Sunday Jul 29, 2007

How fast for free....

a speed test report.[Read More]

Thursday Jul 26, 2007

Learn another real language, young American programmers!

Joel has an entry with Advice for Computer Science College Students. His first piece of advice is "Learn how to write before graduating".

Advice I wish I had heard and heeded, back in the day...

I would say this is even more important than when Joel went to college or joined Microsoft. As development teams become more diverse, people who didn't learn American English and idiomatic usages will be reading the documents that you write. You will be able to work more effectively with folks that have learned English as a second (third, fourth) language if you can write clearly in English. That makes the team that you are part of more valuable to your employer.

I work with folks who speak many different languages on a daily basis. Most of the communication between us is written (as e-mails and IMs). Your communication will probably be written, too.

I would add a corollary to this advice, targeted at American C.S. students:

Study a Language other than English
I don't have advice on which language you "should" study. The software development world is changing too fast for such specific advice to useful or relevant by the time you read this.

Studying another language will improve your ability to "see" that you are not "on the same wavelength" with a peer. That is a valuable skill... The faster you realize there is a problem in your communications, the faster they can be corrected and the "real work" can happen. This even applies to situations where you are both speaking English.

Full disclosure: I studied French for a couple years in high school. 
   I can say crepe with the worst of them.  I studied Mandarin for a
   couple years in college. I still eat with a fork when I go to a
   Chinese restaurant. 

Thursday Jul 12, 2007

Unusual Customer Service

Today, my wife ran into some good customer service... With a twist that made it worth mentioning...

She called Southwest Airlines to rebook a flight, since their web site was a bit finicky about the flight that she wanted to change. (It was the second half of a round-trip, where the first half of the trip had been completed).

She got connected with an agent and started to explain that she needed to rebook a flight. The agent said, "I'm sorry, we cannot rebook flights on Thursday". This statement was obviously a joke... and maybe not a very good one, considering the "state" that most folks are in when they need to speak to an agent...

But, my wife is a problem solver and a has a bit of pirate in her.. Think Jack Sparrow... and was able to reply, in almost the exact same deadpan as she got from the agent, "I am sorry to hear that. Lucky for me the flight I want to change is on a Monday".

The rest of the transaction went without a hitch and, I hope, both sides of it got a bit of a chuckle from it... I know we both did.

Sunday Jun 10, 2007

A Web two dot Noooooo idea

I was reading through TechCrunch this morning and came across this article about a web app for chore management. This is just wrong on so many levels, it boggles the mind.

I can hardly wait for the 'auction extension' which will allow you to have your kids bid against each other for chores. Let's take sibling issues to a whole new level.

Having a new brother or sister will be even more of an issue than it is for your kids then. Everybody knows that the younger kids will work for lower wages, since they don't really understand the concept of money. Who can compete with a sib that will do a dollar job for a quarter, because it is shiny... Or 15 cents instead of a quarter, because they will get two shiny coins instead of just one...

And then the 'outsourcing extension' which lets the kids in your neighborhood bid against your own kids to do the chores on your chore list.

But watch out for the 'what is that chore worth' extension that will allow your kids to see what other kids are making for the same chore in other families.

Are strikes that far behind....

Eventually, somebody will create a mashup on StreetView, that let's kids find houses in their neighborhood with long grass and windows that could use a good washing....

There will be roving gangs of jr. entrepreneur roaming the streets, fixing up the neighborhood, making our neighborhoods, towns and cities better places to live!

Oh. Never mind.

Monday Apr 23, 2007

Play on...

My kids reminded me that today marks the 391st anniversary of William Shakespeare's demise this morning.

I could not be prouder.

They learned this fact during our recent vacation in England and France. They remember this fact because of the excellent kid oriented history books produced by Scholastic, "Horrible Histories" and "Dead Famous".

My twins are currently studying American colonial history so these books are providing some interesting alternate perspectives and expanding their knowledge of the events and personalities involved.

Wednesday Feb 21, 2007

I liked this

Joel's take on remarkable customer service.

It is amazing that such humble goals can be such lofty standards.

Tuesday Feb 20, 2007

This reminds me of the Buggles

This is a short account of a driver update gone wrong. I have two purposes behind telling this story here:

  1. Document the issue and solution with enough descriptive detail that the next user who runs into this issue will find the solution with google. I had tried but had been unsuccessful. Now that I know what the solution is, I have been able to find a number of other users that have had this same issue.
  2. Describe the issue with enough detail that someone can prevent users from ever running into this situation again.

Executive Summary

Running the driver updater for Solaris X86 that ships on the Tools & Drivers CD 1.5 appears to disable the X Window Server's higher screen resolution capability. When the user reboots the machine, the X server restarts with a resolution of 640x480. The user needs to intervene to restore their system to a useful state.

Gory Details for Spiders and the Desperate

I have an Ultra 20 M2 (A88-GGZ1-AA-2GBGA) that sits next to my desk. I had installed Solaris 11/06 on it and have been using it for about a month. It is driving an old Sony monitor at the useful resolution of 1600x1200 pixels. I have been happy with it, but a co-worker indicated that he had been in other offices where the owner's M2 was much quieter than mine. He indicated that the issue might be resolved by downloading a BIOS update.

I used Google to discover the Tools & Drivers CD page. I downloaded the ISO image and burned it. I took the disk to my office the next day.

I inserted the disk in the DVD drive and rebooted the machine. I was able to update the BIOS very easily.

When the machine rebooted the fan was quieter.

Since the BIOS update seemed painless and useful, I decided to also use the disk to update the drivers.

I logged in as a regular user with the X Server running at 1600x1200. I inserted the CD back into the drive. I opened a terminal window and used su to become a super-user. I issues a cd command to get to the directory that holds the driver update for Solaris x86.

Once I was in the right directory, I executed the script The script appeared to execute without error and prompted me to reboot. I did.

When the system rebooted, the screen resolution had been reduced from 1600x1200 to 640x480. When I used the widget that changes the screen resolution to fix this, I discovered that 640x480 was the only resolution choice available.

All of this happened on Friday afternoon. My office building was about to have massive electrical work performed on it over the week-end, so I shut the system down. It was one of those 'he who fights and runs away...' kind of moments.

Over the week-end, searched around on google for anything that looked like it might be other users who had run into this situation. I wasn't able to find any... At least none with an answer.

I started three threads on the Sun support forums over the course of Friday night and Saturday morning. I figured it was a pretty good choice, since Sun has development centers in about 8 different timezones. Surely there would be someone who would see this issue and be able to provide direction on how to enable higher screen resolutions.

Once Monday came around, with no answer, I started another thread on the OpenSolaris discussion forum for desktop related issues. That thread did generate a hint on what to check but came to me through an e-mail[1].

On Monday afternoon, one of my threads on Sun's support forum did get some other suggestions of what could be wrong.

On Tuesday morning, I started to follow up on the hints and queries that I had gotten.

The first thing that I needed to do was find out which X Window Server my system was running now. I used 'ps' and discovered that my system was running the server from In the e-mail that had some suggestions of what to check, I was told to look for /etc/X11/xorg.conf.

When I checked for that file, it was not there. I do not know whether there had been one and the had deleted it or if it had never been available on the machine I was using. I may never know.

Once I discovered that the xorg.conf file was not avaiable, I logged out.

I then logged into my system as root using the 'Command line login' option on the login screen. this option shuts down the X Window Server, so that you can do configuration activities that might not be safe when the server is actually running.

Once I was logged in, I used the following command to create a new configuration file:

/usr/X11/bin/Xorg -configure
This command creates a new file in the current directory named ''.

I inspected the file and was a bit overwhelmed by the details, but did see the string 1600x1200 and many other "standard" resolutions listed. So, I used the command

cp /etc/X11/xorg.conf
to put this new file in the proper location.

After I logged out as root, the X Window Server restarted, in a very useful high screen resolution (1600x1200).

Open Issues

  1. Was there an /etc/X11/xorg.conf file before I ran the
  2. Why didn't the notice that there wasn't an /etc/X11/xorg.conf after it had finished, but before I was asked to reboot the system?
  3. If there hadn't been an xorg.conf file before the updater ran, why did the X Window Server appear to need it after the update ran?


I want to thank peterchun and Robert Kinsella for their helpful advice and suggestions. Without their help, I would have not been able to get any work done for Sun today. If either of you make it to Santa Clara, California, look me up and I will buy you lunch.


Vince Kraemer writes the entries in this blog.


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