Saturday, June 13, 2009

TV: what to do with old videotapes?

With the digital TV transition, my VCR became a boat anchor for recording broadcast television. What, if anything, should I do with all the VHS tapes on the media shelves? I reckon Star Trek: The Next Generation will come out one day on a handful of Blu-ray disks or a single memory chip. Many of the classic bits of broadcast TV are on YouTube, if not I should upload them myself. As with digitizing vinyl if I'm going to do the job I want to do it with quality. The aging PC on which I type this has an ATI All-in-Wonder 9800 Pro card with video-in capability, but it lacks the supposed key feature for quality analog TV digitization, timebase correction.

Also, I've been meaning to give a spare VCR away, this transition makes it even more worthless tech. Another one of spage's laws:
If you don't freecycle something the day you stop using it, it'll be worthless when you finally get around to disposing it.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

web: nested levels of anthem.com (Blue Cross) web site woe

The Anthem (the insurance formerly known as Blue Cross) web site doesn't tell you what your medical coverage is internationally. So use the Provide Access link to fill in their Member Access Feedback Form to suggest they need this.

Ahh, but inevitably SPage's law I kicks in:
The part of every Web site with the most problems is the feedback form for reporting problems.
Sure enough:
  • I can't type anything in the form. Its textareas start off disabled, but when I click "No, the information was not easy to find" the textarea underneath doesn't enable. So the Member Feedback Form doesn't work.
  • Fine, I'll use their general Contact Us form to submit a bug report about their feedback form:
    Please pass this feedback on to your manager of Web Site engineering.

    Your Member Access Feedback Form (arrived from the _Provide Feedback_ link) does not work in my browser, Firefox 3 on Windows.

    I am never able to type in the textareas. They start off disabled. I think when I click "No" in the radiobutton above one, it is supposed to enable. The form displays a bunch of JavaScript warnings and errors in the Error Console, in particular this error is basic bad Web programming:

    Error: document.all[obj_textArea] is undefined
    Source File: https://secure1.anthem.com/wps/myportal/escmybcc/kcxml/04_Sj9SPykssy0xPLMnMz0vM0Y_QjzKLN3GNDzZw0i_IdlQEADWd-xo!
    Line: 933

    For how to fix, see, e.g. http://developer.mozilla.org/en/docs/Migrate_apps_from_Internet_Explorer_to_Mozilla#Accessing_elements

    Again, please pass this BUG REPORT about your web site on to the engineering manager of your anthem.com Web site and reply when you have done so.
    Wow, free QA. Anthem is lucky to have me as a customer who can help them fix their Web site.
    • But SPage's law I kicks in, recursively! I click [Send Message] and get:
      Message length should be less than 540 characters.
      These clowns can waste days writing dynamically-enabled textareas that don't work, but they can't put the HTML to display "Message (540 characters maximum)" on a form, or write a simple script that updates "18 characters remaining"?!
    So I have to remove all the useful information from my feedback. But the failures continue:
    • When the form redisplays telling me how I've screwed up, it loses the state of its dropdown.
    • The displays "Email(ampersand)nbspAddress". Someone left off a semicolon in the HTML.
    • Subject isn't marked as required field, but if I don't choose something from it, I get the error "Please select a subject."

    At this point the Contact Us form doesn't work to report the Member Feedback form that doesn't work to report that the Web site doesn't have needed information. As always, some Vice President of Customer Relations is congratulating himself that they get so few complaints.

    There's no subject on this form for "Web site problem", so I'm using "Grievances". All these complaints are going to some poor drone in the "Grievances" department at Anthem who has no idea who runs the web site.
What was I doing? Oh yes, trying to find out about travel coverage. More problems:
  • Maybe the Certificate Booklets (nice meaningless term) for my coverage have the information. Even though these are basic links to PDFs, every single one gives a 404 - File not found.
  • Once you've logged in as a member, there's no search on anthem.com's web site.
  • When your session times out because you're busy making notes about everything wrong with anthem.com, you have to log in again. That's understandable, but you login to some useless promotional site, and when you click to get back to the members site you have to login a second time.
  • If you go to a missing page , you get redirected to www.anthem.com/anthem404.html. But!
    • This picture says

      This content has been Moved to Our New Portal
      Redirecting You Now

      Wait as long as you like, it never goes anywhere.
    • Even though the page URL says "404", anthem.com never returns a 404! To my browser this is a legitimate page. The Vice President of Technology is congratulating herself that they have no broken pages on their web site.
    I should amend SPage's Law I to add: the error page for a web site has errors.
Just awful. I will send $15 by PayPal to anyone who can give me the work e-mail address of the QA Manager of anthem.com.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Jameson's law and making the right decision on a change

Some friends are wrestling with buying a house and moving far away. A big change, so a big tough decision. But Jameson casually made the most perspicacious statement I've ever heard on the subject:
If you want to be sure you're doing the right thing,
just keep on doing what you're doing
until you can't stand it any longer.
Read that several times. It's undeniably true: when your situation becomes sheer hell, the change won't be the wrong decision. You're probably nowhere near that point. But pondering what it would take to reach a state where the decision is obvious will help you realize either "Things aren't nearly that bad, I'll stay the course" or "Why wait for things to get that bad, I'll go for it". Read it again. Jameson is awesome.

Even more profound than SPage's law (any of the three so far).

It's sort of like my aphorism on marriage, “Welcome to the end of your life.” I've put that in a few wedding cards and gift tags, to the chagrin of the happy couple. If you can put a situation in a harsh light without sugar-coating and you still go for it, you're truly on the right track. It seems I love tough aphorisms, culminating in “Save the world, kill yourself.”


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

SPage's law: underappreciation rampant

SPage's law:
Everyone feels underappreciated, so lavish appreciation on others even though you won't get anything in return since you too are suffering under SPage's law.

Not as good as Hofstadter's law.

This joins SPage's law II:
Any small piece of electronics needs to have a phone in it so you can ring it when (not if!) you lose it.

and SPage's law I:
The part of every Web site with the most problems is the feedback form for reporting problems.



Friday, January 20, 2006

electronics: Sanyo MM-9000 do-nearly-all music cellphone

My significant domestic other partner's cheap portable cassette player finally broke and SDOP still wanted to listen to music on the go. The default answer is of course an iPod, but remember SPage's law:
any small piece of electronics needs to have a phone in it so you can ring it when (not if!) you lose it
(our digital camera is still lost). So we go to the Sprint store, looking for a top-of-the-line phone. The Sanyo MM-9000 has a miniSD memory card slot, media player, QVGA screen, 1.3 Megapixel camera, and most other reasonable features. SDOP was using the previous top-of-the-line Sanyo SCP-5500 (aka Sprint VM-4500) so the USB cable, and so-so FutureDial Snap software I bought for it might work. The only missing checklist features are Bluetooth, and a 2 Mp camera with optical zoom. SprintUsers reviews say the camera quality is good. The Samsung A940 is a 2 Mp phone with Bluetooth but the screen is lower res and the camera has to twist around awkwardly.

Sprint was sold out of the phone, so we bought it at Radio Shack. The phone cost $380 plus tax but as the old phone was 22 months old we got a $75 rebate after committing to two more years of Sprint. Then off to Best Buy to buy a SanDisk 1GB miniSD card, SanDisk USB SD card reader, Monster iPod cassette adapter (it actually works with any audio device's 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, which shows you iPod's dominant mindshare), and a 2.5 phone -> 3.5mm headphone adapter cable. We can reuse the old Sanyo's car lighter charger; we still need to get a second battery and a cover. As usual the accessories cost nearly as much as the phone!

To put music on the phone:
  1. insert music CD into PC
  2. in iTunes, right-click on desired tracks and choose "Convert Selection to AAC"
  3. Remove miniSD card from phone, insert in SD adapter in SanDisk media reader
    just plug in the phone's USB cable and choose "Mass Storage" for the USB Connection
  4. in Windows Explorer, navigate to My Documents\iTunes\iTunes Music, find the track files named .m4a
    from iTunes Library view, just drag the tracks you want to the mini SD card's MEDIA folder in Windows Explorer.
Now your phone plays music almost as well as a dedicated 1GB digital audio player. The sound quality is reasonable even through the car adapter (I haven't played around with the audio settings in Edit > Preferences... Advanced > Importing). Every track has a different volume level.

I found out that with FutureDial's USB drivers the miniSD card appears as a drive letter in Windows, so I don't have to remove the miniSD card from the phone, so the SanDisk USB SD card reader was a waste of money. Just like the SanDisk USB Compact Flash card reader I bought for the digital camera I lost.

The big downside so far is there's no way to play protected music files that we legally own. I've refused to buy songs from the iTunes Music Store on principle, but even their free downloads are .m4p encrypted files that only work on iPods. jHymn and QTFairUse don't work with latest iTunes (donate $50 to DVD Jon to update his fine work!). This is why DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) is evil!

So far, it seems like $500 well spent. Then I scanned some more SprintUser forum posts and found out the Sanyo MM-9000 phone is already obsolete and is going to be discontinued by Sprint!

For my own use I'm still holding out for a flip smartphone with PalmOS PDA functionality + 2Mp camera with optical zoom + MP3 + 4GB expansion card + Infrared + GPS + Bluetooth + WiFi. I held the Samsung sph-i550 in my hand at the Samsung store in NYC, but it's cancelled. "The best is the enemy of the good" (Voltaire :-)

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Monday, October 10, 2005

web: Earthlink bites the hand that feedbacks

SPage's law: the part of every Web site with the most problems is the feedback form for reporting problems.

I get a phishing e-mail from "Processing Support <procsupport@earthlink-encryption.com>" titled "EarthLink Network user data confirmation." It invites me to fully verify my identity at a secure form which is actually a link to http://customers.earthlink-encryption.com:4443/?signature=V3pPcOZpKgxLaYBMV...

I visit Earthlink support and quickly find their Fraud & Abuse Submission form, http://securitycenterkb.earthlink.net/fraudmi.asp?route=email.
The form tells you to copy and paste the source of the e-mail message into a text area, and even gives you instructions on how to view the message source. All good so far.

But when you submit, you get a useless generic error page http://securitycenterkb.earthlink.net/error/errorMessage500.asp
So I couldn't report fraud using Earthlink's fraud reporting form!

I guessed that there's a bug in the form processing such that it can't handle large amounts of text in this text area. But many phishing scams use big complicated HTML to hide their contents from spam detectors; in this case the text is in table cells separated by rows of white-on-white garbage text.
<table cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" border="0"><tr><td><span >Dear</span></td></tr>
<tr><td><span style="font-size:78%;color:#FFFFFF;">Pb</span></td></tr></table>
<table cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" border="0"><tr><td><span > Ear</span></td></tr>
<tr><td><span style="font-size:78%;color:#FFFFFF;">yP</span></td></tr></table>
... etc.
Does the textarea have a reasonable size limit, does the form warn you it has a size limit, does it have a character counter, does it stop accepting text when you exceed that limit, does it warn before submission, and does the server-side script check? No, no, no, no, no, and no.

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