Search
Subscribe
Twitterfeed

What's Happening?
Sunday
Oct262014

Note to Self

Maybe this is weird but then again I've never claimed to not be weird.

I'm an "IT Guy". In the course of my job I often encounter technical issues ranging from the simple & mundane to the rare & cryptic. There are easy ones; A well-written, verbose error on a popular piece of software. If the solution is not obvious from the error, a quick trip to the vendors website or support pages should do the trick. The more difficult issues arise on custom-built, abandoned, or obscure software where the error message is something like "Unknown Error 1". And some of the trickiest are when I'm developing custom applications of my own.

I've developed a pretty reliable troubleshooting escalation list that has been handy.

Read the error - As mentioned earlier, sometimes error messages give you everything you need to solve the problem. A file permission is wrong. A configuration setting is missing, etc. Take action based on the error and try again.

Experience - How well do you know the app? Have you encountered similar problems in the same application? In other applications? This can be a good place to start.

Internal SMEs - Sometimes the fastest answer comes from the people that know best. If you have in-person access to a Subject Matter Expert don't waste time searching. While you might find a resolution online, the subject matter expert can teach you why something was broken enhancing your understanding and increasing your self-sufficiency.

Search - Obviously the Internet is a tremendous resource. Remember that error message above? The reason it sucks is because the error code was 1. If the error was something like "1326" you'd be a lot more likely to find useful information with a web search. The more detail you have the better off you are. Stay active in the vendors forums and support pages to reduce your time-to-resolution.

Collaborate - If you can't find the answer, engage a co-worker, contact, Linked-In friend, etc. Even if that person is not an SME (see above), it really is true that "two heads are better than one". Working through an issue together and with a fresh set of eyes can help you pick up on things you missed before.

Trouble Ticket - If you must... open a trouble ticket with the vendor. The ranking of this option on the scale actually varies drastically depending on the package you're supporting and the vendor. Some vendors have top-notch support that can answer even complex questions quickly. Many, however, do not and will simply open a work order, give you the number, and hopefully you'll hear back from someone in a week or so. If the vendor is good use them by all means. In that case they're effectively the SMEs from above.

That all seems rational and not-at-all wierd. It's the last item on my list that seems a bit strange... at least to me.

Note to Self - When all else fails, I write an email... to myself. I work through as much detail as I can think of even the seemingly trivial bits. I write it as if I'm asking a friend for help. A friend that knows only the basics of the application or issue and would appreciate knowing the specifics and the steps I've taken so far and the results they produced. I find that similar to collaborating, this can refresh my perspective on the issue and take me down new paths of resolution that I may have been overlooking due to blind familiarity.

Believe it or not, this last method has saved me more than once. In fact just recently and that's when I wondered if anyone else does this?

How about you? What creative troubleshooting steps do you employ?

Tuesday
Sep302014

Recreational Password Guessing

I have a TrueCrypt volume that's been hanging around for more than a year now. It's fairly small (<5GB) and has a non-informative name. I don't remember where it's from; I know it's from my previous (or even older) laptop and has just been carried forward in the "things to keep" folder.

However, I have absolutely no idea what the password for the volume is. So, every now and again I give it a few guesses. Today was one of those days. Thwarted again.

Sunday
Sep142014

New Number, Same Credit Card Fraud

Funny thing happened this past week. Not funny ha-ha, funny odd. Earlier this year I received a call from Citibank’s “Early Warning Fraud Detection” department letting me know that someone attempted to use my credit card for online purchases from Malmö in Sweden. They shut down the account number and issued me a new card with a new number. You can read more about that in this post.

Since then I’ve used the card very little. I’ve generated VANs (Virtual Account Numbers) with it for purchasing cellphone reloads for my mother-in-law. I used it once at a local auto-repair shop and I used it for travel expenses during a long road trip.

A couple of days ago I again got a call from the same Fraud Detection department at Citibank. It seems my new card number on the same account was being used for attempted purchases in Denmark… and Sweden. In fact, the same online merchant in Sweden as the last time.

This is too coincidental to me.

The first time it happened my prime suspect was the pay-as-you-go cell service provider. But, I never gave them my new card number. Gas stations seem like one of the most likely places for a card number to escape into the wild what with the proliferation of skimmers. I’m fairly diligent about examining card readers and even pulling on them before entering my card. But, I’ve seen some good ones and can’t say with certainty that I wouldn’t fall for it. What are the odds, though, that I would have used the cards at the same random gas station hundreds of miles from home twice over the course of nearly a year and then had the numbers stolen and used in the same way?

The final suspect is the local auto-repair shop. I had used the card there once prior to the initial incident when I had some work done last year.

At this point, I’m not sure what to think. I’ve got a new card with a new number in the mail.

Saturday
Aug092014

Let's All Go to the Movies

Call me crazy but I've been thinking a lot lately about how much I'm looking forward to sharing some of my favorite movies with my son. The fact that he's only 7 months-old just means I have plenty of time to plan. My wife and I have discussed the appropriate age for some movies... and she has weighed in with her opinions after getting past the fact that I'm crazy.

----------

Gremlins - PG

A Christmas favorite! But, how old should my little guy be before I let him watch it? There's the super cute Gizmo... but there's also 'the microwave scene'. I'm thinking I was 11-12 the first time I saw Gremlins so I think somewhere in the 10-12 range for my boy. I said 10... she said 12.

Blade Runner - R

My all-time-favorite movie. This one is definitely not for youngsters. Even if you look past the darkness and violence, the underlying theme of what makes us human would be lost on kids. I really don't know what the appropriate age is here... Should I make him read the book first? 14? 16?

Blazing Saddles - R

This is probably the movie I'm most looking forward to sharing. A Mel Brooks classic that wouldn't even be possible to make today. I'm sure we'll have to talk about the appropriateness of some of the language, but I think it's important to be exposed to potentially uncomfortable situations that make us question and discuss. And then there's the campfire scene... did I mention I'm looking forward to this? 14?

The Entire James Bond Filmology - PG - PG-13

Once a year I watch all the James Bond films in order (by release). Yes, that means I've seen Moonraker more times than is safe but it's the price I pay. I found an excellent article over on Fandango titled "When Can I Watch James Bond With My Kids". I agree with their assessment of the level of violence and sexual innuendo and that for the most part it's far less explicit than a lot of other offerings. I believe the suggested age range mentioned near the end of the article (9-11) seems like a good fit.

Apocalypse Now - R

This one is going to need some more thought...

----------

Of course, all of this may be negated by the fact that my kid may not even want to watch these movies. Or he may suffer through them out of pity for his old man and it may not turn out to be quite the bonding (no pun intended) moment that I'd hoped.

 

Saturday
Jul192014

Three Months with Windows Phone

A few notes on Windows Phone. I’ve had my Samsung ATIV S Neo for about 3 months now so I guess it’s fair to make some observations. First, this hasn’t been my primary phone. I still use my iPhone 5 for day-to-day communication like calling and texting. I have, however, made an effort to use the Samsung when I can.

It’s running Windows Phone 8.1 and for the short time I had it with 8.0, I can say that this is a great upgrade.

Below are a few observations and comparisons between these two phones and their operating systems.

Advantage : Samsung

Screen

The 4.7” screen on the Neo is big and bright. It looks great and feels like an improvement compared to the iPhone 5’s 4-inch screen.

Advantage : Windows Phone

Keyboard

Word Flow. The “Swipe” style of text input is outstanding. Besides having physically more real-estate for the keyboard, this input method works surprisingly well. It’s impressively accurate and when there are mistakes, suggestions are displayed for quick changes. This is the Number 1 complaint I have with my iPhone’s on-screen keyboard. The AutoCorrect suggestions are OK, but this is a clear win for Windows Phone.

Home Screen

Live Tiles. It seems that people love them or hate them. I’m in the former camp. I like the style of app placeholders that can update their content and change dynamically. I’m happy to see the improvements Microsoft has made in this area. I don’t hate my iPhone’s home screen (Springboard), but it does feel a bit long in the tooth even with the iOS 7 update.

Advantage : iPhone / iOS

Apps

This is a huge differentiator. The Apple App Store is full of great applications. Sure it’s got it’s share of tip calculators and fart apps, but for the most part whatever you can think of there really is an app for that. My biggest complaint with Windows Phone is the Store. If you’re looking for an app, it’s probably not there. This isn’t really the fault of Microsoft it’s just the nature of the market. Developers follow the money. They go after the larger market shares for iOS and Android and WP is an afterthought at best. The curation of the Store, however, is entirely Microsoft’s fault. Search for Gmail… you’ll find about 200 results that range in price from FREE to $29.99. And though most of them use the official Gmail icon, NONE of them are from Google. I don’t care that Google hasn’t gotten around to writing a native WP app for Gmail. What I do care about is the terrible user experience this gives the user.

Camera

The Neo’s 8MP camera takes great pictures and burst mode is nice… but it’s frustratingly slow to focus… sometimes refusing to focus at all until you close and re-open it. With a 6-month-old I’ve missed more shots than I care to admit. The iPhone 5’s slightly lower resolution (5MP) camera takes photos that are just as good or better and I’ve never had an issue with focus or delay.

Printing

Bonjour/AirPrint is built into iOS. It really does just work. Wi-Fi printing is not even an option in WP8.1. In order to print a PDF that I’d downloaded on the Neo I had to save it to OneDrive and then open it again with OneDrive for the iPhone to send it to the printer. It’s the simple things that make the experience. This makes the WP platform feel like it’s not quite ready for primetime.

VPN

Admittedly not something that every user cares about but I do. For all my devices (laptops, iPhones, iPads, Surface Pro, Surface RT) I use OpenVPN to secure traffic when I’m on shared wi-fi. After some research and trying to figure out if it was even possible in WP8.1 I finally just gave up.

Conclusion

I like the Samsung hardware and I like WP8.1. I’m hopeful that the mobile OS continues to improve and gain market share as I think that’s a win for everyone. However, 2 of the 3 advantages listed above are likely to disappear this fall when Apple announces the iPhone 6 w/ iOS8. They’ve already announced 3rd-party keyboard support in iOS8 so there goes my top frustration. And if the rumors are true, a 4.7” (and possible a 5.5”) screen should alleviate my concerns with the smaller screen size.

At this point I think I’m on track to pick up the iPhone 6.