Ramblings on technology with a dash of social commentary
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  • I have to call BULL5H!T on Bing Politics

    Posted on February 24th, 2013 phpguru No comments

    As someone who builds systems to analyze data for a living, I was excited to see Bing encouraging television viewers to take advantage of its real-time political survey at bing.com/politics, one of the largest of its kind, during the recent State of the Union address by President Obama.

    I was diligent to take a screenshot of the data being displayed on that night. Now I’m very glad I did. I suspected they may try to fudge the numbers after the fact, and boy, have they ever!

    I’ve seen this kind of data misrepresentation plenty of times in business, but never for political motives, never so obvious, and never using data that was captured and displayed in real time. It’s both embarassing and troubling, but not surprising. It should come as no surprise that even with all the terabytes of data streaming around the internet in every moment, Bing (owned by Microsoft, the same Liberals behind MSNBC) would make such an obvious effort to pad the numbers. But did they really think no one would take a screenshot?

    Take a look below at my adjusted overlay (top) and draw your own conclusions. It looks to me like Bing wants you to believe that sentiment toward the President and his various messages during the #SOTU address were overwhelmingly positive. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you look back at the actual streaming data coming in real time during the address (middle), and compare it to what they’re reporting today, I think you’ll agree: their current portrayal of the data is completely inflated (bottom).

    Why would Bing do this? Could it be that an overwhelming negative response to the president’s bloviating doesn’t fit in with their narrative of how great a job this guy is doing? It just goes to show you, folks, you can’t trust the media to tell you the truth, even when they use real-time data & graphics!

  • The never-ending saga of the dual DVI KVM switch

    Posted on December 1st, 2012 phpguru No comments

    It seemed like a good idea at the time.

    My Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW, was acting up. An aging Dell Dimension 4600, it was taking nearly 30 minutes to start up and giving a startup message about lacking a page file on a custom-tweaked dual-boot XP setup. I had set it up several years ago and installed so much crap over the years. I thought it was time to replace it.

    The trouble was, had had been using this setup with 2 other computers, another PC and a Mac, using a pair of VGA-PS/2 KVM switches. The Dimension is a PS/2 based design, and my other computers could share my VGA/DBI displays. I had gotten so used to using two screens, that I almost can’t think straight without it now.

    Well I finally gave in and sent the PC to my brother who happens to be a computer hardware whiz. I figured he could fix it, and I decided to upgrade it to a Dell Precision T1600 workstation. I got a great deal on one at the Dell Outlet. Since I had been using a collection of DVI to VGA adapters on the previous 3-computer 2-monitor configuration, I decided to also upgrade to a dual DVI KVM switch, thereby freeing up some desk space, cleaning up my studio, and giving me more room for my Native Instruments Maschine.

    So, off I go on the internet to search out dual DVI KVM switches.

    The first one I consider is a Belkin Soho on Amazon. I had pretty good luck with my old Belkin VGA-PS/2 KVM switch, and who doesn’t love Amazon, so I decided for $250 it was a pretty decent price and worth a shot. My workstations on are the ends of an L-Shaped desk, and I had to get 3 pairs of dual DVI KVM cables with it. Grand total: around $500.

    Five days later, I get the Belkin Soho dual DVI KVM switch delivered. I open everything extremely carefully, because I wasn’t sure it was going to work, and I wanted to be able to send it back if it didn’t. I open the box, tear down my entire rig across 3 computers and hook everything up, including some new miscellaneous adapters.

    Strike One.

    Wouldn’t you know it? Right out of box the Belkin Soho felt so cheap ho hum. Fragile and weak plastic. I tried it every which way, and was able to get only 1 screen working on a single computer! None of the other ports were sensed properly. I have no idea if I got a defective unit or what, but that thing was a piece of junk and didn’t work at all. Undo everything, redo everything back the way it was, with VGA PS/2 KVM. Everything works fine again, except I’m out 4 hours.

    Over the next few days, I worked with the Amazon seller to get an RMA number to send it back, I lose about $50 in shipping charges in the deal, and now two weeks later, I’m back where I was before.

    So, off I go again on the internet to search out professional quality dual DVI KVM switches. I arrive at a site called (SEO fans should be proud) KVM-Switches-Online.com. They have a whole section of their site dedicated to dual-display and multi-display KVM switches. I look at a couple of Avocent models and a few Adder products.

    I decide to send an email to sales to ask for some advice. A day later, I get a response with a recommendation. I decide to try a 4×2 dual DVI kvm switch (2SVDVI20BND1-001) from Avocent corporation. I later discovered that Avocent is now owned by Emerson, and the model I purchased seems to be either undergoing a transition, or in the process of being discontinued. Anyway, feeling pretty confident from their response and the knowledge of the salesman, John F, I thought I would give it a go, bought it and waited another few days. With 3 sets of 15-foot dual DVI USB KVM cables, this new order set me back close to $800. I figured for nearly twice the price of the Belkin Soho, it ought to be sweet.

    And it was. I got it home and the following weekend, set up this new one. The Avocent is much higher quality and durable feeling than the Belkin. I was immediately thinking this was going to be it, and I could get back to writing music. Another 4 hours later, I have everything all torn down and tested again, and insanely enough, I think I got a defective Avocent! Both screens were detected from all 3 computers, but I only was able to get a few horizontal pixel lines on the second screen, while the rest of screen 2 was completely black!

    “UGH! What a crock,” I complained. “Again?!”

    Strike two.

    Just because I got a defective Avocent KVM switch doesn’t mean you will, give them a try. They make nice stuff and their single-DVI KVMs look just as nice. But for me, having already spent a month an a half trying to solve this problem, I decided to return it a try a different one again. It was now becoming a little bit like deja vu. I tear everything back down, put everything back the way it was, check it all, re-package all the cables and KVM switch, and request another RMA number.

    Finally I decided to contact KVM-Switches-Online. I get forwarded over to John F, who says he’ll either send me a replacement Avocent or help me choose an upgraded product.

    John walks me through selecting an Adderview Pro Multiscreen, a unique product line that comes in Dual-DVI, Tri-DVI, and Quad-DV-USB-KVM switch versions. I have only two displays, so I ordered the dual (Quad pictured above). Adder switches are some of the best on the market, he said. Again I made sure to order 3 sets of dual 15-foot DVI-USB cables and used my RMA credit from the Avocent (now down around $600 after subtracting shipping the return back).

    I wait another few days. Five to be exact.

    When it finally arrives, I’m stoked. The Adderview Pro Multiscreen is really a nice KVM switch. It has a digital readout, not unlike the first digital alarm clock you might’ve had, multiple settings, and keyboard control. I get ready to install it and realize that although the packaging says “5-metre” the cables inside are clearly 3-foot (1m). Not long enough to reach my 3 PC.

    Good lord. Still no luck with 1 of my 3 computers, at this point I’m getting kind of frustrated, but try to keep my cool and contact John again. See, now we start to get on a first name basis, because I had to convince them that I wasn’t insane and that, in fact, the Cables that shipped with the Adder KVM Switch were mis-labeled in the wrong packaging.

    Another day or two goes by (I have a day job – this is for my hobby room’s PCs). I call John again and talk to Krissy, who manages customer orders and returns. She hands me off to John, who says he spoke with Adder, talked to the shipping manager, who called him back on his cell from the warehouse and indeed verified that I am not insane, that there was a packaging mistake, and to hang tight for 6 new 15-foot DVI USB KVM cables. Yes, dual DVI KVM for 3 PCs, six cables. They would offer me a discount of not having to pay shipping for the second shipment. I guess that’s something.

    Alright, great. I wait another five days. It’s been two months now since I started this journey to find the perfect dual DVI KVM switch.

    The new cables arrive, and they’re sweet! A few hours later, the third time now tearing down a 3-PC dual VGA PS/2 KVM and setting up a 3rd KVM switch, I can use my Mac and my Dell XPS perfectly now. But for some reason, the Precision T1600 is only working on one monitor.

    I try port 4 on the KVM instead of port 3. Same thing. Minus another half hour.

    I try to swap out the cables and verify it’s not that. Nope. I flip flop the cables, and see I get the other screen working, but not both. Minus another hour.

    It’s still Saturday afternoon, so I figure I will dig into the issue on the Dell support chat and forums. Turns out, guess what! Duh! My VGA to DVI adapter won’t work…

    “You can drive a VGA display from a DVI connector, but not the other way around,” The Dell support tech says. I was getting only the screen from the DisplayPort to DVI connector. So, off I go to Amazon to order a new Graphics Card that supports Dual DVI – the EVGA nVidia GeForce 620. It’s got exactly the ports I needed, and has 1GB of RAM. I figured that would be perfect.

    Minus another $50 and two hours of research & shopping, followed by another two days of Amazon Prime shipping.

    I get the card upstairs, installed it into the T1600 and still get one monitor to work. I can’t believe it, now. Using this card, only 1 display is recognized! I cannot for the life of me figure it out. I download the tech specs from the Dell Precision T1600 and the EVGA nvidia GeForce 620. There it is, in black and white, clear as crystal:

    GeForce 620: This card requires 350w of power and 18amps on the 12-volt rail.

    Hmmm. I start to become concerned that I don’t know a lot about PC power supplies.

    Precision T1600: Power supply 265w.

    Rats, that has to be it, I thought. Just to be sure, I fire up a chat support with Dell to confirm that upgrading the power supply won’t void the warranty or damage the PC. I’m told not to worry, just that Dell won’t cover the new Power Supply under their warranty and to keep the original one just in case. Surf for a few to find out how complicated buying a PC power supply can be. Doesn’t look too bad, thanks to this article on how to buy the right replacement PC power supply over at computershopper.com.

    Now I’m tearing down my DAW again, to yank the power supply out and head back to the computer store in search of a new replacement higher-wattage power supply. Minus another hour.

    I get back later with a 400w Antec 80+ Bronze power supply and install it. I reconnect the KVM and fire it up. Hmm, not looking good. I get VGA on one screen still.

    I can’t get Windows 7 to even notice that there is a 2nd monitor attached. That seems odd to me, so I Google it. I find a post where a commenter replies that you have to go into the bios and enable multi-monitor support. Hmm. Really? Gosh, I’ve been spoiled by using a Mac for way too long. So I reboot and press F2 and the Dell screen. Strange thing is, I can’t seem to find anything related to multi-monitor support in the BIOS I am running.

    I launch a Dell support chat in the other PC (I have some of the KVM ports working) to ask about that. I decide it would be easier to call and talk to someone.

    Dell: Are you using any adapters?

    Me: No, just DVI cables.

    Dell: The Precision T1600 with your Service Tag says it has integrated graphics, 1 Display port, 1 VGA port, so you must have some adapters if you’re using it with DVI monitors.

    Me: No, I am trying to install and use an nvidia GeForce 620 in PCI slot 4. The specs say it needed a larger power supply so I am also I bought one and I’m using that to rule out lack of power.

    Dell: I see. Well, if you use the DisplayPort with a DVI adapter, and a VGA monitor it should work.

    Me: I don’t have a VGA monitor.

    Dell: Please hold while I look up a few things.

    (Ten minutes go by)

    Dell: Sir, I regret to inform you that the bios on your machine only supports dual screens via the Display Port and VGA adapters. Because that machine came with integrated graphics and not a Dell-approved PCI card for multi-screen technology from the factory, there’s no way for you to enable multi-monitor support in the Bios, I don’t think there’s any way I can solve your issue, and since you’re using a 3rd-party graphics card, we can’t support that, either.

    Me: Wow. Unbelievable. Can I return this computer?

    Dell: I don’t know. Dell Customer Care is open weekdays during normal business hours. Would you like their toll free number?

    Me: Sure. (I write it down.)

    Dell: Is there anything else I can help you with?

     

    ARGH! I wanted to slap that guy! I know it wasn’t his fault and he was just following a script, but my God! I’m now 6 weeks down the road, several thousand dollars out of pocket and still don’t have a working solution to the Dual DVI USB KVM saga.

    Now I’m faced with a dilemma. Do I try to return everything and start over? Pillage all the parts I have in this dell in the fabrication of a new home-built PC? Buy a new one and sell this one on eBay?

    At the end of the day, building a DAW is a tricky pain in the neck, and making a production studio setup with 3 computers sharing one keyboard, mouse and two DVI monitors is even more complicated.

    I know once I get the kinks ironed out, the AdderView Pro Multiscreen is going to do the trick, and I received very good customer service from KVM-Switches-Online.com — they were all helpful and polite and were clearly interested in getting my order and my setup done right!

  • What? Google Search Isn’t Awesome? Top 10 Reasons Why

    Posted on August 28th, 2012 phpguru No comments

    You know you love Google’s #1 product… their impressive Google web search. If you’re like me, you use it hundreds, if not thousands of times a day.

    In addition to the Google’s basic web search, Google offers Google Advanced Search, as well as a Google Image Search,

    It’s now almost impossible to find the link to Google Advanced Image Search, but it’s still there, and it’s the best way to perform an advanced search for images online.

    You can use Google Search Operators, also called Google Search Modifiers, and they even offer users a whole page of Google Search Tips., including tricks like searching for recipes, using the calculator functions, and lots more.

    But as good as Google’s search box is, there’s always room for improvement. Here’s a list of new and improved Google Web Search features I’d like to see. If you agree with these great feature additions I’ve suggested below, or if I forgot any, leave me a comment! I know I’d use them for sure!

    Top 10 Ways Google Can Improve Search

    10. Starting with something boring and annoying, how about a Tax Forms search? The one at irs.gov is alright, but let’s face it, the government could use Google’s help. The Google search 1040 site:irs.gov year:2011 type:pdf should bring up the obvious result I am after. It doesn’t. Google could help me spend even less time on the IRS website than I do already, which would be a very good thing.

    9. Music Search. There’s no way to search music available in iTunes, without launching iTunes. I love music, but the search capability of iTunes and other music programs is terrible. Let me flag a song or album for later, like a wish list, and remind that I liked it. Integrate with all the streaming services like Pandora, Slacker and such. Give me Search Operators like artist:justin+bieber or label:interscope or genre:thrash+metal. (That’s three different search examples.)

    8. Melodic Search. Create a musical instrument interface with which to perform song searches. As a play-by-ear pianist, I can never remember the lyrics or the names of songs, but I can play the notes! Let me play notes on an on-screen keyboard, or with my attached Midi keyboard, and find music matching the musical notes I am playing. For example, if I play C . . G C . . G C G C E G –> Google should pull up Mozart Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. This is easily implemented with widely available MIDI data.

    7.  Advanced Video Search. To perform an Advanced Video Search on Youtube now is an exercise in aggravation. An advanced YouTube search that worked would be really cool. Give me all the fields as operators, too, like views:1M or maru type:video views:2M..5M by:views ord:desc. This should show me maru clips between 2M and 5M views ordered by views descending. This search actually returns an incredibly random assortment of useless junk.

    6. Expert Search right from the Google.com home page. Upgrade the advanced search operators, giving power users like me the utmost flexibility. For any input field on the advanced search or advanced image search, create an Advanced Search Operator for it. For example, why can’t I find cat exact:lolz type:gif w:128 h:128? I clearly am after an exact search of funny cat gif icons. I should be able to easily guess the “colon operator” for any advanced search field, and why not show me what it is when I hover over it on the advanced image search form so I don’t have to go find an obscure help doc on a different website on performing an advanced Google search.

    5. Create Search Templates — Let me save and share advanced search filters and advanced images search filters and use them for later. For example, it can take a few minutes to set up a good advanced images search. Why not let me store the following for easy retrieval… for example (site:a.com OR site:b.com OR site:c.com)  (type:jpeg OR type:png) (size:2mp..4mp). Clearly I am looking for jpg or png images betwen 2mp and 4mp on 3 specific websites. As a designer, if I could save those search parameters and re-use them, I could easily load it up, add a keyword, and save hours every year.

    4. How about a Movie Search? Just buy IMDB.com , Blockbuster.com and RottenTomatoes.com and combine them. You know you want to.  Your current Movie Showtimes Search is very embryonic. Is it too much to expect that type:movie (actor:judd+nelson AND actor:molly+ringwold) could find The Breakfast Club and 16 Candles? Results: ho-hum.

    3. You can’t have a movie search without a Celebrity Search. It amazes me that I cannot set up an RSS feed for daily updates of Zoë Saldana jpegs that are at least 1280 x 1024. I clearly want wallpaper. Why not let me do celeb:zoë+saldana type:jpg size:2mp..

    2. You’re obviously working on a Travel Search, otherwise you wouldn’t have bought ITA Software and Frommer’s. Are you ever going to improve Google Flight Search? I bet some readers don’t even know that exists. I hate every minute of making travel plans online, and since the internet killed the travel agent, I’m forced to do this on my own now, forevermore. Hurry up and fix it already!

    1. Social Search. This is a no-brainer. I can’t search anything on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or even Google+. The state of social search is so incredibly dismal, it’s going to require an entire blog post all on it’s own. In short, if I’m logged into all of my social networks, I should be able to search them all with ease. They all provide APIs, don’t they? Don’t you have, like, fifty zillion programmers? Surely with all the work that went into Google+ you had to think about how to make all of that content searchable. It seems like the moment I link to something or share it, the sooner I can never find it again!

    Now I hinted at this in #7 above, but how cool would it be to search the web with SQL? Or at least, using some SQL-like operands? By now millions of people use SQL on a daily basis, and certainly your search algorithms could be easily adapted to understand things like by:relevance ord:desc. (ORDER BY relevance DESC) or BETWEEN 2011-12-31 AND 2012-06-30? This reminds me that you could make it a lot easier to combine mulitple boolean operators. Only one or two work at a time. Why not let me use AND, OR and Parentheses? ( this OR that ) AND (brick OR brack). So I guess you could call this a bonus eleventh way Google could improve it’s search features. Call it Nerd Search.

    Okay, there now, Googlebot, fans of Google, and other casual readers. What do you think?

  • How Things Work and Why They Don’t

    Posted on July 17th, 2012 phpguru No comments

    In case you’re confused about the 2012 election coming up, let me put things into perspective for you with a simple example.

    Business owner Bill, together with employees Phil & Jill together earn $100.

    Obama takes $40 of it, then borrows $40 from China, giving him $80 to work with. So he hires Fran for $50 to do a $25 job, and Stan for $25 to do a $15 job. With the $5 he has left, he buys a burger, fries and a coke.

    With the $20 he collects in taxes from Fran & Stan’s paychecks, he buys a pack of smokes for $5 and puts $5 gas in the black SUV so he and his wife and kids can take in a $5 round of golf. He makes Biden caddy for free, and Michelle and the girls order the groundskeepers to plant tomatoes in all the sand traps.

    Afterwards, Obama spends the last $5 on some ice cream for the girls and takes a media opportunity to tell the folks they shouldn’t driving gas guzzlers, but instead, looking for alternative energy solutions. Biden comes out of restroom with toilet paper stuck to his shoe and says, “Yeah, and global warming, too.”

    Michelle tells the press her mission is to prevent bad parents from feeding their kids things like burgers, fries, coke and ice cream.

    After sending $40 to the IRS, Bill, Phil, and Jill have $60 left. Bill takes $30, donates $10 to charity, leaving him with $20 of which he spends $10 on prescription drugs. He puts $5 in his kids college education fund, leaving him with $5.

    Phil keeps $5 after giving $5 to his church and putting $10 gas in his car to drive 35 miles to his 2nd job.

    Jill, a single mom who’s husband is deployed to Afghanistan, has $1 left after spending $5 on groceries for their 5 kids and paying $4 against her student loan for a degree in a field that isn’t currently hiring.

    Obama’s campaign is based on explaining how he has created jobs for Fran & Stan, and how it’s Bill and Phil, those upper income earners, who should be paying their fare share. After all, Bill didn’t build that business, and Phil should spread the wealth around a little.

  • What happened to the j.mp sidebar?

    Posted on June 2nd, 2012 phpguru No comments

    A few years back, I found the iPhone app Runmeter. It keeps getting better, too, and is still one of the best $5 I ever spent. Very cool app. When you finish a run, skate or walk, it sends you a j.mp short link to a Google map of your exercise with all the stats it captured via GPS.

    As a web developer interested in link shortening services, I instantly signed up to use j.mp to shorten my links.

    One of the best things about the j.mp link shortening service was the j.mp sidebar, a Javascript bookmarklet that creates a side panel over whatever site you’re on that allows you to use the j.mp shortening service without leaving the page you’re on. It was elegant, easy and just perfect for my needs.

    Even though around September of 2009 bit.ly encouraged their users to switch to j.mp to make their URLs even shorter, they have now appeared to have tabled the j.mp brand along with the excellent j.mp sidebar. This wouldn’t be a big deal if the new bit.ly services were the same or better, but they’re far from it. The new bit marker is annoying and takes five times longer to shorten a link, tries to integrate with sharing sites for you and lots of other annoyances.

    So they deprecated the j.mp sidebar, which as of the time of this writing is still working, but you cannot find it anywhere on the web! So frustrating.

    To combat this problem, here are some instructions below — just sign up for bit.ly if you don’t already have an account, and follow the steps below.

    bit.ly j.mp sidebar bookmarklet

    Drag this link to your browser’s bookmark toolbar
    j.mp sidebar

    bit.ly j.mp sidebar manual creation method

    1. Create a new blank bookmark in your bookmark toolbar folder and name it j.mp sidebar (or bit.ly sidebar if you prefer)

    2. Paste in the following for the URL

    Enjoy!