Jason's Blog

Technical

I hate Entourage

by on Dec.28, 2006, under General, Reviews, Technical

Flat out, HATE the application.  I use it because I have to since the campus has the huge exchange system, and to do any kind of calendaring support in a reasonable way, I'm stuck using it, but  I hate using Entourage.  The application itself is relatively slow to respond at times (I'm on a 1Ghz G4, 512MB ram system atm), the interface is HORRIBLE.  It feels like someone slapped a huge number of buttons in random locations trying to get things to work.  For example, there are a huge number of buttons with text that appears and disappears as the window resizes.  Instead of perhaps giving you the option to just hide the text, or choose to display it under the icon, etc, they try and squeeze stuff in.  Finding which menu sets the preferences for the toolbar is kludgy at best (I'm not sure there is a preference other than to use small or big icons), rather than ANY other application on OS X which makes use of "Preferences->Toolbar" or right mouse clicking on the toolbar to set preferences. 

Note, this is just ONE aspect I hate.  And it's only the toolbar.  The interface for browsing your email, one of the absolute most important parts of the interface leaves me wanting to strangle the engineers who developed this.  First, it would be nice if it decently supported threading – something every major mail application has supported in one fashion or another for years.  Yes, there is "group by conversion" which barely works half the time (watch what happens if people send blank subjects or the same subject lines).  Further, watch what happens when you change your sorting methods, and you're trying to delete email.  Instead of handling this, i.e. when you sort ascending by date (then grouped by thread), instead of moving you to the next unread message, it moves you to the previous email message.  Reverse the order, and the behavior reverses itself entirely.  OS X Mail at least works the same way – you hit delete in either ascending or descending order, and it moves in the same direction – towards the top of the list.  Here's another gripe – delete a "Conversation" (again, Microsoft's attempt to do threads under a different name no one uses), and you completely lose the focus in the listing of your email and have to start over.  Instead of allowing mouse movement, you have to either click on a message, or use the home and end keys.  THIS IS HORRIBLE DESIGN>

Overall the interface just feels like it's legacy code from the OS 9 days, and is so complex with no cohesion that it makes it difficult to use.  I'm stuck with it because I have to, but more and more, I think I'm going to have to find a way to get rid of Entourage.  If the Exchange webmail worked at all decently with FireFox, I'd stop using Entourage and switch to webmail entirely.  Interface design is VASTLY more important than people could ever realize.  How many clicks does it take to do something.  Is there keyboard shortcuts available?  Things like this make a person who has to use such an application in a day-in, day-out basis vastly more efficient, and less frustrating.  This is why Microsoft is failing, and OS X succeeding – Apple understands interface design and making it usable in a way that Microsoft has NEVER understood.  I just can't wait for the day Microsoft figures this out… until then, I'll use Entourage only because I have no decent alternative.

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Oracle Virtual Private Databases, how I’ve implemented them, and a bug I hit

by on Sep.05, 2006, under Technical

Ok, just to note – this post probably won’t mean a whole lot for most people, as it will be pretty technical in nature.  SO, for those who are not interested in “tech” details, feel free to read something else.  I’d suggest Slashdot but that can be as “geeky” at times too.  Continue to read at your own peril wink

First, for those not aware, I do a LOT of development in Oracle databases.  I’ve been using Oracle on Linux servers since RedHat 6, and Oracle 8 was out.  I’ve hit all kinds of bugs, oddities, etc. in that time.  Every so often I find a behavior that drives me nuts, or that I have to ask “WHY did you guys do something like this???” Today is another one of those days where the Oracle developers have me “fuming.”

Before I get into the bug I hit, let me explain what’s going on and what I’ve been working on most of the past year.  I’ve been working on upgrading an application for the University of Missouri.  I’m moving an application from 4 distinct databases and schemas, to one centralized database, as well as doing a complete rewrite of the database structure, and the code which accesses that data.  The application I’m working on tracks project information for each of the University of Missouri System campuses.  The application, called “Projex”, tracks every bit of a project from start to complete, including funding, cost analysis, payments, warranties, clients & managers, agreement details, contract details, cost breakdowns, and everything else under the sun.  Each University of Missouri campus, currently, has their own database separate from any other campus’s.  The reasons for this are varied, but the biggest reason was the application was not originally written to handle multiple separate entities sharing a set of data, yet having distinct parts.  Thus, the major rewrite of the application to merge these databases, add some extra functionality and security for separating out data, as well as move to a web platform for ease of access.  Needless to say – I’ve been BUSY.  However, the changes should add a lot of functionality, and prevent some of the duplication issues I’ve seen with the separate databases. 

Having all of our data in a centralized database is a wonderful thing for reports, maintenance, and other tasks, but it also presents a security concern – how do we prevent Rolla users from seeing Columbia users data.  How do we allow System users access to everything.  Well, the way I’ve implemented this security is by implementing a feature in Oracle called VPD – Virtual Private Databases. Virtual Private Databasing is one of those technologies that is amazing, does it’s job well, and in the right place is a wonderful feature.  It’s what is allowing us to use a centralized database yet still make sure “Bob in Rolla” or “John Doe” in Columbia can only see the things they’re supposed to see.  The trick, which leads to the bug I’ve been working on, is that Virtual Private Databases are complex to implement effectively.  Here’s how I’ve “implemented” my solution for VPD’s and the one “bug” I’ve hit:

(continue reading…)

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Gmail account!!! :)

by on Jun.29, 2004, under Technical

Well, I now have one of the gmail accounts coveted by so many smile Feel free to drop me an email – mcintoshj@gmail.com so I can test the thing out, see how it works. 1GB of storage!!! smile Plus, the interface is one of the best web based email interfaces I’ve seen. Help me test it! Email me! wink

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A good weekend minus some annoying computer problems…

by on Jun.13, 2004, under Technical

First, had a massive party (well, massive for a summer party in a college town) with a bunch of friends visiting. That was pretty cool. Stayed up, talked about music, saw some old friends, had some beers/drinks, did the traditional flaming piniata (pictures will possibly follow, depending on susceptibility of guilt), and otherwise had a good ol’ time. This wasn’t the high point of the weekend (that was hanging out on Saturday night – details may follow later wink ), but it was a lot of fun.

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon. I of course don’t wake up till like 12 in the afternoon, with some of my guests who after having stayed over, decided to wake up early to play video games and talk VERY loudly – annoying me in my sleeping state (which changed to unsleeping). I groggily woke up, complained bitterly at the poor performance of their video game skills, while wanting more to harass them for the error of waking up before 3pm on a saturday. Of course, all of this might be due to having had a lot to drink the night before, and being slightly dehydrated (go figure) and irritable.

On to Saturday evening. I was originally supposed to get cleaned up, and go to St. Louis to hang out with associated guests and other friends. I ended up being a lazy bum and sitting around the house most of the day, doing absolutely nothing. But all good things end and eventually I got cleaned up, did some basic chores, etc. This though involved me staying at home and doing these activities – no St. Louis for me this weekend. Anyways, after getting cleaned up, I decided to go out for the evening, as I’d been sitting at home all day bored out of my mind and loving it. Heck, why not go OUT and be bored – it’s just as fun! Course, this adventure was a lot more expensive, and I ended up hanging out till wayy late at night, but it was a LOT of fun, and very enjoyable. As said, details may follow at some point, but it was my night out, by myself to relax and enjoy myself. I had fun, and ended up staying out late into the evening. This adventure was most worth it, but eventually of course, it gets late and the bed starts to call. I don’t remember exactly when I decided it was time to head home, but it was around 3:am or so (I think). Here’s the fun part: I decide it would be a brilliant idea to go into work, to finish up some stuff I had to do later on Sunday, EARLY Sunday morning instead of Sunday afternoon, thus leaving my whole day free.

Let’s just say my plans didn’t go exactly well. First, I get to work, and find out some files I needed to do my work were missing. I was upgrading the firmware on our main network swtich, and needed those files to do the upgrades. A coworker was supposed to have placed them online where I could access them, as I don’t personally have access to the files directly. In addition to upgrading the switch firmware, I had planned on increasing the MAX_SGA size on one of our larger Oracle databases. Although most of you have NO clue what I’m talking about, let’s just say that these two tasks are sometimes difficult, but generally not too big of a deal – I’d figured maybe 30 minutes or so of work, tops. Particularly for one of my what-I-thought-were-amazing skills . So, instead of upgrading the firmware on the main network switch, I just did some other maintenance on the thing. And of course, this maintenance instead of taking something like 20 minutes to complete, takes an hour or so, and I’m sweating the whole time – because after rebooting the switch to enable the configuration changes, the thing has MASSIVE problems. When your workplace involves a couple of hundred people who depend entirely on this thing which isn’t working, you would start being VERY nervous too. However, my “l33t” skills prevailed, and I managed to fix everything. Course, by the end of this, it was something like 5am or so. I think – I got a little hazy on the details around that time.

For the astute reader, I mentioned two tasks – a network switch update, as well as an Oracle configuration change (That’s what changing the SGA is), and have noticed that I didn’t discuss the SGA issue. First, brilliant me said screw it, I’m going to go ahead and finish everything this morning as it should be VERY easy to change the max sga – I’ve done it before, and it’s a 5 minute thing. Let’s just say not only was this NOT a smart idea, but this was as hair-raising and annoying as the network switch issue. First, a large part of this is a rant on STUPID FRIGGING @#$ING MICROSOFT PRODUCTS. *sigh* Oracle on Windows seems to have a problem handling roughly anything larger than a 2GB memory configuration. Yes, most of you out there have only 128MB or 256MB or even 512MB of RAM in your machine – but this is a large server. It’s actually got 4GB of RAM in it, most of which should be dedicated to Oracle. However, the either stuipd Winblows or Oracle itself won’t allow Oracle to use even half of the memory on that system – even though it’s all reserved for Oracle. Guess what though – instead of failing gracefully when I tried to increase the memory, Oracle fails miserably. i.e. it won’t start at all. Further, after TRYING to start, it locks the memory for the database, so you can’t shut it down and restart the database without restarting the computer. Even more fun? This parameter is stored in a binary file, so you really need to have Oracle STARTED in order to change the settings. Can we see the logic loop which annoys me greatly here? Change memory in Oracle -> Oracle fails badly upon start -> Need to change Memory configuration -> Have to have database started to change memory configuration -> See Oracle fails badly upon start and repeat. *sigh* After another hour or so, and a lot of work, I managed to start Oracle with a non-binary file (for those technical peeps, it’s starting oracle with the init.ora file instead of the spfile that oracle uses by default now) and get everything working. By the time I’m done with everything though, it’s about 6:30am.

Now, on top of all of the above, I had to go in yet AGAIN this evening, after one of our other network switches started failing to respond. So, spent another 2 hours or so updating the firmware on these other switches (thankfully, I had the files for these switches so I could update their firmware), resetting them, etc. The time it took was mostly downloading the files, figuring out the settings for a TFTP server and getting that working, updating the switch, and then another chunk of time fixing a few other network devices which failed afterwards. So, all in all, I probably spent 4 or more hours doing work stuff this weekend, in funky hours of the morning, when sleeping would have been MUCH smarter and more enjoyable. Ahhh the joys and wonders of being a computer nut….

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A morning of rants on Internet Explorer

by on May.24, 2004, under Technical

Had a fun morning ranting and raving about the inconsistencies and horrible job that Microsoft’s HORRIBLE browser known as Internet Explorer does with most web pages. I apologize to all you PC users who think it’s a great browser – well, no I don’t apologize. It’s a LOUSY browser. Check out mozilla firefox, or any number of other options. Get rid of the worst browser ever – Internet Explorer.

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Some game nostalgia here

by on Apr.27, 2004, under Technical

A friend send me a link to this online html based game and it got me started thinking about some old game systems I ran. I used to run a MUD (Multi User Dungeon) back when I was in highschool (a LONG time ago). Well, just for nostalgia sake, I started the thing up. You can try playing it here. It’s a pretty cool system, although it takes a few minutes to learn the basiscs. Try it out, see what ya think!

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If you use OS X Mail, check this out.

by on Mar.08, 2004, under Technical

One of the big beefs I’ve had with mail is NOT enabling the proper signature for each account I’m using to send email. Someone else apparantly had that same issue, and released a mail bundle which helps out. Mail Enhancer is definitely on my MUST have for OS X list.

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Here comes the cybernetic era!

by on Mar.04, 2004, under Technical

I saw this thing that DARPA is funding, and it just makes me think more and more, that here soon, we’ll all have exoskeletons or powered armor type stuff. It’s a cool concept, and could be a big boon helping with movement, inventory control, and a whole range of applications (including millitary applications). Further, add on smart helmets, add some armor, and you’ve got a “mobile suit” that can carry around a ton of ammo, heavy weaponry, but take a beating while doing it. One man tank type stuff. Anyways, cool concept, and it’ll be interesting to see how it and “cyber assist” type stuff work out these next few years.

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More RSS stuff

by on Mar.04, 2004, under Technical

Was looking at some technical articles, and felt I had to post some stuff. First, for those windows users out there needing an rss aggregator, check rss reader and another free one I found, where you can even download the source code, rss bandit. They’re definitely interesting in what they offer, but I don’t think they’re near as clean as the Mac version of NetNewsWire. However, that’s what you get for using windows. Anyways, take a look. I’m posting my rss feeds file, for those curious as to what I check out. It’s an opml file, and any rss reader should understand it. Download it here:rss_feeds.opml

So, go download one of those programs, download that rss_feeds.opml, import it and try it out! On the left side, you can see the xml feed button for the site. It’s an rss 2.0 feed, for those curious.

I’ll have some other posts and stuff later, but that’ll come after more thinking, analyzing, etc. My usual – any time I encounter or see something, I end up thinking about it, almost over analyzing at times. But, that’s me. smile

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Source code, presentation, etc.

by on Feb.12, 2004, under Technical

I gave a presentation the other night to the University of Missouri Mac Users Group and Association for Computing Machinery group on campus. The presentation was a REALLY quick run through on programming on OS X. I’m posting the tar.gz file which includes the presentation, a SIMPLE java program (which doesn’t have much at all), and last, but not least, the source code for the site here. I’m calling the project “PHBlog” right now, and releasing it under the GPL. If you want just the source for this site, you can download it here: phblog_source.tar.gz and if you want the presentation on Oracle, PHP, Java, etc. on OS X, you can find that here: MUG_ACM_Presentation.tar.gz. Feel free to email me with any questions.

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