I poked around a little bit.  And, you know, it's a bit disappointing.

Now, don't get me wrong.  The basic "disaster preparedness" lists out there - many of them furnished by various levels of government - are helpful and pretty good.  They list all the basic things, along with a few useful guidelines.  If you use them, you should be good for most of what life may throw at you.

What amazes me, however, is what these lists do not say.

It looks to me like these lists are antiques from the 1950s.  Aside from updating them to include bottled water, every one of the items might be found in a mid-fifties pamphlet on how to survive - well, anything.

So let's take a bit of a look at a few staggeringly obvious omissions.

Top of the list:  the car.  Yes, your humble automobile is a nice resource to have when you're in a bit of a pinch.  And you don't even need a Toyota Prius to do it.  The modern auto does a lot of things on the emergency checklist besides providing transport.

First and foremost, it takes the place of the battery-powered or wind-up radio present on every disaster checklist in the modern world.  You have a self-charging, high quality radio sitting right there all the time, no need for stockpiling lots of AAs or dropping cash on a "disaster radio".

It also provides shelter, heat in the winter, and a bit of welcome cool air in a heat wave.  Moreover, it will charge your portable essentials like your cell phone or smartphone, even if utility electricity is unavailable.  For the price of an inverter, it will even power your laptop or TV.

Not to mention that many vehicles have a fair amount of storage space, much of which sits completely unused.  Not a bad place to stash a few essentials you might need.  The dome lights can provide some light for reading.  A few even still have a lighter in them.  And with a full tank, it'll probably run for 20-30 hours to boot - more than enough to weather the 3-day "base case" disaster.

Wow, amazingly useful gadget.  And it'll even take you away from the disaster area, too!  Funny how it never rates a mention on any disaster checklist I've ever seen.

So, sure - not everyone has a vehicle.  Many NYC residents don't, for example, going to show that urbanization does not automatically mean car ownership.  But face it - the vast majority of the population has access to some kind of personal vehicle or other.  Sad how nobody in the "emergency preparedness" business wants to tell you - maybe they figure it's obvious, I don't know.

Another odd omission is the effects of electricity loss. Sure, you'll have no TV or DVD player for a while (although higher-end vehicles even include those items these days).  And no internet, so you may actually have to talk to your spouse or kids for a while.  You might keep a laptop going if you want to work on your diary.

Unfortunately, your fridge and freezer won't be working either.  Maybe it was an ice storm, and you can just carry stuff outside to stay frozen until the disaster passes or you get around to grilling it all over an open fire.  Or maybe not.  Better get ready for some food to go bad - you can't make that leg of lamb on a propane camp stove, my friend.  The kids will like eating the ice cream before it spoils, though.

A power outage sounds trivial, but it's not.  Most extended power outages occur in winter and no electricity means no furnace, therefore no heat.  Some homes are lucky enough to have a gas or wood fireplace, but most don't.  Without electricity, heaters won't work.  So unless you feel like building a bonfire in your hibachi, you have a real problem - particularly for infants, young children and the elderly.

What is one supposed to do about this?  Who knows, the lists certainly don't say.  Buying a generator and a good big drum of gasoline would be prudent, but beyond what most people will spend for the off chance they need it.  Solar is amazingly costly for what you get, and likely won't work so well in wussy winter sun anyhow owing to sunlight attenuation and poor cold-temperature performance of SLA batteries.  The car is good, but it can't heat the entire house without risking poisoning the family with CO fumes.  And apartment dwellers will have no options to speak of.

So I guess it's candles and bundling to keep people freezing to death in the long cold nights?  Good if you're with the SO, bad if you have to keep the mother-in-law warm.

What else is missing... ah, yes, the question of sanitation.  I suppose that even though water main breaks do occur, the municipalities assume that water trucks will take care of things, because no list appears to handle the problem of the sewers not working.

Seems even stranger these days, with the recent example of the Carnival Splendor  still "fresh" in the minds of those who had to endure four long days with no electricity or flushing toilets.  One can only imagine the situation as entire decks became overflowing with refuse and "waste". Interesting stories, indeed.  Which would be interesting again if a natural disaster interrupts or contaminates the water supply for any significant length of time - a very common occurrence, by the way, when flooding happens by way of storm or hurricane, as in New Orleans.

In days gone by, the outhouse would have served - but now?  Don't know.  I guess it's left as an exercise for the reader.

Come on, people.  We can do better than this.

More later in another rant.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Unlock with Wi-Fi saved my sanity

Bug kudos to Ben Hirashima  for saving (at least some) of my sanity with Android.

Like most other Android phones, the X10i provides for a pattern password.  And, like most, it doesn't allow you to disable the regular "swipe to unlock" screen.  This forces the user into having two lock screens - an incredibly dumb move that

The inconvenience made me remember my Palm days, where I could activate and unlock my Treo in seemingly no time at all.  Granted, it wasn't the same - the Treo had no password protection - but I didn't need it then and I wonder if I need it now.  Everything is encrypted in Note Everything Pro anyway.

It was getting to the point where I was going to turn off the password.  It took so long to unlock the phone, start apps, and do anything that any speedup was welcome.

Even worse was the common occurrence of turning off the phone, just to remember - after the screen went dark - that I forgot to jot something down.  Then you have to boot it up and go through the whole unlock process again, even though you JUST shut it off.

Fortunately, Lifehacker ran a little piece on Unlock With Wi-Fi, which very helpfully disables the lock screens - both of them! - when you are at home.  I tried the free (yes, FREE) version on my X10i it worked fine.  You can't beat free, so it's worth a try.

(Well, OK, the paid app with extra features is $4.00 - less than a Starbuck's frap, after all.  It adds some features you may want - like preventing the phone from locking RIGHT AWAY after being turned off, my other pet peeve mentioned above.  Still cheap as dirt.)

If this sounds like a shill advert, it's not.  I just like the app, thanks.  Hit the spot for me.

[Update]:  It also bypasses the default swipe-lock screen!  Hallelujah!!!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to set a different ringtone for email or SMS notifications

Android is full of little tricks.  The latest one involved email notifications.

I recently set up a new email account for server error messages, and wanted a "special" ring tone associated with that email account.  It's important that I know right away if my servers have problems, whereas I really couldn't care less about knowing precisely when email arrives to my other accounts.

Naturally, I couldn't find a decent notification message in the pre-installed list on my X10i.

So I downloaded a new ringtone, learning via Google that you had to put it into a directory called "ringtones" - even the all-lowercase is mandatory - for the phone to see it.

Well, it didn't.  Or, to be more precise, it did see the new ringtone as a ringtone, but it still did not show up in the ring tone list for email

Lovely separation, that.  One wonders exactly how many ring tones a person might need to have before it would be confusing enough to be worthwhile maintaining separate category lists that distinguish between "phone call" ringtones and "email/SMS" ringtones.  After all, one wouldn't want to mix up your fifteen "SMS" sounds with your eighteen "phone call" sounds, would one?

Anyway, the trick is the directory name changes for the "notification" sounds associated with SMS, email and other events.  These mp3 files go into "audio/notifications", rather than "ringtones".  Putting them there will let them show up on the email notification sounds list.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Fixed - Calendar events disappearing from Android handset

This seems to be a bit of a common problem out there in Androidland, but I haven't run across it before.

Today - or sometime yesterday, more likely - all of the calendar data disappeared from my handset.  The events were still on my Google calendar, but the handset had no data whatsoever (past, present, or future).

Rebooting, the de facto first step for all debugging, did not help.  Manually changing something on the Google calendar would refresh that single event on my handset, but no others.

What I didn't see was a way to force a synchronization between my Xperia X10i and my Google calendar.  (Why they couldn't have had a "sync now" option like the email app is beyond me.)

The fix is documented in many places, but the best description of the solution I found was over at  Here it is, reproduced verbatim from contributor "rookwise":
  • Goto settings/applications/manage applications.
  • Press the menu button and select Filter and then All.
  • Scroll down until you find the Calendar storage application. Select it and clear the data and then select Force Close.
  • Next go back to the standby screen and remove the calendar widget (if you use one)
  • Next goto the calendar app and open it. The phone will sync the calendar. Press the back button and then re enter the calendar app again.
  • Everything should be back as normal.

This worked for me and for many others.  The step missing in most of the descriptions available was the "filter" step, which by default hides the Calendar Storage app on the X10, making the solution appear impossible to execute.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Making Automate 4.5 work under Win 7 x64 with Altium Designer 6

As I think I posted earlier, my favorite application in the universe - Automate 4.5 - failed to operate properly on my new Win7 x64 machine.

The problem was mostly that Automate was unable to send keystrokes to some applications.  Most notably, Altium Designer, which is my electronic CAD tool of choice.

I spend hours on Altium daily.  For anyone unfamiliar with professional CAD software, "professional" does not always mean "efficient".  While keyboard support is second to none in Altium, Altium has scores of features locked away behind clumsy UI.  If you use it a lot, it eats time.

Every PCB layout professional I know has invested in an X-keys, Logitech gamepad, or other such programmable device to help automate the repetitive tasks - I've just gone one better and used macros too.

Over the years I have built up an impressive array of Automate macros for Altium, as well as Excel, Word, and several others.  Automate fills in the gap by killing adware windows and unfixable prompts, automating repetitive data formatting in Excel, expanding text in Word, filling in save directories in Irfanview, and much more.

But I found out quickly, and to my dismay, that Automate macros failed with Altium.  It could trigger, and focus the windows, but keystrokes simply went nowhere.

Automate acted as though nothing was wrong, and Altium acted as though nothing was going on.  Not terribly helpful.

An upgrade to Automate 6 did not fix the problem, and I couldn't find anything meaningful on the Automate forums.  So I went looking for another solution, and happened across Macro Recorder 12.  And gee - same problem!  Damn!

However, MS12 had something that Automate did not - a solution posted in the forum.

Seems that there is a rights feature under Win7 that may prevent any program from interacting with any other program.  This includes Automate and Macro Scheduler.

The key to recognizing this occurs when running the target program.  Every time I run Altium, Win7 asks me if it is OK to let Altium make changes to my PC.  As no changes were evident, I chalked this up to typical Altium weirdness and ignored it.

Well, it turns out that prompt is the sign of a program that is running under Administrator privileges.  If a program asks to change on every invocation, it's running as Admin, and if a program is running as Admin, "regular" non-admin-rights user-run programs simply can't talk to it. 

And that was the problem.  Re-running Automate 4.5 as administrator put both programs back on a level playing field and re-enabled correct functionality on all of my Altium macros.  In fact, I didn't have to make any changes at all!

So I spent all this time looking for a new program when, in fact, I was running afoul of a new "feature" in Win7.  Thank you, Marcus Tettmar!

I have no doubt that this fix will work on Automate 6, Macro Scheduler 12, or other programs that need to interact with other programs.

Given this, I really should buy Macro Scheduler 12, just to say thank you to Marcus, but I will stick with Automate 4.5.  It works, it's fast, I'm used to it, and it works.  And despite being 'old' it still does things that other programs do not do.

However, Macro Scheduler12 does support the biggie feature - triggering on a window appearing.  With Automate 8 costing nearly $2,000, Macro Scheduler 12 is a hell of a lot more reasonable.  I've never used it, so try the 30-day trial first to see if it's for you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thoughts on video cards for Altium Designer

When specifying my latest workstation, I lost a lot of sleep over the video card.

First, I wanted a multi-monitor setup - 3 monitors, to be exact.  I had a dual-monitor setup and wanted to upgrade.

Second, I wanted a Solidworks-capable video card.  That means a "workstation" class card.  SW does not screw around, and although it is not the most graphics-intensive program in the world, it's up there.

Third, I needed (not wanted) something that would run Altium 2006 and Altium Summer '09 flawlessly.

And therein lay the problem.  Altium, in their infinite wisdom, recommends a list of obsolete gaming-class video cards, last updated 2010.  They have never tested a workstation-class card like a Firepro or Quadro - or, at least, never said they did.  Most of the cards on their 'good' list don't even exist any more.

Altium even goes so far as to recommend gaming cards over pro cards, as well as saying bad things about OpenGL-based cards.

This contrasts pretty strongly with SolidWorks, who has an extensive list of pre-tested certified hardware for use with their software.  No dicking around there.

Not wanting to take a risk, I did a LOT of homework trying to reconcile these two lists to each other, as well as to what hardware was actually available in retail shops.  Not surprisingly, 80% of the Altium cards were discontinued, while 95% of the SolidWorks cards were current.  And there was virtually no overlap.

Now, given that Altium now supports limited 3D functionality, I was getting kind of worried about this.  I didn't want Altium - which I needed - to have problems just because I kind of felt like maybe having Solidworks running in the future.

Ultimately, though, I realized I had been going about this the wrong way.

Despite their speed and sophistication, video cards basically only do a few things.  I'm no expert, and I'll get it wrong, but lets say they interpret vector commands, do shading, and so on and so forth.  They all do these things and then do the grunt work of mapping this stuff to the display devices.

That's not to say it's simple - it's not.  And the amount of information involved is fearsomely big.  But, like so many other things, the underlying principles ARE simple.

From this, it's pretty easy to see that Altium is on drugs.  Sure, they may recommend certain cards.  But fundamentally, you cannot tell me that a workstation-class card is somehow inferior to a gaming class card when doing these basic fundamental operations.

Not to mention that most workstation cards will do this stuff for up to 4 monitors,  A 2 or 3 monitor setup should be cake.

[OK, ok, I can see you guys screaming now:  "Gaming cards are FAST!  Workstation cards are PRECISE!  There's a DIFFERENCE!"  Yeah, yeah, ok.  But let's leave the speed thing alone for the moment, and instead assume that any decent video card is going to be able to handle a relatively static, non-gaming, non-motion display with reasonable speed. 

Yes, a gaming card might be able to output 50 fps.  The workstation card might do more work to get every pixel precise, and only output 25 fps.  But we're not talking about that here.  Primarily, this is for relatively static work displays, and not full-motion full-bore triple-screen-wraparound animation.]

Anyway, this may seem obvious to somebody out there, but it wasn't to me. 

Once I had this little epiphany, choosing a card was easy.  I ended up with a FirePro V8800 because I heard the Quadros ran really, really hot.  And that was that.

Altium works great on the V8800, and I expect it would do so on any other FirePro card.  I'm sure the Fermi architecture would do really well, too, and I'm not slagging it.  I just didn't want my office to turn into an oven, because it's already hot enough in here with 5 PCs and 3 LCDs chugging away 24/7.  I dread my first summer in here with the new system.

Ironically, I haven't actually done any 3D work aside from loading a simple design into Altium to check that it works.  But it does work.  And I'll bet that this card would do pretty damn well for WoW and CoD too.  (As if I have time to bother finding out.)

Now, on other fronts, Altium 6 has problems, but they're all Windows 7 related.  Certain features such as print preview, page settings, and BOM generation just will not work under W7 x64.  Not just me, I know, because colleagues of mine have similar issues, as well as the odd user who posts for help on the net somewhere.  Problems occur on both W7 x32 and x64, so it's not just this flavor of OS.

Fortunately I still have my old workstation, which gets around that problem, but it is annoying.  Not annoying enough to pony up $5k for Altium 10, which - I hear - has similar problems.

So, the moral of the story is:  Altium will work fine on workstation cards.  Ignore what Altium says, fear not, and buy one if you want to.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

WinDVD and ATI Firepro Multi-Monitor Support (or lack thereof)

Today I decided I'd like to watch a bit of film on my brand-spankin' new workstation.  I haven't even so much as popped a DVD in the drive yet.

I try it and Windows Media Player has no sound.  Probably doesn't understand AC3.  I could have tried to hack in the codec, but I'm rather partial to WinDVD anyway.

After buying (gasp!) and installing WinDVD Pro 2010, I fire it up.  Looks good!  Lots of nice logos.

Until I get about three seconds into my movie, only to see "Your display environment does not support protected content playback."  WTF!?!

So it turns out that the "new" players simply do not like multimonitor setups.  Apparently, without HDMI to "properly" protect the digital signal, it can't "guarantee" that my triple monitor setup isn't some kind of surrogate for a devious copy-protection bypass mechanism.

So I've gone and sprung for a beautiful triple monitor setup, with requisite massive (and expensive) triple monitor stand, and a high-horsepower professional-grade ATI FirePro V8800 capable of leaping tall SolidWorks buildings in a single bound, SSD, the works - and the g*dd*mn thing can't play simple DVDs?!?!

ARE YOU SERIOUS?  Who in God's name decided that this was going to be the case, and WHEN???

It's not like there is even any option here.  The FirePro ONLY comes with 4 DisplayPort outputs on it - that's it, that's all.  No direct HDMI connection is possible!  In fact, there are few options besides the DP-to-VGA and DP-to-DVI converters I already have in place!

And honestly - who the hell is going to try to rip the movie directly from the video stream anyway?  With all the copy-protection-bypass software out there - easily capable of breaking the codes on 99% of commercial DVD and Blu-Ray movies, why bother?

(Oddly enough, this seems like it's supposed to be a BD-only problem.  But it does affect WinDVD Pro 2010 playing good ol' regular DVDs.  If it was only Blu, I wouldn't care - I have no BD discs or players, as I still view them as a solution looking for a problem.)

So thank you very much, whoever was on the Sony committee that decided that the latest in PC technology was going to be crippled so I can't play any of my own legally purchased DVDs on my own legal PC running legal software.  I hope you all rot in a special circle of hell, screw you very much, and thanks for ruining my evening.

Ironically enough, I am now going to have to crack my own DVDs just to be able to watch them.  Which I can easily do without touching the video output stream.  Thanks for forcing me to do what you didn't want me to do in the first place.

If this wasn't proof positive that DRM has gone way too far, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Workaround for Adobe Acrobat incorrect screen refresh under Win7 x64

For whatever reason, Adobe Acrobat will not properly repaint the screen when resizing internal windows.  It 'sticks' the image at the previous window size.

The only fix I've found so far is to show or hide a secondary pane, such as the bookmarks.  This forces Acrobat to repaint the screen to the new scaling.

This problem may be unique to my FirePro 8800 triple monitor setup, or it might be a W7 thing, I'm not sure.  Acrobat is not the only program having this problem, but it is by far the worst.

[Addition]:  You can quickly force a refresh with F4.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The weird and wonderfully changeable Windows 7 status bar

I've been reading a lot of conflicting information about what the "status bar" in Windows 7 does and does not show.

For those that don't know, the "status bar" is the banner that shows at the bottom of your Windows Explorer windows.  (If you have it enabled, that is.)  It's intended to give you quick details about the file or folder that is currently in focus.

(Note I said Windows Explorer, not Internet Explorer.)

Anyway, in XP, the status bar typically gave you fixed information.  One of these was the file size.

For whatever reason, Windows 7 does and doesn't give you the same information.

It doesn't in the sense that the attributes shown in the status bar change according to file type.  All files show an icon for the creating/assigned program, and the file name, which is redundant.

After that, you get different tags.  The current folder gives "offline status" and "offline availability".  A text file gives "date modified", "size", and "date created" in addition to offline availability.  A ZIP is the same, without the offline info.  JPG gives "date taken", "tags", and "rating", and a PDF coughs up "title", "subject" and "rating".

So nominally you don't get the same info as XP.

However, if you happen to expand your window size - making it wider - voila!  additional "missing" tags appear!  Our poor PDF, which had only a few attributes before, actually has 18 status tags available, including the oft-wished-for "Size" attribute.

But how to make them visible on a not-so-widescreen window?  Grab the top border of the status bar and drag up.  It will expand vertically, and the tags will collapse into a smaller horizontal space.

This will make things look kind of gay, because the program icon also expands - possibly to gargantuan proportions - making it look stupid.

But hey, at least the file size attribute is there for the viewing - even if W7 is too dumb to always show it to you.  I guess it's more important that you spend time tagging, titling and rating all of your painstakingly-named-and-organized PDF files.

Hey - somebody, out there - make a W7 plug-in that lets you re-organize and show/hide specific attributes in the Explorer status bar.  Please?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to get Bluetooth headphones to operate under Windows 7

 My new PC came with Bluetooth on the mainboard, which is cool.  But pairing my headphones with the PC didn't work, which is not.

Here's what worked for me.  Note my system has the Realtek audio installed.

Go to the system tray, and double-click on the Bluetooth icon.  The Bluetooth Devices panel from the Control Panel should show up.

Click "Add a device".

Put the headphones into pairing mode; let Windows find it.

Note:  If Windows can't find it, stop here and fix the problem.  I didn't have that problem.

After pairing, you will see the "Stereo Headset" in your devices, but probably won't get any sound.

In Bluetooth Devices, right click the new headset and select Properties.  Go to the Services tab and make sure "Headset" is checked.

Go back to the system tray, and right-click on the speaker icon. 

Note: my system shows two, which is confusing.  The one you want is shown in the tray by default - that is, you do not have to click the up arrow to see it.

Select "Playback devices".  The Sound panel comes up.

Find your headset, right-click and select "Set as Default Device".

Don't worry if you're speakers are already set as default.  It seems that for this setting, you're allowed to have more than one default device.  (Unlike, say, printers, where you can have only one).

You can also try the "Test" option to get a few chimes happening, so you know all is OK.

By doing this, you will probably get sound from both your speakers and your headset.  This isn't a problem for my setup, because I can turn the speakers off anytime I want, but it may not be what you want.

Do the following:

Go back and right-click on the speaker icon in the system tray.  Select "Volume control options" and check the "Speakers: Bluetooth Audio Device" with the headphones picture next to it.  Hit OK.

Note:  If you don't see it, your headphones are not connected.  Ensure they're on, right-click the device in the Bluetooth Devices panel, select "Advanced operation" and "Connect to audio device".  You will get a notification when it connects.  Then repeat the above step.

Now, clicking on the system tray speaker should bring up a dual-slider volume - one for speakers, and one for the BT headset.  Cool.

On my setup, my BT headphones did a lousy job - I got lots of dropouts, lags and interruptions.  This might have been because the headphones were low on charge, but I don't think so.  Pretty pitiful for an audio stream that only has to go four feet.  Re-orienting and getting closer didn't help, so it's probably some kind of compatibility issue.

We'll see, but either way, Bluetooth is definitely not the cool technology it was supposed to be.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Deleting Excel rows that have a specific blank column

A nice little bit of Excel macro magic allows you to delete rows if a particular column is blank.

I deal with data sets that are always scrambled, but usually in different ways.  This precludes the use of macro-scripting programs (like my personal favorite, trusty old Automate 4) because the patterns just different enough for pre-programmed key macros to fail.

Thanks to this little macro by Chip Pearson gets around the problem nicely.  Thanks, Chip!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Notes on drilling stainless steel with DIY tools

I had to drill some mounting holes in a stainless steel tray I bought.  It was harder than I thought.

Here's what worked, in the end:

  • Use cobalt bits.  Home Depot sold some cobalt bits my Milwaukee called "Thunderbolt" that were expressly stated to work well on stainless and iron.  They did the trick for me where gold titanium bits just dulled and broke.
  • Use a slow drill speed.  The second-slowest speed on my 18V cordless did well.  I tried high speeds, and they just made the drill bit tip cherry-red, melted and useless.
  • Use moderate pressure.
  • Drill straight down.  Drilling on an angle makes it more likely you'll bust the bit off.
  • The above notwithstanding, I found a little bit of wiggle on the drill helped the bit gain some bite.  YMMV.  I wouldn't do this on thicker metals.
  • Use a nail or something to dent the metal where you want to start.  The "Thunderbolt" bits did a good job of staying put to start, as long as you went really slowly, but having an initial detent helps a lot.  It's a must with titanium bits, mine skated everywhere.
  • As always, start with a small hole and work your way up gradually.  Note, however, that thinner bits are weaker.  I had good success with cobalt 3/32" bits, but titanium 3/32" broke before they really bit in.
  • Oil it.  No idea why it works, but it does.  To some extent, the more oil I put on, the better it went (i.e. re-oil frequently).  Don't use WD-40 or something that evaporates.  They say to use "cutting oil", but Home Despot did not have that.  I used an old can of "3-In-1 oil" and that worked fine - I imagine any light oil would also work.
  • When using oil, you WILL see metal coming off - assuming you're making any progress.  If not, stop and fix what is wrong - dull bit, no oil, or wrong speed.  Keeping at it will do you no good.
  • Change bits frequently.  Even in thin stainless, titanium bits were only good for enlarging 1 or 2 holes before dulling in to uselessness.  That chromium makes it damn hard.
  • Once the hole has been made, gold titanium bits may be enough to enlarge it.  But the cobalt ones did a much better job for getting the pilot hole done, and would likely be better all around.  I only bought one size of cobalt bits, so I had to use titanium to finish up.
  • Don't try and get more mileage out of a broken drill bit.  Re-using the stub won't get you anything.  I tried.
  • Scrap all your dull bits right away.  You may cringe, but it's already worn out.  Don't keep it hoping for a few more pennies worth of mileage.  Bits are disposable, it's the cost of doing the work.

All of the above also applies to aluminum, with the exception that higher speeds work OK.  Not high speed, mind you, but 1 or maybe 2 notches over minimum on a cordless hand drill.

I've read that carbide bits, although hard, are not recommended for metals.  Ask around.  If in doubt, it's prudent to not use them.

If you're doing a lot, look at 'real' tool stores for 10-packs of bits.  HD does not have these.  I imagine 10 cobalts would be pricey, but the usefulness is 10x that of titaniums for this kind of work.

I will admit my first six broken bits came out of a 101-pc Ryobi master kit sold at Home Depot for a 'ridiculous' price.  So they were cheap - sue me.  They're drill bits, not gold jewelry.

The kit has been good enough for 99% of what I need, and has virtually every size and type of bit, which is far easier to manage than a job-by-job run to the store.  In the few cases it's not adequate, I go and pick up the specific expensive stuff for what I need.  Like today.

Final impressions of Ergotron LX Triple Monitor Stand

Having had my stand set up for a week or so, I do like it.

The weight-assist mechanisms are set to the stiffest possible setting at the factory.  However, you can crank them down to minimum without bother.  The mechanisms never become loose or floppy, and it's designed so you can't accidentally unbolt anything.

My 19/22/19 setup does just fine at minimum stiffness.  It doesn't sag or move around on it's own.

The final height of my monitors did change, but after the first two hours I stopped noticing.  So by the next day you'll have forgotten anything was different.

Overall, I would recommend this unit.  It is well made and does a good job.

It's a good price - comparatively speaking, of course.  I spotted a comparable system at a local shop for $1800 with monitors - that's $600 per monitor, well over what each of those 23" LCDs are worth. 

Granted, it looked totally slick, used a different mounting system that guaranteed perfect alignment of the monitors, and had narrow-bezel units that made the screens appear as seamless as possible.  Still, it was vastly overpriced for what it was, unless you have money to burn.

Having triple monitors is nice - accelerates my workflow quite a bit.  It does confuse the wife, but I bet our kids will grow up loving it.

A few lonely voices of reason crying in the media babble

Please donate to assist in the Japanese disaster.  Visit for a list of reputable agencies that make a difference.

Two-plus weeks on, and the ludicrous media hysteria around Fukushima is finally starting to die a painful, gasping death.

We also start to see the occasional rational analysis of the entire affair:

Your Man In Japan
Praying for meltdown: The media and the nukes (The Register)

Fukushima scaremongers becoming increasingly desperate (also The Register)

Unfortunately, these are still few and far between.

As horrible as it may seem, one wonders what would have happened if all the affected nuclear reactors had simply been destroyed.

More lives would have been lost.  But they would only be a small fraction of the total lives lost, and probably wouldn't even be remarked upon by the mainstream media.

The nuclear fuel would probably have been scattered across the Japanese coastline.  A few might have ended up in the ocean.  Both situations likely gathering a few one-liners like 'Scientists are not expecting any long-term damage from the uranium fuel rods." or "Rescuers have been forced to contend with additional hazards such as building collapse, aftershocks, and even radioactive fuel rods from the destroyed nuclear reactors." Thanks, Julie, now we return to our main coverage.

A few "journalists" might have remarked that the loss of significant amounts of generating capacity would impact Japanese industry.  Of course, all the transmission lines, distribution stations, local transformers, and so forth WERE utterly destroyed anyway, so that wouldn't really be news anyway.

Not to mention the airports, factories and - oh yes, almost forgot - tens of thousands of workers (read: PEOPLE) who were killed, injured, left homeless, and deprived of adequate food, water, shelter, and clothing in Japan's bitter winter.  Surely that would be the bigger story, yes?

Conclusion:  if the plants had been wiped off the map, the mainstream media would not be giving Japan's nuclear industry a second look - because it wouldn't be sensational enough.

No, the worst thing that could happen did happen - after the worst disaster in recorded history, the nuclear plants remained standing, largely functional and adequately staffed.

They had some significant technical difficulties that were rapidly overcome.  These resulted in utterly insignificant amounts of radioactive material being released to drift over the ocean, to disperse to practical nothingness within a few days.

The disaster virtually isolated the plants, destroying all conventional routes for transportation and communications and all supporting infrastructure such as electrical power, water, sewer and so forth, compounding the difficulty.  And even with all of that, backup systems functioned, and the plant operators were able to invent and rapidly execute contingency plans to control their operations safely and with nearly zero casualties, including a couple of workers who got sunburned legs from

All of this because immensely dedicated staff, in spite of nearly unbearable personal loss from the disaster, stayed (and in many cases, volunteered to stay) at the plant and take on extremely stressful work under cramped, uncomfortable, 24-hour-a-day conditions with inadequate food, water, and other basic supplies.  They eat crackers, sleep on the floor with a single blanket, and heaven only knows where they toliet.

Dramatic, yes.  Heroic, absolutely.  Serious - yes, of course.  Disastrous?  Nope.  Chernobyl?  Not a chance - despite all the apparent hopes of news producers worldwide.  We are all thanking that they are disappointed, but really, they had unrealistic expectations.

The China Syndrome-esque reaction from the media regarding Fukushima defies description.  Really, it does.  Words fail cannot adequately express the impossibly braid-dead, fear-mongering, panic-stricken sewer water that vomited forth from every media outlet a soon as they espied the magic word, "nuclear".

Except, oddly enough, in Japan itself.  According to some, anyway, it's business as usual in the 90% of the country that is still intact and standing.  I believe it.

The cynical among us might even think that the news agencies were hungry for something - anything - to come along that they could make in to a nuclear "crisis".  Face it, most news is pretty boring, and every media outlet is under increasing financial pressure.  Minor wars in far-away countries seem to be dime-a-dozen these days, and it's hard to get too many people excited about a few practice astronauts doing a dry run to Mars in a wooden spaceship.

You know, people in some countries have been jailed for inciting panic in connection to Fukushima.  And yet every mainstream media outlet in the Western world has produced the same complete, one-hundred-percent pure-quill prime Grade-A pig feces that these individuals have been accused of.  It would be poetic justice if somebody, somewhere, made any of you account for your words.

You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fix: Windows 7 unable to delete read-only files in Samba share

Using the same Samba share, Windows XP would delete read-only files, and directories with read-only files in them.  It would, of course, prompt you with a "Are you sure you want to delete the read-only file" message.

Windows 7, for some unfathomable reason, did not do this with the same Samba share.  Instead, it came up with a very irritating message that said "File access denied", "You need permission to perform this action" message.  It would not progress past that.

This affected file moving and (I think) copying as well, in at least a few cases.

The simple fix, of course, was just to clear the read-only flag on the file and re-attempt, in which case Windows 7 will delete it quite happily.  This is stupid, however - W7 should behave like XP, and just bloody well do it if I want it to.

Thanks to this post, written by some other poor schmuck with the same problem, I found my solution:

In smb.conf:

map readonly = no
delete readonly = yes

In my case, the "delete readonly = yes" line, by itself, did not do the trick. 

I don't know what the map option does, but the combination appears to have fixed my difficulty.  Windows 7 now correctly deletes read-only files - oddly enough, without any confirmation or warning. 

(This is neat but I wonder why; I may have, at some point, turned off the confirmation messages.  You do a lot of tweaking in the first 48 hours of having a new machine.)

I suspect the problem comes about by a more robust implementation of the network communication protocols, where Samba is responding with a message that XP interprets one way, and W7 another (possibly better) way.  Looseness of interpretation is the bane of all standards.

How to install a Hewlett-Packard 2600n in Windows 7 x64

Windows 7 x64 doesn't ship with the driver for the 2600n, and won't recognize it if you try and add it.

If you try to get the driver for the 2600n from the HP website, you will find on run that it asks you to plug in the USB cable - which this printer does not have.  Good one, HP.

However, for some reason, running the package up to the USB connection and hitting 'cancel' installs enough stuff for Win7 to correctly identify the 2600n.

So, the recipe is:

1.  Download the latest driver from the HP website.

2.  Run it.

3.  When it asks you to plug in the USB cable, hit "Cancel" and quit.

4.  Go to Control Panel / Devices and Printers and run Add Printer.

5.  Select Network Printer, then IP address, and type in the correct IP for your printer.

6.  W7 x64 should correctly recognize the printer at this point, where previously it did not.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Second impressions of Ergotron LX Triple Monitor Stand

I've mounted my existing dual-monitor setup on my Ergotron.  Everything pretty much went as expected.

The tipping hazard mentioned by others is real, but is not necessarily a given.  If you have relatively small side monitors, the unit won't tip over.  Put monsters on it and all you need are a few books to brace the unit while you mount monitor #3.

Because I have mismatched monitors, the bezels do not perfectly line up.  Part of the problem is the depth (thickness) of each monitor is different.  If you have a thicker monitor in one position, the bezel will be closer to you than the bezel of the neighboring monitor.

This didn't bother me - I kind of expected it - and like most other reviewers don't even notice it when using the system.  If you're a perfectionist with unrealistic expectations, trust me - you'll get over the "problem" in no time.

The spring-assist mechanisms in the unit are very strong, and were set to maximum from the factory.  My unit had nearly 30 full turns of adjustment, but the system never became loose or slack.

With the height and tilt settings adjusted to minimum, the unit was still essentially non-adjustable with only one 22" widescreen and one 19" standard monitor fitted.  No matter what, it would rise to the uppermost position and highest tilt - there just isn't enough weight with two semi-small monitors to make it behave!

I literally had to tie the arm down to keep it in place.  I hope a third monitor will make the difference; otherwise I'm in trouble.

After fitting the 22" and 19", it is evident that the stand can handle significantly wider screens (as per the specs).  My 22" diagonal widescreen is 20-1/8" wide, and the 5:4 standard is 15-7/8".  With them fitted, the arm has another 2.5" of linear travel available before the monitor mount won't work. 

So, to calculate if your monitors will fit add the actual width of the center monitor and one side monitor, and divide by two.  If it is 20.5" or less, you're OK.  In my case, (20-1/8" + 15-7/8") / 2 = 18, leaving me with 2.5" of margin. 

Because of the geometry, thickness doesn't play a major part in this, but if you're right at the edge with three identical monitors (that will line up nearly perfectly) you might want to leave yourself a bit of extra margin.  Personally I'd say 1/8" is enough.

The screens do rotate, but if you want portrait mode you'll need to keep the arm height tall enough to keep the rotated LCD from hitting your desk.  (Seems duh, I know, but you never know.)

Damaging the rear foot may have been a blessing in disguise, as I ended up removing it completely.  I have a desktop shelf (hutch) behind the stand on my desk, and the rear foot of the Ergotron ended up hitting the post of the shelf unit before I got it into the required position. 

I could have moved the post, but the shelf may have become unstable.  Removing the Ergotron rear support gained me two much-needed inches of depth. 

On removal, it is evident that the rear foot does serve a purpose.  With the monitor stand near or at the tallest position, it is possible for the stand to tip backwards ever so slightly.  The rear foot normally prevents this.  So don't remove it unless you have some kind of other support (like a shelf or wall) behind the Ergotron. 

(Ergotron would undoubtedly frown on this - the rear foot is screwed and glued, and they obviously want it there.  So do this entirely at your own risk.  You can re-attach the foot by re-bolting it on with a little epoxy if it doesn't work out.)

The problem diminishes once the monitors are on the stand, because the LCD weight forces the stand to lean forward on to the big front foot.  But if the arm is set tall it might still happen.

The stand is set pretty tall, and the monitor height ended up being higher than the height I had my desk stands set to.  That may be just me; I'm sure I'll get used to the new setup.  Maybe it'll keep me from slouching quite as much.

In the end, everything lined up quite nicely and tightly - I wouldn't be able to get the monitors any further away without hitting equipment behind them.  I have only two monitors fitted because my new triple-monitor workstation is not here yet, but I'm looking forward to the upgrade.

Friday, March 18, 2011

First impressions of Ergotron LX Triple Monitor Stand

To go with my new workstation I invested in a Ergotron LX Triple Display Stand (#33-296-195).  It seems expensive, but given what you get it really isn't.

I will post some pictures eventually.  To get an idea of the size of this thing, watch the YouTube video here, courtesy of

Obviously it's large, so one significant concern I had was how (or if) it would fit on my desk.  Unless you have a deep 'boss' desk, you might be restricted as to the total depth you have available.

As you can see in promo pictures, the stand has a foot, a post, an arm, and a mount that joins the arm to the post.  In my case, the size and positioning of the mount was important, because I wanted to put a shelf behind the stand.

A few points that may be helpful on this stand:

The stand will need to be about 9-1/2" away from the front edge of your desk, minimum.  Otherwise you won't really have enough space to make a standard keyboard work.

The mount sticks out backwards quite a ways.  However, even at the worst case, the arm mount does not extend beyond the rear edge of the foot.  In other words, the foot of the stand dictates your overall clearance requirement.

The foot is 15.8" (40.2 cm) deep, front to back.

The arm is 45.25" (115 cm) wide and is on an arc.  The arc is 5.5" (14-14.1 cm) deep at the deepest point, measured from the front faces.  Do the geometry yourself if you're curious as to the angle.

At the lowest possible adjustment, the arm is positioned about 11" from the floor, measured to the middle of the arm.  This will be the lowest center point of your monitor.

At the lowest possible adjustment, the mount sticks backwards between 9-1/2" and 12-1/2" from the floor.  In other words, it's 3" tall and centered 11" off of the floor.  This is important to know if you intent to position anything else, like a shelf, behind the stand.  If your shelf is lower than 9", it will not hit the mount, and you get more depth.

Putting the stand against the back wall, and measuring 7" off of the floor, the maximum depth before you hit the post is about 2".  Setting things up so your rear equipment "misses" the mount nets you an additional 2 inches.

I know some of this will be hard to visualize; hopefully the pictures will make it clearer.

I should note that setup for this thing is trivially easy, as it is almost fully assembled.  It needs only 4 screws to put it together.  The post is the heavy item, with an inner core of extruded box steel that must be extremely strong.  This is not a cheap post-and-bolt setup - it looks very high-tech and is very well made.

The spring mechanism has no way of locking it, so you can't pre-position the stand to test fit.  You'll need to add monitors, or some other kind of weight, in order to get the stand to position and stay in place.  Otherwise the arm will simply fly up to the top position and stay there.

You should also know that although the foot is very strong, the rear part of the foot that extends behind the post is not.  It is a separate part that is screwed to the post with two small screws, and is intended only for cable management (according to the manual).  If you lean on the spring-loaded arm to force it down, you may lever the post on to the rear guide and damage it (like I did).

Anyway, in my case, I have to cut my rear shelf down from 14-1/2" to 9-1/2", which looks like it will work out OK.  I won't really know until I get it all set up.

[Edit]:  Pictures available here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

[I, Cringely] - Flea powder may be saving lives in Japan (Repost)

Ever since the nuclear accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station No 1 began, the entire news media has been in an absolute frenzy.

And yet, for all of the improvements in the 'information age' - with updates happening in real time from the far side of the world (to us) - there is so little actual information.  The news sites talk, babble, scream, moan, and publish endless one-liners from so-called "experts" that range between guarded optimism to predictions of total apocalypse.  And yet they say nothing, all the while trying to generate excitement about their meaningless utterings.

The causes are many.  Certainly Tokyo Electric Power has not been saying a whole lot to reporters.  And why should they?  Do they not have enough to do without further goading the media machine?  Like talk to the IAEA, which they can (and should) be doing better?  Or maybe devoting every second of time towards pursuing every possible, potential solution to the crisis facing them?

Coverage at the sites is undoubtedly weak, owing to the massive infrastructure damage from the earthquake and tsunami.  Not to mention the fact that ordinary citizens are hardly likely to be allowed to wander a nuclear plant at will.  The risk of radiation is more than enough to keep nearly everyone at bay in any case.

And not to mention that there is an rather lot of other news to report - an entire country just got pounded, one way or another.  The hardest-hit areas have been surveyed by no one except, perhaps, the Self-Defense Forces and government officials.  And they don't have time to post the videos on YouTube - they have to find roughly 10,000 people that are missing and presumed dead, and provide aid to at least a half-million people that aren't.

Still, in my humble opinion, the best information to date on the Japanese nuclear situation may have been provided by Bob Cringely in his blog entry "Flea powder may be saving lives in Japan" .

Bob, you may be a dipstick sometimes, but not today.

And let's put a few things into perspective, for the record.  Chernobyl was unquestionably the worst nuclear accident in history, and no one would think to question the consequences of that.  But consider this:

  • The Chernobyl reactor was an astonishingly poor design, with no containment structure and an inherently unstable operating mechanism.  
  • It was horribly operated, starting with the decision to operate a reactor that becomes increasingly unstable at lower output at very low output, well beyond the boundaries of safe operating conditions.  
  • Training was bad, critical equipment was faulty or missing, and emergency procedures were absent or completely inadequate.  
  • Finally, the accident itself was covered up, with evacuations not starting until 12 hours afterwards, and then only after protests by foreign governments.
Does this sound at all like the situation in Japan?  Of course not.  Comparisons between the two are ridiculous.  And yet the mass media continues to spew nonsense about a Chernobyl-like disaster.

The contrasts between Chernobyl and and Fukushima Daiichi could not be clearer.  The Japanese reactors are a far, far safer design, and were built and tested to the highest available standards.  They were constructed with safety containment structures in place, and multiple "defense in depth" safety and shutdown strategies.

They have the best possible personnel and safety procedures, refined by 40 years of trade practice, were put into immediate effect.  And the Japanese government instantly deployed equipment from other sites, asked for immediate help from U.S. military assets and immediately took precautions to evacuate potentially affected areas before any real harm had occurred.

The depth of the Japanese determination is also quite clear.  Before anyone even realized it, they took the drastic (and costly) step to write off the reactors and contain them by any means necessary - including pumping damaging seawater into them.  While the true motivations for this will never be known, to my mind, this represents a corporate ethic on the behalf of Tepco that many companies should emulate: namely, placing lives before money.

And don't even mention Three Mile Island.  This was a massive scare, to be sure, and I do not want to belittle the people who had to live every agonizing, uncertain moment of it.  But the ultimate result was zero deaths, zero injuries (or, at least, zero detected injuries).  There was certainly widespread confusion and uncertainty at the time, resulting in resentment, anger, and a massive public outcry, but it was nothing like Chernobyl - a site that had to be sealed up twice, and still has a 30 km exclusion zone around it today.

I am sure it is absolutely no comfort to the survivors and legacy wounded of Chernobyl that their suffering was the alarm bell that the world needed to help ensure nuclear power safety.  And yet, their sacrifices paved the way towards saving other lives in this new situation - not a disaster, but a disaster averted.

Something similar might be said for the earthquake-resistant (not earthquake-proof) design of Japanese construction, in that it undoubtedly saved countless lives.  It is terribly unfortunate that similar measures do not exist to mitigate the power of the ocean, which destroyed huge areas, including at least one small city.