Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tech Fix: Windows Update fails when using XP SP3.

Short tech fix, intarnets:

When using Windows XP that has been upgraded to SP3, Windows update will begin to fail to install ANY updates. It will run, download, initialize, then fail. If this problem begins immediately after updating to SP3. What the root cause of the issue is, is that wups2.dll has become unregistered. This file is described as the "Windows update Client Proxy Stub 2", and I have no idea what that means. The fix is to stop the WU agent, re-register the DLLs involved in Windows update and restart the agent.

As an administrator, run these commands from the command line:
net stop wuauserv
regsvr32 /s wuapi.dll
regsvr32 /s wuaueng1.dll
regsvr32 /s wuaueng.dll
regsvr32 /s wucltui.dll
regsvr32 /s wups2.dll (this is the real culprit)
regsvr32 /s wups.dll
regsvr32 /s wuweb.dll
net start wuauserv
Then Windows update should actually finish some updates.

Another issue seen with installations from a slipstreamed XP SP3 CD is that the installer will fail to update the web client itself, claiming certain DLLs to be in use. This is rare but it does happen.

The solution here is to simply delete the files it complains about, this is usually wuapi.dll, wups.dll, and wups2.dll...found in C:\Windows\system32\.

This message is brought to you by RIT ITS CSS Desktop Support Operations. ;)

Side note: more updates coming soon, just getting busy working and doing battle with some new computer hardware.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Spare me the humanity

Ok, what? This is going to be pretty rant-ish, I apologize.
The internet today is very much about the idea of human interaction. Even in forms that are not immediately interactive. The rise of bandwidth and sites like youtube and metacafe have brought about the concept of "Vlogs", or "Video Web Logs". Before that people would record radio shows as MP3 files and attach them to RSS feeds.

All in the name of attaching a more human facade to the cold dark cloud that is the internet.

I say...STOP! I beg you!

Not that I'm saying your goals are illegitimate, far from it, I like the idea of being able to put words in one end of the internet and have some other person on the other end give me their words back...I just hate content being offered in this format. Maybe I'm just a fading member of the old guard, but I grew up on the text-based internet, and I don't see adding new venues for delivering content as replacements for text.
Even today I read "blogs", read comics, chat with people on IRC, AIM, GoogleTalk. I enjoy the value the internet has for me as a social tool, but I like those tools to be under MY control.
If I need a how-to for some programming concept, or a brief about some security exploit or idea...I want to be able to read it. Or read half of it and come back to it, or read it while watching an episode of Star Trek or listening to music. I hate the idea of having to pause whatever I happen to be doing in the background just so I can hear what you have to say. At that point you've gone beyond providing content, you've entered the realm of interrupting MY computing activities and are telling me what I can't be doing on MY computer!
And this goes double for the websites of products like cell phones or video cards, or whatever. I want to look up some news or specifications for a product, and BAM some madly loud drum'n'bass beat comes blasting at me. I spend about 1 second looking for the "STOP THIS INFERNAL NOISE" button, and then just close the tab. If you're going to dictate what I can use my speakers for, maybe I don't need to know if I can buy your phone, or your car, or your TV. These sites have even less excuse. They're doing it for flash and marketing. At least people posting their security discussions as podcast are just trying to put a human voice behind an academic discussion, and one presented in a cold and factual way.

I think we need to get used to the idea that words alone, without a face, are just as capable of representing the humanity of the person who wrote them as an audio or video recording. But then again, I grew up here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

When lolz turn to sadness

My current employment is as the Co-op student for ITS Desktop Support, the only major project so far has been the rebuilding of the department's internal website in a more interactive, database driven format. The new version of the site is being hosted in RIT's new totally redone better-than-the-old-environment-ever-could-have-been web applications environment. Despite the rather cramped space limitation, and unnecessary staging server, it's been less painful than it could be. Until I got around to porting a few of our backend processes that need to run on a regular basis. This involves command line PHP and UNIX Cron. Which would normally be well and good but this environment is really more than meets the eye.
In short, developing in it is like trying to get from point A to point B in this room:
It took a day to get database connections, because for some reason scripts run by Cron run on a DIFFERENT HOST than scripts run manually from the command line or scripts run by the browser. WHAT?!!!

These people have obviously never heard of the principle of Keep It Simple, Stupid. So when any of these points of failure go down, the whole system dies. I found this out over the weekend. Because it went down.
Every 5 minutes my cron task ran, and every 5 minutes it failed. Which meant that every 5 minutes, I got an e-mail saying that there was a problem running the script, and then another e-mail saying the script failed. I was greeted Saturday morning by well over 100 e-mails.

Remember, don't laugh at the convolution of your development environment, for it might come back and pee in your shoes.



Thursday, August 14, 2008

I done good.

I found this during random Googling:

Gotta say, that's pretty sweet. I came in 2nd fiddle on a search to Apple, and beat out one of my favorite webcomics on a Google search.

Pretty funny considering all the comics about random Google searches XKCD does.

Edit: At the time I did this, these were the top 3 search results for that term. Just want to be clear.


Setting up for failure, redux.

I realized the first time I tried to write about my opinion on this matter, I pretty much failed to produce anything resembling coherent thought. I'm going to try to do better this time.

I said IT is failing us as programmers. This statement derives from the original impression I got of IT when I first heard of the program, and by extension the reason I chose it. It seems a lot of people think that IT is effectively a "Tech Support" training program, and therefore requires its students to learn basic hardware, software, db, web, etc. What I always felt IT was, and probably why I have pushed the bounds of the program, is a program that aims to create technological Jacks-of-all-trades. Someone with passable skills in just about anything, but not necessarily the depth of study you'd get in a more focused major.

IT, however, seems to have no idea what it's doing. IT is incredibly unfocused, going to rather ridiculous depths in things that have never seemed important but barely skimming over things that could be very useful. Fundamentals of Data Communications, is a course whose entire contents could probably be tacked onto the beginning of Networking Fundamentals, if the sections on manually performing QAM encoding, Hamming Code error correction, Manchester signal encoding, etc were removed... Seriously? Why would we, as IT majors, need to know the configurations of the electrical signal we'd need to program a NIC?
Then examine the 3 course sequence in Java programming. This sprawling mess of an introduction to object oriented programming somehow covers basic OO, static v. instance variables, TCP/IP networking, Filesystem I/O, Basic GUI, Swing, Event driven Java, and we even had some basic game AI in a 3D environment...but no mention of what a singleton was, or a decorator, or a factory. These are BASIC design patterns that anyone should understand to work on software beyond simple scripts and applications. Maybe I'm wrong in my idea that people graduating from IT will gain employment in a development position...and it's very possible that if a student takes concentrations outside development areas they won't. But what about those of us that do? I'm not sure what the courses in the IT Application Development cover, but what about web programming? The Programming For The Web class is a JOKE, and from what I've heard Web Client-side programming (Javascript and SVG) isn't much better. Isn't web programming just as much real programming as system applications in Java or C++? Web programming requires just as much knowledge and skill as system programming. If you prick us, do we not bleed? Assuming they're teaching this stuff to THOSE concentrations...why should an application developer need to know how to write a database abstraction layer, but not a web application developer? C'mon, Guys....not cool!

There's a case to be made for "If you want to be a programmer, why not major in SE?", but SE doesn't train WEB Programmers. IT is where you go for that. I just don't think they're teaching us what we need to know.

I think I did a little better this time.


Full Review: The Samsung M800 (Samsung Instinct)

Unfortunately, the Samsung Instinct, the most heavily advertised phone ever made by Samsung, has been measured and found wanting.
I've had the phone for about 2 weeks now and I am preparing to return it, and Sprint's plan, to the store tomorrow. That means it's review time. I'll try to keep this as pragmatic as my Voyager review but it's difficult to discuss a phone like this without mentioning its potential.

Things about the PHONE that suck:
  • The battery cover is difficult to get off until you get the hang of it. Also the plastic flap that covers the charging port (at least on the phone I had) is hard as hell to remove. Every time I have done this I've needed to use something else like a knife or a paperclip to open the flap.
  • The battery life is pretty awful, but the unit ships with a 2nd battery that's easy to change once you figure out how to get the back cover off. The poor performance of mine may have been to the poor Sprint coverage where I live, as I was constantly moving into roaming areas.
Things about the PHONE that are sweet:
  • A full size stereo headphone jack. Not a mini-jack. It's good to see a media phone with physical media attributes.
  • The touchscreen is GREAT
  • The speaker is incredibly loud.
  • The camera takes good pictures.
  • The speed is great, WHEN you have signal.
Things about the PLATFORM that are sweet:
  • The navigation is great, with the scrolls and the flicks, and the taps. They clearly took a lot of cues from the iPhone, and came up with a really fun interface.
  • The keyboard is amazing. It's incredibly versatile. Everywhere you could type you could use a full landscape QWERTY keyboard, a portrait quasi-dvorak keyboard, or handwriting recognition. (although I really couldn't get it to recognize more than 3 letters at a time. You've gotta write big)
  • Visual Voicemail is well done
  • Messaging is really cool, texts and pictures are threaded by contact.
  • The photo gallery has a lot of TouchFLO style things, makes it real fun to use it.
  • Pretty much all the updates are Over The Air.
  • The music player actually keeps playing if you leave the application, you can listen to tunes AND check your email! WOAH!
  • The email application is easy to setup, works with almost everything (I had mine with 2 OWA accounts, a gmail, and an IMAP). Although word around the forums is it has some problems with POP.
  • The navigation app is a gem. It is clear, rather accurate, and tied nicely into the movies and live search functions. Location based features on the phone really get tied together here. The thing even checks the traffic for you. It's like having a real GPS.
  • "Movies Near Me", Such a cool button. It locates you with GPS then finds theaters near you and displays movies, from there you can view showtimes, get driving directions, call the theaters.
  • Live Search, open the app, push a button, tell the phone what you want. Excellent voice driven functions.
  • Weather application is one of the best things I found. I checked it every morning, got morning/afternoon/evening forecasts and Doppler radar images.
Things about the PLATFORM that suck:
  • This phone is too new. Samsung and Sprint rushed it out to compete with the iPhone, and it shows. In the 2 weeks I've had the phone every app has been updated about 2-3 times. Some of these updates broke features that used to work. And Sprint has not done well with communicating timelines for the updates or WHAT they actually changed to their users. Not EVERYTHING about Apple is worth copying.
  • The browser is slow and kludgy. Opera Mobile won't work (well).
  • The platform uses a custom set of widgets which doesn't play well with standard J2ME, so most applications that COULD work don't. Mostly because they can't access the keyboard.
  • The built in calendar can only store 9 appointments at any given time.
  • The email application will sometimes inform you that you have new messages, when you don't. Or grossly miscount the number of messages you do have. I once had it tell me I had 63 emails when I had 7.
  • The phone cannot sync with Exchange/OWA for calendar, or use your Google Calendar outside of the browser. This is likely due to the builtin calendar being such a POS. The company that built the email application has software capable of doing this...Sprint/Samsung either decided they didn't want it on the phone or that it would've taken too long to develop the feature.
  • The phone has no instant messaging application. None of the free ones will work due to lack of keyboard, and the only online ones you have access to are static and awful because of the lack of a good browser.
  • The music application, while being really good and even having some features my iPod lacks, has an unfortunate habit of rescanning my entire memory card each time I start it. This takes almost a minute for 4-5 gigs of music, and the phone can take MicroSD cards up to 8 gigs.
  • Sprint's network is pretty bad. I'm roaming in most of the building where I work, and everywhere in my house. Including a decent amount of the area OUTSIDE my house.

That being said I still think the phone is incredibly cool, and for the most part really don't mind the idea of owning it. They need to fix the calendar, add OWA sync with it, either add an IM application or fix the keyboard problem, and get some version of Opera Mobile supported fully. If they can pull this off they can win, but people are rapidly losing faith in the phone...time is running out. If they work these kinks out they have a major edge over Verizon or iPhone, since they have a free SDK and you don't need to pay licensing just to get your apps on the phone. Without a certificate you can't access "restricted" APIs, but a cert with Sprint is much less expensive than the Qualcomm version you need to do BREW development. Also the whole thing is Java (J2ME), which makes it simpler to write applications for than C++ or Objective C. (in my opinion anyway).

I'll be paying close attention to this one and might try it again after I graduate, if I move somewhere with better Sprint coverage.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Movie time: The Mummy - The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

I find reviewing this rather appropriate given the other movie review on the site so far. That being said this will not contain major spoilers, but will however hit on major characters and their interactions. From a broad perspective.

This is the Indiana Jones 2, of the 'The Mummy' franchise. The characters are all right, and the danger, adventure, and safety of the world are not in question. Yes Indiana Jones 2 had nothing to do with the safety of the world, but bear with me.

Think about this: Indiana Jones 1 and 3 (Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade, respectively) are commonly considered the best 2 of the series. 1 set the template and 3 actually followed. 2 and 4 lag behind, and I think the reason is this... They are missing the Indiana Jones standard plot version 1.7. Movies 1 and 3 can be boiled down to Indiana Jones being witty and incredibly lucky while running from Nazis chasing after an object of Bible Myth that if in the wrong hands could end life as we know it. The 2nd movie found Indiana being clumsy almost, bumbling in misadventure running from cultists chasing obscure Indian stones. To save...a village. Yes he also did some running from a crazy Chinese businessman. And #4 found Indiana being OLD, but almost superhuman sometimes...running from RUSSIANS, chasing ALIENS. What just happened? Am I in the wrong movie franchise?
But the point remains that the fundamental pillars upon which Indiana Jones is built are: Archeology, Bible Myth, Nazis, Indy Rocks.
In that same vein the fundamental pillars of The Mummy can be seen as: Bad library research, Mummies, Mad Arabs, Rachel Weisz is clumsy yet endearing, and a hell of a lot of sand.

The Mummy 3 was actually pretty entertaining. However it seemed to focus more on the O'Connell's son, Alex, than Rick and Evelyn. Which goes against template. It's the parents trying to follow their son on HIS OWN adventure and generally being overshadowed. It doesn't help the case that the writing of, Evy especially, is just strained and BAD. Yes, they have retired, their life is boring...we GET IT ALREADY.

There isn't any research, any books, in this one. All the information they need is given to them by a magical old immortal Chinese lady.

The "mummy" here isn't even a real mummy! It's Jet Li, cursed to live out his life as Terracotta. He doesn't even get to fight for 90% of the movie. There's ONE GOOD fight scene and it's only like 10 minutes long right at the end of the film.

There's no sand, and no Rachel Weisz! Evy's been replaced! NOOOOO!

The tense dialog that worked so well between Rick and Evy, doesn't quite work when they try it between Alex and his squeeze. Later in the film there are some genuinely nice moments with these 2 characters. But they had to try really hard to get there.

It's important to note I don't think this is a BAD movie. I even think it's better than Indiana Jones 2. There's no Short Round, the fate of the WORLD is still at stake. It's even got some bad ass kung fu and a pretty cool undead army. All pluses in my book.

If you can get to the flick for under $5, it's worth it. Otherwise the lack of Egypt...and more specifically Egyptology make it a little disappointing if you paid more. The Mummy is supposed to involve a cute girl in glasses reading out of a huge ancient book trying to figure out who Brendan Fraser needs to punch to save the world. This one just doesn't deliver that.