<CharlieDigital/> Programming, Politics, and uhh…pineapples

31Oct/05Off

Installing VS2005 and SQL2005

Posted by Charles Chen

RTM versions were downloaded over the weekend and I'm setting them up now.

Weird error encountered with SQL Server 2005 setup; On a WinXP SP2, I'm getting the following message:

"SQL Server Setup failed to modify security permissions on WMI
namespace \\.\root\Microsoft\SqlServer\ServerEvents\DEV2005. To
proceed, verify that the account and domain running SQL Server Setup
exist, that the account running SQL Server Setup has administrator
privileges, and that the WMI namespace  exists on the destination
drive."

I googled the first line and found no results, so I figured I'd post
this in case anyone else runs across this error.  Further googling
led me to an MSDN article regarding Setting Namespace Security.  I followed the instructions but wasn't able to find the namespace \\.\root\Microsoft\SqlServer\ServerEvents\DEV2005
Note that I'm installing 2005 as a named instance ("DEV2005" being the
name of my instance), so this may not be an issue with default
instances.

My current action is to abort the install and try again...I'll update if there are other developments.

Update: I switched to the default, non-named instance and it
seems to work fine...however, I get an error when the installer tries
to install the sample databases 'doh!  It says that my account is
not an admin account, even though it is...

Filed under: SQL Server 1 Comment
28Oct/05Off

CS476 Represent!

Posted by Charles Chen

Heh, this is a Friday shout out to my project group for CS476--Ed (Myung) Kim, Roger Chang, and Craig Lichtenstein.  These guys were a great group to work with as everyone really took responsibility for their parts of the project and helped to deliver, what I felt, was a pretty cool application.

First, a little abstract.  In college computer science courses, even though you're told that you're supposed to work on programming assignments yourself, I think that no one really ever did.  If I may opine, this is a poor idea to begin with as no programmers in the real world work in isolation.  Now keep in mind, there are different working relationships.  In some cases, people are just moochers and just want to copy your code or steal your solution ideas.  In others, it's really a relationship where each of the students feeds off of the others to arrive at the solution together.  I had such a relationship with one Lew Fernandez, a fellow computer science major who was my roommate for half of the semester (a rocky freshman year).  I've always been one of those guys that could figure things out better if I had to discuss and explain different aspects with other people.

At some point, the idea occurred to me that it would be cool if we could work on the same codebase, collaboratively and interactively, even from remote locations (for example, if he was on one campus, and I was in our dorm room) without having to install any software.  Basically, you could work on code collaboratively from anywhere that you had access to a web browser.  Thus was born the idea of what would eventually turn out to be WebEdit, the project I designed for my CS476 Advanced Web Applications course.

This application popped back into my head recently as I was browsing a post on Web 2.0.  I came across the application Writely and it clicked, immediately, that what we had built was eerily similar to the idea behind Writely.  Admittedly, the implemenation and polish is very different (ours was slapped together in what I would say was roughly a week's worth of development time).  But it's nice to know that we had some good ideas back then.

WebEdit (aka JavaCVS3), utilized a Java applet frontend embedded in a web page that could communicate with a central server using Java RMI.  Chat was also in there, but that required a socket connection between the applet and the server, so it was limited somewhat depending on the networks and the firewalls sitting between any given client and the server.  The really cool part was that we didn't explicitly use the file system to manage files; everything was done through CVS.  Projects had to be imported to a CVS repository after which, different group members could check out a working copy by simply selecting the project from a drop down (projects were associated with groups).  As you're working on your working copy, you can update your copy if another user commits (you are notified interactively) and, using CVS merge, we were able to automatically merge your changes to those that were checked in by the other user.

While I'm here, I'd just like to take a moment and thank the guys for doing such a great job on the project and really working like a team (we pulled at least one 10 hour programming session topped off by celebratory coffee and doughnuts from DD).  As I was digging through some of the old documentation while trying to get everything set up again (to be clear, it was lacking in that respect), I was just amazed by the level of detail and attention in the documentation, especially by Ed; it made the process a bit easier for me.

So in any case, all this nostalgia made me want to see it up and running again.  The original application was designed to run on the Unix platform (including all of the sub-systems like CVS, Apache, and MySQL).  I know that at some point, after I graduated, I had tried to port our work over to a Windows platform quite unsuccessfully and gave up.  I was somewhat saddened as it was great work, but just not enough documentation/information to set it up and make it work on a different platform...until today.

After a lot of digging, prodding, and trial and error, I finally got it working again!  I had to substitute CVS with CVSNT, not knowing whether CVSNT would work exactly like the version of CVS we were running at Rutgers (no one ever wrote down the version).  It took me a few tries, but I finally figured out the version of Java that we originally compiled the source with (or at least the highest version without issues).  I also had to reverse engineer the database from the codebase (the database documentation was very high level and I didn't have any sample data to work from) and change the code to work with SQL Server instead of MySQL.  After a whole day of fidgeting, I finally got it working again!  Joy!  Particularly enjoyable since I haven't worked with Java in so long (roughly 2.5 years now).

webedit_capture.jpg

So this post is for you guys, if you should ever happen to stumble across this blog ;-)

26Oct/05Off

Walmart = Evil?

Posted by Charles Chen

After reading the recent articles regarding the leaked Walmart memo regarding the hiring of "unhealthy" persons, I couldn't help but be repulsed by Walmart.

Another retailer, CostCo, which battles Walmart's Sam's Club, is
almost the complete opposite of the Walmart in terms of business
practices, values, and principles. I dug up a little writeup from a
few months back:

Jim Sinegal = Hero

I was really moved by an article that I read about CostCo Ceo, Jim Sinegal.

"Costco's average pay, for example, is $17 an hour, 42 percent
higher than its fiercest rival, Wal-Mart's Sam's Club. And Costco's
health plan makes those at many other retailers look Scroogish.
...
Costco was founded with a single store in Seattle in 1983; it now has
457 stores, including two in the Houston area. Despite Costco's
impressive record, Sinegal's salary is just $350,000, although he also
received a $200,000 bonus last year. That puts him at less than 10
percent of many other chief executives, though Costco ranks 29th in
revenue among American companies."

There are other positive articles on CostCo's business practices
floating around the web.  I also learned a lot about CostCo and
their absolutely awesome business practices from some people on Fark.

How's this for being treated well...

I'm an hourly NON-MANAGEMENT employee at a non-union location who makes
$19.32 per hour and time and a half on Sundays for $28.98 per hour.

Besides this I get a bonus of $3,000 twice per year (full time
employee), I get FIVE Weeks of paid vacation each year, 8 paid
holidays, 6 paid sick days, I pay 4% of the total cost of my health
insurance, I get 2% back on all my purchases, I get a free turkey every
Christmas (winter holiday), ....

Did you know that a cashier at Costco who has worked for the company
full time for 4 years makes more money than an Assistant store Manager
at Wal-Mart?

Wait HERE's A GREAT ONE THAT I ALMOST FORGOT!!!!! ONE THAT IS SURE TO MAKE THE LIBERALS FLAME!!!

If you are a Costco employee and leave the company to enlist in the
military, COSTCO HOLDS YOUR JOB FOR YOU FOR 5 YEARS!! AND IT GETS
BETTER! If you end your active military service (you can stay in the
reserves) and decide to come back to Costco within 90 days of your
discharge, Costco not only takes you back, BUT THEY TAKE YOU BACK AS IF
YOU HAD NEVER LEFT!!! You get the same or equal position and you accrue
raises and bonus eligibility based on how many hours you worked per
week for Costco before you left for the service!!!

So if you're a full time employee with say 6 months on the job, you can
join the service, do a 4 year tour to get your GI bill, leave the
active duty military and come back to Coscto as a topped out employee
making $18.32 per hour with full benefits!!!!

-- "The_Pink_Pimp"

Now that is impressive; all this stuff
really moved me (strange, I know). To me, this is what true patriotism is in the 21st century; it is supporting
your fellow Americans by giving them fair wages, good benefits, and treating them like
first class people.  An honest business practice that actually
rewards the people that make the business profitable day-in, day-out?  That's
almost unheard of in todays environment of Enrons and Tycos. As the cherry on top of the whipped cream, CostCo is also
more profitable per square foot of retail space and per worker than Walmart...by a large margin:

Costco actually keeps its labor costs lower than Wal-Mart's as a
percentage of sales, and its 68,000 hourly workers in the U.S. sell
more per square foot. Put another way, the 102,000 Sam's employees in
the U.S. generated some $35 billion in sales last year, while Costco
did $34 billion with one-third fewer employees

Just goes to show you how fair pay, good benefits, and respectable
business practices do pay in the end as employees are far more
motivated, satisfied, loyal and, ultimately, far more productive.

I checked out their website and found out that they use ASP.Net :-D

CostCo just got another convert.

Filed under: Miscellany 2 Comments
26Oct/05Off

Acrylic Doodle

Posted by Charles Chen

scan.jpg

A little doodle I did in Acrylic. I'm really digging the vector brushes; they're great for doing lineart like this (looks even better in higher resolution). There are some quirks when working with bitmap and vector layers involving an opaque bounding box around the brush stroke that blocks out the other layers.

Filed under: Doodle No Comments
24Oct/05Off

Porn, Hollywood, and Microsoft

Posted by Charles Chen

It's a wonder why you and I are still viewing movies via physical
mediums like DVDs.  To be honest, I'm really not sure why there's
even such a huge fuss over BluRay vs. HDDVD.

About three or four years ago, I was working at Dreamzotic (NSFW!!). 
First of all, from what I understand, Rob, the founder, was streaming
video via Dreamzotic all the ways back in 1996!  Yes, almost a
decade ago.  When I worked there, we were streaming up to 300
Kbps.  Today, I don't know the exact number as I no longer
work there, but it would seem that Dreamzotic is offering near 1
Gbps!  On top of that, they also have a managed download so that
you can grab the movie in its entirety.  The DRM protection
prevents the video from being played on any machine other than the
original.

I was once told that porn has been one of the largest forces behind
innovation in Internet technologies.  To some extent, I think we
can all agree that this is very, very true, especially in the case of
streaming video.

So what I don't quite understand is what Hollywood doesn't understand
about the current state of the movie industry as a whole.  With
the introduction of large, high definition televisions and cheap,
affordable surround sound systems, the theater going experience is
dated.  To be clear, I hate going to the movie theater to
see new releases.  Hate it, hate it, hate it.  From the
stupid kids with their cell phones to the jokesters that try to be
funny during a film to the dirty, dirty floors and restrooms, what is
there to like?

For the past 8 months, I've been using Netflix and basically
avoiding the movie theater (which is right across the street from our
development).  It's quite obvious that the only two downfalls of
Netflix is the method of distribution and the fact that no one has the
balls (or insight) to do a simultaneous theater + DVD release (well, Mark Cuban has both, but I haven't seen anything major from him yet).

Whereas the porn industry has been chugging along (especially with the introduction of DRM to Microsoft Windows Media Services), you really have to scratch your head at all of the fuss in Hollywood and why it's taken almost a decade to catch up.

Bill Gates gets it right regarding BluRay vs. HDDVD:

"Well, the key issue here is that the protection
scheme under Blu-ray is very anti-consumer and there's notmuch
visibility of that. The inconvenience is that the [movie] studios
got too much protection at the expense consumers and it won't work well
on PCs. You won't be able to play movies and do software in a flexible
way.

It's not the physical format that we have the issue with, it's that
the protection scheme on Blu is very anti-consumer. If [the Blu-ray
group] would fix that one thing, you know, that'd be fine.

For us it's not the physical format. Understand that this is the
last physical format there will ever be
. Everything's going to be
streamed directly or on a hard disk. So, in this way, it's even unclear
how much this one counts"

Filed under: Rants, Technology 2 Comments
22Oct/05Off

Thoughts on Microsoft Acrylic

Posted by Charles Chen

I started playing with Acrylic a bit today and I'm amazed (bet you didn't see that one coming).

For the purpose of reference, so you know where I'm coming from, here's some background:

  • I started doing graphics work with Paint Shop Pro back in the day and I eventually moved onto Adobe Photoshop 5.5.
  • Since then, I've only upgraded to Photoshop 6.0, so I haven't had much experience with the newer CS versions of PS.
  • I've used Illustrator a bit, but mostly to draw my lineart, and not for any serious graphic design.
  • I have a copy of Corel Painter 8 or 9, but I never got into it
    because it was sooooo poorly optimized that I'm not sure how anyone
    seriously used it.  Likewise, doing freehand artwork in
    Illustrator 9 is insane.  At 300dpi, an 8x10 image takes nearly 5
    minutes to save (and I'm on a 2.4 Ghz Pentium IV with 1280 MB of RAM).
  • I've also worked with Corel Draw and Flash.
  • I haven't been doing as much artwork lately.

Okay, with that out of the way, I'd like to say that I'm pleasantly
surprised by Acrylic (I remember reading a lot of bad first impressions
very early on).  Some observations first:

  • First of all, it seems to combine many of the tools into one as
    it allows for the creation of pixel (bitmap) and vector layers so that
    you can work with both types of objects in one document. 
    Previously, at least with PS6, this was not possible.
  • It's much more finely optimized than Illustrator or Painter.  No slowdown at all (and I'm currently on my laptop).
  • Some of the new UI paradigms are great; I'm quite fond of
    the "combo-lock" style toggles and the easy to access sliders (in PS6,
    a lot of the sliders are hidden/context sensitive).
  • To go with the above, many graphic artists are going to have to
    do a bit of retraining.  I mean, gosh, I feel like the Adobe PS
    interface is so ingrained in my mind that I find it a bit hard to
    adjust...I feel kinda lost :-S.
  • Acrylic allows to to completely customize the hotkeys!  Excellent!
  • Unlike the Adobe products I've used in the past, this, even in such an early stage, ships with tons of predefined brushes.
  • Wow, I love the way it allows you to toggle the width of a vector
    brush stroke.  I think I'm in love.  Illustrator was such a
    pain in the ass in this respect.
  • There's an XAML exporter as well (as a seperate install). 
    I'll have to try that out later and see how it works.  I'm
    actually quite curious how the vector and bitmap objects will map to
    XAML.
  • I don't know that I'm so fond of the way the layers are
    represented.  Unlike in PS, where layers are in their own window,
    the layers are represented with a subwindow of the main document.
  • Where is the history?
  • There is no "Save for Web" option as far as I can tell...

I'll keep updating this post as I play around with it a bit more. 
I think I'm going to move one of my current projects into Acrylic
instead.  So, my biggest question now is: Microsoft, how much is
all this gonna cost?  If they price it around PS, work on a some
minor UI oddities (embossed icons? I dunno), and add a web optimization
interface, I think they have a winner on their hands as it seems, at
least on initial inspection, to be quite a good product.

Now what I really want to get my hands on is Sparkle.

21Oct/05Off

More Microsoft Stuff

Posted by Charles Chen

Have I mentioned that I'm excited about the tools and technologies coming out from Microsoft in the near future?

Via Manuel Clement, there is a preview (CTP) of the Acrylic graphic design tools available for download from MSDN.

I also came across a set of videos for the Visual Studio Express line of tools (and .Net 2.0 in general).  Gonna have to slot some time for these videos.

Lots of exploration to do this weekend when I get some time.

Filed under: ASP.Net 2.0 No Comments
20Oct/05Off

The Parable of the Concept Car

Posted by Charles Chen

There's a great article in this month's Time magazine on Steve
Jobs and Apple's success, even though the company operates counter what
conventional wisdom dictates.

One bit that really caught my attention was Steve's "Parable of the Concept Car":

Ask Apple CEO Steve Jobs about it, and he'll tell you an instructive
little story. Call it the Parable of the Concept Car. "Here's what you
find at a lot of companies," he says, kicking back in a conference room
at Apple's gleaming white Silicon Valley headquarters, which looks
something like a cross between an Ivy League university and an iPod.
"You know how you see a show car, and it's really cool, and then four
years later you see the production car, and it sucks? And you go, What
happened? They had it! They had it in the palm of their hands! They
grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory!

"What happened was, the designers came up with this really great idea.
Then they take it to the engineers, and the engineers go, 'Nah, we
can't do that. That's impossible.' And so it gets a lot worse. Then
they take it to the manufacturing people, and they go, 'We can't build
that!' And it gets a lot worse."

When Jobs took up his present position at Apple in 1997, that's the
situation he found. He and Jonathan Ive, head of design, came up with
the original iMac, a candy-colored computer merged with a cathode-ray
tube that, at the time, looked like nothing anybody had seen outside of
a Jetsons cartoon. "Sure enough," Jobs recalls, "when we took it to the
engineers, they said, 'Oh.' And they came up with 38 reasons. And I
said, 'No, no, we're doing this.' And they said, 'Well, why?' And I
said, 'Because I'm the CEO, and I think it can be done.' And so they
kind of begrudgingly did it. But then it was a big hit."

I think this is a common downfall of many organizations and projects and it
results from a sort of "design by committee".  Fred Brooks makes a similar
point in The Mythical Man Month with regards to building software:

Simplicity and straightforwardness proceed from conceptual
integrity.  Every part must reflect the same philosophies and the
same balancing of desiderata.  Every part must even use the same
techniques in syntax and analogous notations in semantics. 

Concpetual integrity in turn dictates that the design must proceed
from one mind, or from a very small number of agreeing resonant minds.

In the case of Apple, Steve Jobs is the bolt that holds the whole
structure together and the success of Apple can be directly related to
Jobs' vision.  From concept to implementation, he enforces coceptual integrity at all levels of the organization.

I
think the significance of conceptual integrity struck me when I was sitting in OfficeMax one day as my wife
was looking for some supplies for school.  Christopher Lowell's Seven Layers of Design: Fearless, Fabulous Decorating
was sitting on a desk that was next to the executive chair that I was
fiddling with.  In summary, Lowell drives each of the project rooms
in the book with his "seven layers of design" to demonstrate how easy it
is to change a room from drab to fab in seven easy steps (yes, that
sounded non-hetero in my head, too).  As I flipped through it, I
couldn't help but admire how he made his philosophy so succint and consistently applied it throughout the book; it made it seem so easy.

I think the lesson to be learned from this is the importance of
conceptual integrity from design to implmentation.  Good designs
often fall flat in implementation due to poor adherence to the core
concepts and ideas of the designer.

Filed under: Miscellany No Comments
19Oct/05Off

“Cross of Iron”

Posted by Charles Chen

I came across a blog post today that examined Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1953 speech, titled Cross of Iron.

What struck me a bit was the similarity of his message and vision to that of the Dalai Lama when he was at Rutgers a few weeks back.

In particular, the following excerpts mirrored the the perspective
of the Dalai Lama with regards to war in the modern, globalized world:

"First: No people on earth can be held, as a people, to be enemy, for
all humanity shares the common hunger for peace and fellowship and
justice.

Second: No nation's security and well-being can be
lastingly achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation with
fellow-nations.

Third: Any nation's right to form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable.

Fourth: Any nation's attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.

And
fifth: A nation's hope of lasting peace cannot be firmly based upon any
race in armaments but rather upon just relations and honest
understanding with all other nations."

In his lecture at Rutgers, the Dalai Lama
expressed that, in today's world, as we are increasingly dependent on
other nations in one way or another, it doesn't make sense to label
countries as enemies and wage war.  In doing so, in a sense, a
nation wages war against itself.  This is true on many levels with
the US as we have seen our soldiers die, our funds sink into a hole as
a (very expensive) natural disaster hits our shores, and our reputation
damaged for the near future.

Gonna have to read the rest of that sometime later today.

Filed under: Miscellany No Comments
18Oct/05Off

MSDN ASP.Net 2.0 Documentation

Posted by Charles Chen

With the release of Visual Studio.Net 2005 right around the corner,
I think it's about time to start a deep dig into ASP.Net 2.0 and C# 2.0.

The MSDN documentation is as good a starting point as any book, and it's free to boot!  As my friend Dave likes to say, "You can't beat free!"

Here are some of the more interesting topics (a personal bookmark of sorts, I guess):

Perhaps the feature I'm most excited about, with regards to C# 2.0,
is generics.  My goodness, this will save so much time, effort,
and silly code.  I've been using various typed collection
generators so I'm happy to see this added to the framework.  On
the ASP.Net front, I'm very excited about the provider model (and all
of the different built in components like membership and roles), Atlas,
and master pages.

A lot of stuff to digest, for sure.  Now my only question is how long it will take before any of our
clients are even remotely interested in doing projects with .Net
2.0.  Past experience tells me it'll be at least 2-3 years before
companies start to move over and some may never do so (Newegg is still
using ASP Classic; why change what's not broken?).

I keep telling myself that I'm going to start a small mini-project
in ASP.Net 2.0, but I'm just too turned off by the idea of mystery
feature cuts between beta/RTM and the final product.  I've been in
a "wait and see" type of mode, but reading more about the framework
itself.

On a loosely related note, I found that Jason Gaylord
did a port of the very early .Net 2.0 starter kit photo gallery project to
.Net 1.1.  I've been looking for a good .Net photo gallery app for
a while now, so I may take a look into this.

Filed under: ASP.Net 2.0 No Comments