Debugging Our Network (Spoiler: Not Comcast’s Fault)

TL;DR

Skip to the end if you just want the tool to do this yourself, otherwise, enjoy the story about how we debugged a nagging network issue.

Corruption!

So, we’ve been experiencing some annoying network issues lately and we were almost positive it was our ISP (Comcast).   The issue would occur on large files (think major OS updates, video on demand, music downloads, etc).  Basically we would perform our 20 minute download and get stuck with a corrupted file.  Worse, we would pay for a VOD movie and start to watch it only to find it is a glitchy mess with intermittent sound.

Yikes!  Something had to be done.

How hard can it be?

But first — a little about our network configuration.   We have a Comcast cable modem that goes to our main firewall router that then gets distributed throughout our house via switches and wireless access points.   The initial hint was that we saw this corruption on both the wired (Tivo) and wireless downloads.

The worst part of all this is that the problem was intermittent.  Sometimes large files would work and other times they would not.  I needed data if I was going to convince Comcast that this was their problem (note the negative bias).

In the beginning

I started by manually downloaded the large file.  In this case, I leaned heavily on my buddies in Cupertino and one of their 1.1GB major software updates.  Thankfully, their update site provides a SHA1 checksum.    The process was this:

  1. Note the start time
  2. Download said file
  3. Note the end time
  4. Open a terminal window and type “shasum /path/to/filename.dmg”
  5. Make a note in some file whether or not the download was corrupt.

Did I mention

Oh yeah, each one of these downloads took me 6-7 minutes and I have kids now.   This manual data gathering was becoming a pain.   I needed relief and automation so that I could run these tests unattended all night long and gather the precious data in all the configurations and locations of our network.

Thank you Guido

Enter python and 30 minutes of time.  My son, Leo, thankfully cooperated by not injuring himself during those precious 30 minutes.   My daughter, Dagny, also helped out by taking a nice long nap.  The stars were aligned and all was go.

The script

So, I knocked out a quick and dirty little python script that does the above steps while also outputs the notes and results into a csv file.  Don’t worry, the downloaded GB file is deleted every time.  A link to the script is below (NOTE: You will need to tweak the download URL and checksum to suit your needs and desires)

Download_Large_File_examp.py

The results

So, after all the work, what does the CSV file look like when imported into Excel?

Output from the python downloader script with some conditional formatting applied.

Output from the python downloader script with some conditional formatting applied.

And the Winner is………

Surpise!  It was not Comcast!  In the end, I was able to trace the corruption to our Netgear FVS318G router which was running some old firmware (3.0.5 or something).   After installing the latest firmware (3.1.1+) the problem vanished.

The lesson here — it’s not always Comcast’s fault and it definitely helps to throw a little python around now and then.

SHeBeNoBIF

Definition

Strongly Held Beliefs No Basis In Fact(s).

Pronounced “She’-Ben-O-Biff”. Similar to NIH (Not Invented Here). SHeBeNoBIF can be a reason for rejecting something or ignoring new data, purposely remaining stubborn.

Examples

Our internal IT department has SHeBeNoBIF regarding migrating to external cloud services. The repbulican party’s SHeBeNoBIF keeps dragging their approval ratings lower and lower.

CREDIT:

Dr. John G Mooney    Pepperdine University     ca. 2012

Out in about 6,000

So, it’s been a long while, but worth an update (since in the last post we were at 5,000 and wondering when we’d be done).
Sometime in the last 4 months, our little daughter figured it all out, and before her 3rd birthday we were consistently diaper free (except for night time, of course) and completely ecstatic, too!

Of course, since that time little Leo was born and we are once again back into diaper-land with little to no sleep…….  So the next time I wake up, I might post something more intelligible.

Why I jailbroke (unlocked) an iPhone and How

First, the mini <rant>: F-U Apple & AT&T.    You pissed me off this weekend, and I’m a bloody self-admitted Apple fanboy!  Why on earth can’t I take an iPhone and yank the SIM chip and have an effective iPod Touch?  Why doesn’t this work?  Why do you force me to sign up for AT&T or brick the phone?  Why would you both do such a stupid, shortsighted, retarded, AT&T monopolistic thing.   It’s time for the federal government to once again break AT&T up into little bitty pieces that actually serve customers.     While I’m at it, WHY THE F@#& can’t I forward text messages from one phone to another???  I can auto-forward my phone calls, why can’t I forward text messages!  ARGH.  </rant>

Which brings me to the post.  Disclaimer….if you are from AT&T or Apple Legal, then be advised that this entire post is a work of fan fiction from one hell of an angry ‘fan’.

Why?

So I have this extra 2G iPhone lying around that was gathering dust (reason #1).   We like to keep it around as a backup, so selling it off on eBay was not an option.    Dagny is cute (reason #2) and always tries to play with our phones (reason #3).  In fact, Dagny has learned how to unlock an iPhone without missing a beat.  She’s so good at manipulating our iPhones that we can no longer let her near them (reason #4) (deleted apps, random dialed calls, removed contacts, etc).

I figured I would simply back up, then do a factory restore on this old 2G iPhone and hand the new baby rattle over.  Without a SIM card, Dagny couldn’t dial out, and who cares what else she did, ’cause I could just restore it over and over.    But that’s where AT&T and Apple screwed me and my toddler over.

AT&T Executives:  “Sorry, consumer.  That phone that you paid $200 for a few years ago is a stupid glass monolithic brick.  You don’t reallly own it…think of it more like an extended $60/month lease with a big down payment.  In it’s current state, it wouldn’t even interest a 6 month old.  Would you like to buy a data plan and a hefty 2 year contract?”

Me: “Screw you, AT&T and Apple.   I’m jailbreaking this thing so that my toddler can play with it the way Geek intended.  After all, the iPhone 2G is a marvelous baby rattle and a baby rattle needs no cell tower access!”


How I did it

Disclaimer:  This post is for informational purposes only….and might even be a work of fiction. Any instructions in here are merely illustrative of what one could do if one lived in a realm free of retarded government regulations, Bristol Palin and AT&T.  Don’t do anything illegal, okay, even if you own the device outright and want it to just f’ing work without needing a 2 year contract to a horrible service provider.

As of November 2010, unlocking a 2G iPhone took about a day of dedication, as the jailbreakers out there don’t actively support the older phones (e.g. the 2G iPhone).  I had to piece some things togther, but managed to get it done with a few tidbits of luck.   Those sneaky details are below.

Step 1:  Gather ye tools

You will need PwnageTool 3.1.5 (the 4.1 line doesn’t support the 2G).    I am told that google has said links to said torrents.  On the mac, Transmission.app is seemingly decent at getting ahold of torrent files.

You are also going to want a copy of the iPhone1,1_3.1.2_7D11_Restore.ipsw file.   The IPSW (iPhone SoftWare) file can also be found around the net.  You could use 3.1.3, but I stuck with 3.1.2 out of blind luck and stubborness.  PwnageTool will take this off-the-shelf .ipsw file and create a custom one capable of unlocking your iPhone.

Step 2: Create your custom .ipsw file

I then followed a great post on iClarified on how to use pwnagetool to unlock your 2G iPhone. The most important step here is to use the Expert setting and make sure that openSSH is installed with Cydia.   We’re going to need this later to fix some Cydia crap.   I eventually learned that Cydia is like the AppStore for unlocked iPhones, there’s a lot of cool free and paid stuff in there, and it serves as a sort of central distribution point for getting things on and off the unlocked phone.

While I was at it, I installed some other packages. However, not all packages work with 3.1.x and they won’t tell you this until too late, so be careful here.

Now, finish up and create your custom .ipsw file and save it where you can find it.

Step 3: Load your custom .ipsw file

Follow pwnagetools guide for getting your iPhone into DFU mode.  In this mode, iTunes will ask to restore the software, and that’s exactly what we want.   Once again, we’re following iClarified and their sweet post.

So, you’ll launch iTunes and it will ask you to restore the phone.  The little trick here is to hold the option (or “alt”) key down when you click the restore button.   This will get iTunes to ask you for the location to your custom .ipsw file.   Thanks for loading my hacked file onto the phone, iTunes.  You’re like a free piece of music software to me.

Step 4:  Allow your phone to do its thing

This isn’t really a step, but your phone will get all the bits onto it, then it will reboot (with the hacked pineapple logo from pwnagetool) and then it will upgrade stuff for a few minutes and then it will reboot again and you will have an unlocked phone in less time than it took to read this long runon and poorly structured sentence.

Step 5:  Now the fun begins

This is where the instructions leave off, and my possibly fictional help leads you to unlocked bliss.

First, get your wifi connection up and running (just as you normally would).

Second, launch the Cydia app that is on your phone.  It’s slow as a dog, but eventually should show something.    But when I tried to apply it’s upgrades or install packages, I would keep getting error messages, and this is where it got interesting. (If your Cydia app works fine at this point, then there is no reason to read further…)

After much stumbling, re-installing of the .ipsw file, re-tweaking of the installed packages, etc….I pieced together some posts and figured out a sequence of events that mostly worked.

Step 6: Getting Cydia and installed packages to work

First, SSH into your device.  (Under your iPhone settings, to to WiFi and figure out your iPhone’s IP address).  On your mac, launch Terminal.app and type ssh root@my.ip.add.ress

Your terminal will freeze for minutes as the iPhone generates a series of ssh keys.   Eventually you will be asked to accept the fingerprint of the iPhone, and you obviously agree.

The password for this version of pwnagetool/cydia is alpine.  (You can change it from your iPhone’s command line by using the passwd command).

Wow…..you’re in!   If you’re a geek, you are excited by the fact that you are on the command line of your iPhone.   If you’re not a geek, you may never get this far, or are pissed off at having to type commands to get simple things to actually happen

On the command line of the iPhone:

  • su to get to root access
  • dpkg –configure -a to fix the messed up package system
  • apt-get update
  • apt-get install cydia (or  apt-get install cydia –fix-missing)
  • apt-get upgrade

But that didn’t seem to work completely for me.  I kept getting errors from other packages.  The super secret trick.

  • cd /usr/sbin
  • ls -a check to see if there is a file “nvram”.  Most likely it isn’t there
  • touch nvram create a file that apparently was missing in the first place
  • apt-get -f install
  • apt-get -f update
  • apt-get -f upgrade

That did it.   By creating the nvram file, I was able to re-run the other commands and get them to work.  If the “dpkg –configure -a” command still doesn’t work, you may have to remove some packages that aren’t compatible.  At this point, “apt-get install cydia” should work as well.

Step 7:  Final tweaks

I was still getting some Cydia issues when starting the app.  It would get stuck on some repositories, and make the app almost unusable (Dear Cydia, your timeouts are too long.)   First, try to figure out what repositories are not responding (Cydia will typically pop up an error message with the link names that failed).

Now, fire up Terminal.app and SSH into your iPhone.  On the iPhone’s command line:

  • cd /etc/apt/sources.list.d/
  • Depending on the version of Cydia, you will either see one file (“Cydia.list”) or several files.  I had to go through each of the files (using either “more” or “less”) to find the repository in question.
  • rm name-of-file to get rid of it.

Once you re-open/re-launch Cydia, it should no longer look for the repository you just removed.

Living with the jailbroken Baby Rattle

Dagny just loves her new phone.  However, we learned two things quickly.

  1. We desperately needed a soft case on the phone to keep her from chewing on the metal/glass.
  2. Once we give the phone to her to play with….. we don’t get it back!

Making the baby rattle better

I immediately signed Dagny up (using a junk email address) for an iTunes account without a secured credit card).  That enabled us/her to download free apps, like Animal Sounds Free and other age appropriate tidbits.

I also took a little Daddy time and played with Cydia and some of the nice apps out there.  After all, if I can be interested enough to play with a baby rattle, it’s a pretty fun baby rattle.  Note that there are some Cydia apps that supposedly enable backups of unlocked apps to be downloaded through iTunes — this should make restoring a bit easier should something go awry.

Keeping the rattle jailbroken

Once I had Cydia fixed and things stable, I immediately made a backup through iTunes.   Hopefully this will provide a parachute for when Dagny inevitably messes up some key setting.

That said, I also plan to never allow iTunes to upgrade the firmware on the iPhone. This is key to keep things unlocked.

Wrapping it up

Sorry if this wasn’t the most complete tutorial, and I hope soembody finds the last few command line tidbits useful.   After all (1) this isn’t a bad way to get some utility out of an older backup phone that you might have lying around and (2) it was kind of a fun side project.

Great Balls of Tea — Details of Spherification

Introduction

A recent order to the Spice House (www.thespicehouse.com) had me excited.  Not only did they have some smoked paprika and powdered sumac (good on top of humus), they also had odds and ends for molecular gastronomy.   In case you don’t know what that means, it’s the hoity-toity way of saying doing a little chemistry with your food to create unusual effects.  Candy making is molecular gastronomy based around sugar and it’s behavior at certain temperatures.

One of the most notable effects from this “rockstar” chef movement is Spherification.   I’ll warn you that I’m no expert and definitely not a historian on this manner.  In fact, apart from seeing it done on Iron Chef now and then, I’ve only been served spheres in a restaurant one time and it was not even that memorable.

But I wanted to give it a try — so I bought some stuff for making balls (er….spheres).

Spice House offers excellent small-sized bottles for spherification.

As I mentioned earlier, Spice House offers small-sized amounts of Calcium Salt and Sodium Alginate.  Quantities sized right to get started, and the ingredients are food grade (so not from some scary chemistry shop where they may be tainted with ferric chloride, cyanides and other nasty not-so-edible chemicals).

Why write a post about my balls?

My stuff showed up just in time for some weekend play — but now what?   I trolled the web, but couldn’t find any straightforward explanations or recipes.  How much do I mix in?  How do I make the drops?  What are some basic tell tale signs.   Give me some range of expectations a la Good Eats so that I can tune in my spheres and get this process working.

I gave up on the internets and started playing and making my own notes.  What follows are my experiences from a weekend day of playing around with little alginate balls.

The Process

I didn’t make that much of a matrix, as I was basically trying to dial it in (and my 9 month old can only handle being ignored for so long).   The great part, though, is that I was able to use things that are readily available to any home cook.  Oh, and I took lots of notes of both the successes and the failures.

The Solutions

To make spheres, you drop one solution into the other.  Typically, the flavored ingredient is mixed with Sodium Alginate and dropped into a solution of Calcium Salt.  Through some chemical magic, drops turn into little spheres with a harder outer coating and a soft liquid gel like inside.  Properly done, the little spheres pop in your mouth like caviar and release tastiness on your palette.

Ca:Salt Solution

The Calcium Salt solution is easy to make up.  In my case, I just used room temperature tap water (our tap water is tasty good) and whisked in a small amount of Ca to dissolve.

Sodium Alginate Solution

The sodium alginate solution is a little more tricky.   For this set of experiments, I made spheres using sweet tea (thanks, Steph).  I figured it was a good basic starting point, as it is failrly neutral in acidity and we plenty of it to work with.

The problem with the alginate lies in actually mixing it together (emulsifying).   I first tried room temperature sweet tea and a whisk.   This just made clumps, which don’t work and are not good eats.

The answer: I popped the clumpy mixture into the microwave for 30 seconds and took it just shy of a boil — voila, the sodium alginate clumps broke apart and a whisk finished the job.    The resulitng liquid was fairly bubble free and slightly thicker (think maple syrup).

Another method of emulsification that I have read about and tried is to use a hand stick blender.  This is an aggressive approach and definintely worked at emulsifying the liquid.  However, it also seemed to incorporate lots of bubles and it loosened up the liquid considerably.  Using the hand blender, I needed more alginate per liquid volume in order to achieve the desired thickness.  Also count on a period of rest (or hook up your shop vac and a home made bell jar) to de-air your mixture.

The Dropping methods

Everywhere I looked online people used various tools to create the drops that create the little spheres.  You can use a toothpick or a spoon or a syringe.   As I worked with the various methods, I quickly developed opinions — which I will share with you below:

Toothpick

Good for initial testing of your solutions to see if they will sphereize.   Terrible for creating large amounts of balls — 1 ball every 5 seconds is pretty maddening.   Also ends up creating somewhat inconsistent ball sizes, depending on how much the solution clings to the toothpick.

Spoon

Very uncontrolled.  Pretty much useless for creating spheres.   You can create noodles and spermy looking shapes, however.

Here are the 3 dropping tools I attempted to use. A small eye-dropper type bottle on the left, a more expensive version on the right and a syringe front and center.

Syringe

Maybe I had a low quality syringe, or too small a syringe.  I had a devil of a time creating consistent drop after drop.  Instead, the syringe would clog now and then and I would end up spraying out some alginate solution into a rats-nest in the calcium salt.   Taking in a little air into the syringe helped a little bit with constant pressure against the alginate solution.  Either way, I was not fond of the syringe method.    The best use of the syringe was to cleanly fill up the dropper bottles.

Dropper Bottle

After getting frustrated with the syringe, I tried 2 different dropper bottles.  Both of these worked many times better than the syringe.  They created consistent sized drops and did so very very quickly.  The second dropper bottle was able to create 100’s of droplets in a minute!   A good dropper bottle is easy to fill and the nozzle won’t clog with alginate.   Too tight a nozzle and and the alginate eventually gums up the orifice and you can’t make spheres anymore.      In the end, I used a syringe to cleanly fill a dropper bottle and unleash a batch of droplets into the calcium salt solution.

Example dropper bottles that I tried:

  • (dropper bottle in picture on right) VWR International:  16354-400   $80 for qty 12
  • Low density VWR International 46300-592 or larger (46300-594 is 8oz),  $33 for qty 25

The other nice thing about the dropper bottles, is you can cap them and store your alginate solution for up-to-the-minute use.   One important note about spheres is to not keep them sitting around too long. After about 30 mintues or so they eventually go “stale” and harden up into solid balls — not nearly as texturally interesting as caviar-like spheres.

More Detailed Notes And Quantities

Alginate solution on the left and calcium salt solution on the right -- we're ready to make some balls.

Below are my notes on the solutions and mixes and results.  After trying to weigh out the ingredients on a precision scale, I gave up — how many of us actually have scales in our kitchen accurate enough to measure fractions of an ounce (or just a couple of grams).  In this case, volumetric measurement is going to be more reliable and more available to the standard home cook.

Sodium Alginate Solutions

Sodium Alginate was added to the room temperature sweet tea, but since it faield to dissolve, the mixture was heated in the microwave for 30s – 1 min (just shy of boiling) and whisked to emulsify.

Solution                  Sweet Tea                   Sodium Alginate

A                                   1 oz                                1/8 tsp

B                                   2 oz                                1/8 tsp

C                                   2 oz                                3/16 tsp

D                                  3 oz                                 1/4 tsp

Calcium Salt Solutions

Calcium Salt was added to cool tap water and dissolved with a whisk.

Solution                       Water                            Calcium Salt

1                                  8 oz                                 1/2 tsp

2                                  4 oz                                  1/2 tsp

3                                  8 oz                                  1/4 tsp

Results and Notes

In the following section, we’ll refer to the solutions above.   Obviously, “A1” means sodium alginate solution “A” dropped into calcium salt solution “1”

Red food coloring and simple syrup make these early spheres visually pop off the plate.

A1 Observations

  • Time in Solutions:
    • Drops 1 minute in solution were a little soft, but hardened up a little after sitting.
    • 3 minutes in solution was perfect
    • 4 minutes in solution was a little too hard
  • Solution Notes:
    • Use a little less alginate, the “A” solution was noticeably thicker — almost mayonaisse.
    • Probably could use some more calcium salt since it took so long in solution
    • There was not an excessive salt flavor from the calcium.
  • Syringe Notes:
    • I used the syringe + louver, and got about 3mm drops, but the syringe kept clogging
    • Once I got some air in the syringe behind the alginate solution and it helped with consistency.
  • After 30 minutes of standing by, the spheres were still edible

B2 Observations

  • Solutions Notes:
    • The Calcium saltwater was quite strong
    • Not enough alginate to form a ball
    • Very strong resigual Ca:Salt on spheres….must be rinsed well
  • Drop does not really penetrate surface of the water to make a sphere…instead it sits on surface and additional drops glom on.

A mound of perfectly popping prismatic sweet tea spheres sits on a white plate. Super tasty and sweet!

C2 Observations

  • This combination worked pretty well.
  • Some balls were solid however, way more than A1 — this is not as appetizing
  • Solution Notes
    • Required less soak time than A1
    • The #2 salt solution definitely needs a good rinse.
  • Dropper Notes:
    • Used the dropper bottle (“methonal bottle”)   VWR International:  16354-400
    • This was great for a consistent drop size, although if the alginate solution gets too thick it can sometimes clog.
    • Used the syringe to cleanly fill the dropper bottle.   This worked really well.

D3 Observations

  • Time in Solutions:
    • After 1 minute in the Ca:Salt solution, the spheres were nice and delicate with a good outer layer and  a snap when you bite into them.  Perfect mix for our sweet tea spheres.
  • Solution Notes:
    • Alginate needed to heat or brought to boil for faster/easier emulsification
  • The drops enter the water almost toroid shaped but did sphereize.
  • Dropper Notes:
    • Tried a different dropper bottle (like a visene eye-dropper). Although a little more difficult to fill, it did NOT clog.  It also generated dozens of spheres quickly — just squeeze.
  • Stayed good for 5 minutes (easily) after pulled out and rinsed and dried.

Other Notes and Findings

Drying

Drying these little buggers is in itself an art.   I tried a couple of ways, but by far the easiest was to spread them out on a paper towel in a single layer and cover with a paper towel and slowly roll the balls between the two layers.   The other method is to creeate a “sling” out of a few paper towels and kind of toss the balls around inside the sling.

Spheres, balls, everywhere. Watch out -- these guys know how to roll!

Balls Everywhere

Expect to find and lose balls everywhere.  Once loose, they roll….and because of their size and transparent quality, they can be extremely difficult to find.

Serving

Serve as a presenation note on the side.   I’ve served in leiue of sauce on top of fish (think parsley puree spheres with a good touch of salt as a high note on top of salmon).    Concentrated flavors and colors work well.

Tastes for Serving

For saucing or as a side note, think big bold flavors.  The spheres are small and you want them to pop and release bundles of joy.   I made a nice parsley sauce which, when over-salted, produced a wonderful topping for fist.   Blueberry juice is a little weak, but blueberry preserves thinned with water carries a good punch of flavor.

Other Hints

Mix up your alginate and drop all of your balls at once into the Ca:Salt.  Insead of trying to fish spheres out of the Ca:Salt, just pour the entire Ca:Salt solution out and into a strainer.

3oz of alginate solution is a LOT of spheres.   Easily enough as a side note on plates for 4 people.

I tried using a scale to measure ingredients, but this proved frustrating, as most scales simply cannot handle small fractions of an ounce (or gram) quantitiies accurately.

Debugging

If the drops sit on top and do not sphereize, then there is a likelihood that you don’ thave enough soldium alginate.   If, after a minute, the balls are still too fragile, up the calcium salt solution.

Next Steps

So what next?

Well, I’ve made some great spheres using a celery salty sauce and put this on broiled salmon – but I used the hand stick blender to emulsify the alginate and it took far more alginate than expected.   So clearly, there are some variables at play.   Perhaps I need to buy a pH meter and do some work with acidity and quantity other variables.

The metric that seems key, but is the hardest to quantitatively measure, is the viscosity of the alginate solution.  This is definitely a case where having some experience regarding what to expect and mixing it by eye may be easier.

Rant: The woes of Office 2008 for the Mac

The following rant revolves around Office 2008 for the Mac.    In the 2008 release, Office supposedly goes “native” for the x86 architecture and Aqua.   My old copy of Office 2000 was still working and running under Rosetta on 10.5, but (silly me) I felt like I needed to upgrade for improved performance when I upgraded to 10.6.

When you meet up with an an old friend after a decade, you are all the more aware of the changes they have gone through. Similarly, my switchover from Office 2000 to Office 2008 gives me an excellent “delta” comparison.  In this case, Office 2008 is like that high school 2nd string athlete who is now balding, fat, divorced and addicted to some substance or another.

So, without further ado, let’s look at Office 2008 for the Mac (under 10.6) with an eye towards its former self, Office 2000.

Suite-wide Performance

Compared to the current release of Office 2008, the apps of Office 2000 launched faster (with Rosetta) on 10.5 and 10.6 than Office 2008 does “natively”.   I wish I had hard numbers for you, but I’m simply not going to be that thorough here.

POINT:  Office 2000

Look & Feel & Tools

In Office 2008, Microsoft’s attempt at tool palettes is a miserable failure.  Not only do they manage to clutter the screen with a massive amount of junk (like clip art and shapes and a pre-formatted document style pane) they also fail in several other key ways:

  1. The tool palettes fail to have the same information and capabilities as the menu system.   This simply makes it a nightmare to find a given feature (could be in the menu, could be buried in a tool palette).
  2. The clutter of palettes is completely unwarranted mainly because it is features that nobody but a 3rd grader (book report with clip art) or a CEO (powerpoint with motion and sounds) would think of using.  It’s almost like they dragged users into the feature meeting, pointed out a palette and said “wouldn’t it be cool to have clip art and styles and sound palettes”.  The users said “yeah, I guess”, and the design team took this as a free ticket to put everything in your face.    Sure, one could go through the mess of turning stuff off, but “intelligent defaults” are nowhere to be found here.
  3. “Tearing off” a palette is something Photoshop and Illustrator have done “forever”.  Pinning palettes to the top is also a key feature.  Reorganizing palettes to fit your workflow.  Easily adding or removing palettes.   Give it up…..not supported in Office 2008

For simplicity and less clutter,
POINT:  Office 2000

Excel 2008:  Misery

Nothing in the Office 2008 Suite has gotten as drug-addicted as Excel.   We’re talking crack-head functionality here.

First point — I couldn’t give a hoot about VBA support.  This seems to be all that people whine about in the new Excel versions (“No VBA support on the Mac!”).  Whatever, as there are even more mundane problems with this turd of an upgrade.

No text labels in charts, but you can add pictures of ducks instead

Excel 2008 now fails to properly handle and graph large amounts of data.  If you have more than 1000 datapoints, be prepared for long waits as it tries to build your graph.  Be prepared for the beachball.  Be prepared for a crash.   Most of all, be prepared to deal with Excel’s inability to graph things it could crank through in Excel 2000.

POINT:  Office 2000

Oh, and while we are on graphs, you can no longer have a graph on the sheet with data and print just the graph!  Selecting a graph and hitting print may just send 400 pages of data to your printer.  Turns out this is a “known” issue according to Microsoft from 2 years ago! You have to move the graph to another sheet to print it out by itself.   Awesome, eh?

POINT:  Office 2000

You can no longer add arbitrary text boxes to a graph (See example picture).  This was something that was easy to do in Office 2000 (and even in Office 1997). In some graphs in a workbook,  you can add clip art of a dog or a duck or a cute little doggie (who wants their Busy Bee?) but you cannot add additional information other than a title and axis labels.  For some reason, in other graphs I’m unable to even add the same pictures.   So there goes my hopes of encoding additional chart information based on the animal’s species.  WTF???   This loss of text boxes in charts is a backbreaker.    It turns out that Open Office 3.x appears to suffer the same difficulties.

POINT:  Office 2000
POINT:  iWork for Mac, ’cause it is even more functional for graphing!

And finally, formatting a graph is painful at best.   In Office 2008 it is even more difficult to modify the data series data (No, Microsoft, I don’t really want to drag select my data columns when I have more than 1000 rows of data….I’d like to manually enter the series range).  Don’t even bother trying to re-arrange or re-center, as graphs tend to move around on their own.   Seriously, check out how far iWork has surpassed Office 2008 in terms of charting capabilities.  8 years ago there was no “iWork”.   Even the free Open Office matches the features and then some.

POINT:  Office 2000
POINT: iWork for Mac, Open Office 3

Powerpoint 2008: Ho Hum

Powerpoint 2008 is in stasis.   Really, it improved at all in the last 8 years.   For many users, Powerpoint is their primary “draw” package, yet it is no easier to draw pictures and edit photos than it was in Office 2000.

Forget about styling your slides.  An eye Candy pre-formatted puke fest clutters the tool palette instead.   If you want to set up basic font styles based on bullet point depth you’ll have to search and work on it for quite some time.

Auto-layout and layout guides are barely implemented (see Keynote or OmniGraffle for a great example of how to do this).  At least Powerpoint 2008 can hand PNG images!

Regardless, Powerpoint is still the same boring old POS.  It has lots of clip art and other junk at the expense of a clean method for managing and creating professional looking presentations.

This one is a DRAW

Word 2008:  As nimble as a cow

Word continues to be a massively heavyweight cluster-f.  The floating palettes are equally cumbersome and still make changing fonts and adding styles a mess.   Even after 8 years, putting together a Table of Contents is something that befuddles all but the most dedicated users.   Forget about indexing!     Lost in the stone-age, Word fails to do lots of basic text editing tasks and make them easier.   As a document layout tool, it still remains painful.  Images have a habit of moving around and re-sizing themselves (or ignoring your attempt at re-sizing).   Establishing basic things like gutters and orphan control continues to be an option buried deep in the layers of menus.

POINT:  Office 2000
POINT:  TextEdit, TextWrangler, iWork, OpenOffice

Conclusion

On Mac OS 10.1, 10.2, 10.3, 10.4, 10.5 and even 10.6, Office 2000 is a solid upgrade to Office 2008.   In Office 2000 you will find a bevy of useful features and a fairly clean interface and relatively simple-to-use set of tools.

If, like me, you had no reason to upgrade, I strongly recommend you stick with your old copy of Office 2000.  If you must upgrade, consider the free version of Open Office, as it not matches the functionality (and then some) of Office 2000 and even Office 2008.     If you don’t mind breaking out a little bit, I would suggest iWork, as surpasses Office 2000 in terms of functionality and ease of use.

Oh, and at no point is this review being sarcastic…..Office 2008 really is that much of a step backward!

Welcome to the NEW blog.redstoyland.com

Well…. a weekend of work and I hope that the migration from static publishing software to blogging software will enable me to make more faster bettah quicker posts.  We’ll see.

Although I have tried to maintain links, I expect that some of the older posts might have broken links.   Worse, the main Reds Toyland site is definitely going to have some orphaned links that no longer can find the old reference.  Oh well — not that big a deal.

Favorites (at least what people tell me they like reading) are geting their own category.   These include the awesome My First Hospital Visit post and the Open Letter to the Diaper Changing Mom rant.

Enjoy the new site!

Goalie Thoughts: I Has A Flavor

Today, we’ll discuss one of those less-than-obvious things about being a goalie (and player, too perhaps). Red is Smoking Hot with steam coming off his back.

::Background::

While I have short hair, I’m currently sporting the (out-of-style) spiky look. To get said spiky look one has to use product. Not a lot, mind you, but some reasonably stiff hair gel of sorts. Continue reading Goalie Thoughts: I Has A Flavor

Three Quick Things

#1… a long time swimmer of mine (yes, I’m a part-time swim coach)….said his final goodbyes today. Having coached for nearly 15 years, I have seen swimmers grow up from 5 year-olds to college athletes. These goodbyes are both sad and happy at the same time. While it will be sad to see such a great guy head back with his family to Japan (after years in this area), it will be great for him to have traveled and experienced the world. He will surely bring his irreverant style and wonderful attitude with him. Beware Japanese coaches…..your swimmers will be “eating American bubbles” (his words). May he and I meet up again (either in Tokyo or in the states on a pool deck)!

#2… I’m switching jobs. Yup….for those of you that know me, I will be changing employers after 7.5 years at Lightwave. Bittersweet indeed. I will miss everybody there that I worked with, but am happy to depart after 3 patents, half a dozen successful laser designs (e.g., models 110, 112, 142 as seen on the web site) and too many tools and fixtures to count. Viva la Barracuda!

#3… Lightwave has been acquired by JDSUniphase. The announcement came 21st. As I leave, the company is in the throws of acquisition and “figuring things out” in order to move on to the next step as part of a larger entity. Interesting times, for sure.

Random Weekend

Warning: This blog entry serves no purpose. That said, I woke up this morning and had some super duper ultra tasty coffee from the war-torn (can’t we just say “worn”) region of Zimbabwe. Due to political instabilities on the other side of the world, this particular version bitter brew is most likely headed towards extinction. There seem to be only 40 pounds left for me to get my hands on, so we are starting a stockpile in Steph’s fridge/freezer in hopes of making it last. Anyway, what better way to enjoy a nearly-extinct brew than with buttery pancakes and crisp thick-cut bacon. The way I figure it, heaven is having those three items in close vicinity of one another…a fork is optional.

Continue reading Random Weekend