Archive for June, 2014

Eli Wallach, RIP

June 30, 2014

One of the finest character actors of his age, with a Texas link to him via an education at the University of Texas.

I am a huge fan of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and a big reason is Wallach’s acting masterpiece as Tuco. Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eye embodies the Bad, a pure menace on the screen. Tuco, on the other hand, had to walk a tightrope. He was a scoundrel, to be sure, but he wasn’t the malignant evil of Angel Eyes. Tuco was likable, even sympathetic. Sure, he might rob you or maybe even try to kill you, but it wasn’t personal. Maybe he would help save your life tomorrow.

Tuco had feelings, even a curious sense of honor (though pretty flexible).

He also could be hurt emotionally, as in the masterful scene where he confronts his priest brother.

As played by Wallach, it was Tuco’s lines I quoted the most, or lines said to Tuco that were remembered because the look Tuco gave in return.

The sublime Ecstasy of Gold graveyard sequence hasn’t a single word spoken by Wallach. it is driven by the actor entire body expressing Tuco’s greed-driven mania.

Eli Wallach’s was a life well lived. He made it to 98, triumphed on stage, screen, and TV. Married early, well, and forever. Oh, and he learned to ride a horse in Texas.

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How NOT to set up a wireless Internet portal

June 29, 2014

I just came home from a couple of days in the hospital from a nasty urinary tract infection. What I can say about it is that is the sort of painful malady for which morphine was invented — and thank goodness it exists! After a course of IV antibiotics (and a generous amount of morphine) I am home to finish up the mending.

While at this modern hospital I attempted to log into their public wireless from my room (Room 420, which I dubbed “the Colorado Suite”). However, what should have been something easy turned into an exercise in frustration do to what I consider a poorly designed log-in portal.

When one attempts to get on the network, one is presented with a screen asking for full name, phone number, and wireless carrier. I would dutifully enter the info, be taken to site to log-in — and then be routed right back to enter the same information.

The hospital floor staff got ahold of their IT department and the situation became clearer. It seems their log-in required a text message to be sent to the cell phone of the person trying to set up log-in credentials. My phone doesn’t have text (too annoying). The IT asked if maybe I could see if Verizon had it in the email address they set up for me when creating the account, as the text may have gone there. I replied that I was unaware of any email account — and I had no Internet access to check it even if it did!

I mentioned to the hospital IT person that not everyone has text capability, not everyone may have their phone on — and often people are advised NOT to take expensive smart phones into the hospital to avoid having them lost or stolen.

I also pointed out the instructions on the log-in screen said nothing about sending a text to your phone. So, when the system kept sending texts to a null account, I receive no feedback at all on what was wrong. I just was shuttled back to the main log-in page to do it again, with failure preordained.

I also wonder how many people trying to log into a computer would simply blow off an incoming text they were not expecting?

Was there a workaround? Nope. No texted credentials to enter, no log-in.

So, how many errors can we spot here in good end-user friendliness design? Here is my list:

1. The log-in process was unusual in that it required another device that the end-user might not have in their possession at the time.
2. The log-in screen offered no guidance on what was going to happen in the log-in process and that it mandated a step with another device.
3. The log-in process offered no guidance on what might have caused the log-in to fail and how to contact hospital IT.
4. The hospital IT department had no workaround for users who didn’t have the required device in their possession at the time (a cell phone with text messaging).
5. The log-in process appears to be needlessly complicated. If there are concerns that there is the potential for abuse of the wireless network, then compromise with a set of rolling prebuilt credentials for patients assigned to each room.

Please consider that all of this was occurring during an epically painful medical episode with periodic morphine-induced haziness. A complicated log-in process with failure built into it for a certain percentage of patients is not acceptable.

Which is more deragatory: Redskins or “b***h?

June 22, 2014

Recently there has been a lot of news about the Washington Redskins having their trademark protection yanked for the term being derogatory. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is taking time from demonizing the Koch brothers to demand (in his whiny voice) the icky name be changed.

Yet, while the trademarks folks find Redskins to be to awful to be uttered, they have no b***h with the word “b***h”.

So, what percentage of women find the term “b***h” to be derogatory and offensive?

I daresay it would be at least equal to the percentage of Indians who object to the term Redskins.

So, then why is it perfectly OK to use the word “b***h” in a trademark? A quick search of the trademark site located 972 records.

So, which is worse: Redskin or b***h?

I know that if I used the latter term in my office in the presence of female coworkers it could be quite detrimental to my career, while mentioning the name of sports teams is normal office chatter.

If a man went up to a woman on the street and referred to has a “b***h” she would likely NOT take it as a compliment.

As for the trademark issue with the DC football team, I have two conclusions: 1. It is not a concern for the U.S. Senate; and 2. If it is that offensive then the solution is to organize a boycott of the team. If the owner sees empty seats at his games, then the market will have spoken.

I also wonder how many of the politico’s now calling loudest for the name change had no problems watching games (especially if the lobby paid).

Skyrim problem traced to Enhanced Cities Helgen mod

June 20, 2014

I had a weird bug in Skyrim lately where one of the entrances to the town had some sort of faint bars across the opening. Also, the bandits inside the town never spawned. This matters a lot because if you do the quest with Barbas (a Daedra’s Best Friend). His path-finding to the Clavicus Vile shrine takes him to this (blocked) gate and through Helgen — and he can’t proceed any further once he hits the gate.

I went in and unsubscribed to the “Enhanced Cites Helgen” mod and reloaded. Instantly the problems were gone.

So, it appears the mod is buggy or doesn’t play nicely with some other mod.

If your eyes disagree with the tech — trust your eyes!

June 5, 2014

I recently had an experience where the members of an elite analysis team were taking three cars after one meeting to go to another building about three miles away for a second gathering. The team is awash in folks with PhD educations and national reputations.

A couple of us gave detailed directions since we worked at the other location, which were written down in detail. The route was not hard. Yet, the meeting was nearly cancelled when most of the out-of-town team didn’t make it. Why? They trusted technology even when it was clearly telling them the wrong things.

All three cars promptly programmed the address into their respective GPS units — and all three were sent to the wrong locations. One team realized they were going west when the directions clearly said to go east and decided to ignore the device. They actually made it OK. Two other cars wandered miles away after heading in the wrong directions. One may have ended up in another town before calling in lost and getting guided back. One person ended up so far away it was easier for them to go to their motel room and call in.

Again, these are some of the smartest people on the planet. I have no doubt they were using premium GPS technology. Yet, their error was in trusting it when the evidence of their eyes was starting to disagree. Each driver commented how the route seemed to vary from the written directions, yet they kept following the GPS as it led them ever further astray.

I had to explain the same situation to my grandson recently when Google insisted we needed to loop around to reach a friend’s house — when my eyes told me we were parked in front of it. I could read the street sign and the address. I finally got him to go knock on the door. Google lost, my eyes won.

Two weeks after a recent oil change the “change oil” alert came on in my 2012 model car. It was wrong, of course. I could go on, but you get the drift.

The point here is that technology isn’t foolproof and sometimes you need to rely on common sense and field observations. If the technology says its a mild shower, but you can see the tornado — then trust your eyes.

Design issues can make computer hobby stuff challenging

June 5, 2014

Sometimes the computer hobby exposed real design flaws in machines that make working on them difficult. Here are two recent examples.

First, I had a Dell OptiPlex 745 USFF machine that needed extensive repairs. It had a blown motherboard, a hard drive fan that seemed stuck, and the front and rear cooling fans were failing.

The design flaw in this case is that the rear fan is SUPPOSED to simply slide out and pop loose for replacement. It has four small feet that have tabs on them that fit into slots in the motherboard mounting plate. The feet and tabs drop into wide parts of the slot and you slide it forward to lock it into place. To remove it, just slide it back. Except you can’t because part of the rear case assembly blocks the fan being able to slide all of the way back. It took a lot of trying and prying and fear of breaking the darn thing to get the bad fan out.

That maybe 16th of an inch in the way turns a job that should take seconds into one that was pretty lengthy.

The other design flaw is on an older machine from the early Pentium 4 era. In this case it is an HP 873n Media Center I picked up for $10 to rebuild. Nothing was really wrong with it other than it needed the OS reinstalled, improperly matched RAM replaced (and more of it), and a better CPU. Here is where the fun started.

The CPU HSF assembly was bleeding nightmare to remove to get at the CPU. It used some sort of clips that resisted all attempts to remove them from the mount. I tried every tool on the workbench to get the metal tabs on the top to be depressed low enough to let the catches holding the assembly to the mount to come loose. I finally had to go get a pair of leather work gloves to let my fingers and thumbs press down hard enough without pain to FINALLY get the thing released.

I had well over an hour of trying to get the thing out, while afraid the whole time of having a tool slip and turn the old motherboard into scrap. These particular HPs are small inside anyway, so that added to the fun.

The irony is that reinstalling it is a breeze and the clips snap right back in with almost no effort. Just don’t try to take them out again!

It may be that this was some sort of after-market HSF unit not made by/for HP at the time. What I do know is that it was the single hardest and most miserable experience I have ever had in upgrading a CPU.