Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mind-Boggling Idiocy

Last week I ordered a monitor. A Dell 2408WFP. I have one at work, and I know it to be a great monitor, so I wanted to get one for home as well. For work, it took roughly 3 days from the time I ordered it until the time it was delivered to my cubicle.

I placed the order with Dell last week, but today it looked like it was seriously stuck in the "in production" phase. What's there to 'produce' anyway? It's just a monitor. There's no customization needed. It just needs to go in a box. So I submitted a web request with Dell Customer Service, which included my name, customer number, order number, home address and so-on. I jokingly asked, "is it being assembled one pixel at a time?"

I got back an automated response telling me that the industry standard for stuck or dead pixels is 5 per screen, and that if I had that many or fewer, I'd just have to live with it. Or if that didn't answer my question, I could reply. I made the mistake of replying.

I say 'mistake' because Dell has outsourced customer service to semi-sentient balls of yarn in India, and what happened next was a colossal waste of my time. The one saving grace is that from a certain perspective, it is a funny waste of my time, especially when the conversation is condensed and all the email headers removed. I shall present the conversation to you now, replacing the Dell representative's name with the word "yarn."

Me: I didn't ask about stuck/dead pixels. I asked why it's taking so long to process my order for a non-customized piece of equipment.

Yarn: To protect your data privacy, we require a Dell identification number. This can be found on any communication you have received regarding this order. A Dell identification number can be an order number, customer number, service tag number, express service code number, case number, or DPS number. In order to resolve your concern I would request you to provide the name on the account as it appears on the original order documents. Please get back in touch with us once you have located this information and we will be glad to assist you.

Me: My name, customer number, order number and address are already in this email if only you would look. What more do you need?

Yarn: In order to resolve your concern I would request you to provide the complete name on the account as it appears on the original order documents.

Me: It's the same name that it's been in all of my emails: Nicklas Johnson.

Yarn: Your order number ######### is currently in production and has an estimated delivery date of 8/8/2008-8/12/2008. You can track the status of your order online by visiting
and entering your order number ######### and customer number ########.

Me: Yes, I already knew all of that. My question is: why is it stuck in the "in production" state for such a long time? It's been "in production" for almost a week. There's nothing to "produce" since the only thing in the order is a monitor. What takes so long?

Yarn: It is just an estimated delivery date, however, the order might be delivered to you before that also. Orders can be delayed for a variety of reasons.

Me: I appreciate that orders can be delayed for a variety of reasons. My question is, what is delaying MY order?

Yarn: Orders can be delayed for a variety of reasons. Please be informed that we will not be able to specify any particular reason.

Me: Who can?

Yarn: Orders can be delayed for a variety of reasons. Please be informed that we will not be able to specify any particular reason.

Me: You already said that. I asked "who can?" As in, "who can read my email and give me a constructive response that addresses my initial question?" or "who can tell me why it is taking such a large amount of time to fulfill a simple order for one item that requires absolutely no customization of any kind?" Who can investigate further and explain why this order is stuck? How do I contact that person or persons?

Yarn: I apologize you are experiencing this delay. Dell is making every effort to ship your order as soon as possible. The most current information we have is that your order number ######### should ship on or before the Estimated Delivery Date of 8/8/2008-8/12/2008.

(It is at this point that I gave up.)

Hey, Dell: you guys are assholes.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tally-Ho Resumes!

After quite a long pause, Tally-Ho is once again moving along. This weekend I managed to upgrade to Wicket 1.3.4 from 1.2.6. This was much less painful than I had anticipated. It was primarily a matter of updating to the new package names and then fixing the Validators and calls to getModel() and setModel(). At the same time I also updated my development environment at home to Eclipse Ganymede and the latest Java 1.6 JDK. And just for show, I updated to OpenJPA 1.1.0.

One bit of weirdness to note is that data caching doesn't seem to work properly in OpenJPA using Java 1.6 runtime class retransformation. I discovered this the hard way by forgetting to include the -javaagent VM argument when running my unit tests. On 1.5, this didn't have as weird a failure mode... OpenJPA seemed to cope with it. With 1.6, it seems to lose track of object identity, such that when queries are run that should be returning the same object (or at least the newly queried version of an updated object), sometimes different objects or old versions of objects are returned.

The moral of the story is to specify -javaagent with OpenJPA at runtime if you're not doing static instrumentation of your classes. Class retransformation doesn't work properly yet. If I can find some time, I'll create a simple testcase for the OpenJPA folks demonstrating the problem.

Left to go on Tally-Ho is completing the arbitrary content with attachments feature, and then looking at Spring to see if / what can be leveraged to make life a little bit easier/simpler.

In other news, this is my 200th blog post. Woohoo?


Monday, July 21, 2008


ace loves daddy's lap

Saturday, July 19, 2008

new cat6 ethernet ports

I opted to put the new Cat-6 Ethernet ports underneath the existing outlet rather than to the left of it (to the right is a stud) because it would look less weird and require less reaching to connect. I tried to get the top to roughly line up with the top of the stairway railing. (It's actually a bit high by maybe an eighth of an inch.)

Both ports connect to a Linksys gigabit ethernet switch in the attic. Today was the first time I've used a punch-down tool in roughly 11 years. Fortunately, they still work exactly the same way they did 11 years ago.

(That thing hanging down from the outlet is a wireless doorbell chime extender. Downstairs there's a module that sticks to the doorbell and 'listens' for it to ring. When it picks up a sufficiently loud noise, it transmits a signal to the extension chime so we can hear it upstairs when the doorbell rings downstairs.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

hoya likes spatula

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Some pictures from the Mount Shasta trip

Many thanks to Mike, one of my climbing peers, here are a couple pictures of me from the Mount Shasta climbing adventure.

This is what I looked like in the middle of the night before we started climbing. Note the apprehensive look on my face that shouts, "hooooooh boy do I really want to do this?"

And this is what I looked like toward the top of the West Face. Note how much more tired and basically dead I look. Altitude sickness sucks.


My Creme Brulee Recipe

I use the term 'my' loosely, unlike John McCain and his wife who tend to publish other people's recipes copied & pasted wholesale as their own. I did not invent creme brulee, and I adapted this recipe from the most excellent Roxube recipe. Key differences:

Flavor it with 2 tsp vanilla extract and 1 tbsp triple sec. Using real vanilla bean sounds like a neat idea, but vanilla beans are really expensive, and all those nice black specs just sank to the bottom of the ramekins, so there was nothing to enjoy. And triple sec is just good.

Use 1/3 cup sugar rather than 1/4. Come on, don't pretend anything about this is good for you. If you're going to eat a high-calorie dessert that would kill you if you had it often, you might as well not skimp on the sugar. I like using baker's sugar for the brulee because it's finer and dissolves and mixes with the egg yolks faster.

I found that it was easiest to get the custard mix into the ramekins using a ladle rather than trying to get all that mix into yet another container to pour it.

Use a convection oven at 300 degrees fahrenheit for exactly 23 minutes.

Aside from that, it's easiest just to follow the Youtube Video.

I calculated that if you throw a couple berries on top of the brulee, the final calorie count if you use 6 ramekins comes to about 450 each. Fortunately, you can also burn 450 calories on an elliptical machine in 30-45 minutes if you work at it. Isn't it worth it?


Monday, July 14, 2008

Solved: the monitor/video card ass-pain

I am not a gamer. Let's just get that out of the way right now. With my desktop PC I do things like edit sound files with Sound Forge or browse the web or edit documents. My video needs are minimal. The biggest workout my video card ever gets is playing video files with VLC.

I am, however, a bit of an energy efficiency nut, which is why when I designed my "new" PC (now a couple years old) I chose a reasonably capable motherboard that had decent onboard video and sound and minimal power consumption. While I did eventually end up upgrading the sound card (the one on the board ultimately ended up being too noisy and always required DC offset adjustment), I have never had any desire to upgrade to an energy-hogging video card with 8 fans and its own power connector. I like my cool, 100-watt, quiet PC as it is.

Almost the entire time I've had this PC, however, I've been plagued by an irritating problem. If I turned off the Viewsonic vx2035wm monitor I had plugged into the Wintec ADD2 DVI card (one thing the Intel DG965OT board lacked was an on-board DVI connector) and turned it back on, the resolution changed from 1680x1050 to 1400x1050. Sometimes Windows would also change its idea of my monitor from the Viewsonic to the Default Monitor. No amount of BIOS upgrading or video driver updating or monitor driver updating seemed to make any difference.

Today I decided I wanted to rule out a problem with the Wintec ADD2 card, so I pulled the card and plugged the monitor into the analog VGA port. Of course this makes the video look quite ugly. What I found was that after installing the drivers for the monitor, it wasn't getting detected, and if I updated the driver to the Viewsonic one by hand, I wasn't able to even select the native resolution at all.

That led me to Intel's solution ID CS-028366. A problem with reading the EDID from some flat panel monitors with Intel's G965 video chipset leads the driver to fail to see the native resolution of the display. Intel cooked up a special driver for people experiencing this problem, which can be downloaded from the solution page. I updated to this driver, and that made it possible to select the native resolution for the display in analog mode.

This got me to wondering if misreading the EDID could cause the problem I had with the digital connector as well, so I powered down and reconnected the ADD2 card. After restarting I found that in fact, the native resolution of the monitor was selected each time if I turned off my monitor and turned it back on now. Problem solved, provided it doesn't randomly return as things sometimes do in the Windows XP world.

Intel doesn't provide much in the way of technical details about what causes the problem or what their fixed driver actually does, but we might be able to guess from their saying "there may be side effects to this solution such as longer than normal resume times from standby" that either they're requesting the EDID at a lower bit rate, they're requesting the EDID multiple times looking for matching data, or they're throwing in a short delay after waking up the monitor and before requesting the EDID (perhaps monitors with limited horsepower can only tackle one task at a time and the delay permits the monitor some time to finish starting up the display before having to answer an EDID request).

In any case, I'm glad I can finally turn my monitor off.

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