Oh, did you want this back?

"Oh, by the way," my wife said yesterday, "you got another box yesterday. I think this one's empty."

Yes, on Wednesday, I got another empty box for returning the Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel. This time, it contained the instructions, the packing tape, and the return address label.

So, the old wheel is all packed up and ready to return. Anyone want to take bets on whether or not it's repaired and returned to me?


Be careful what you let kids name teddy bears

I've been "reading" (actually listening to the audio version of) the book The Enemy at Home by Dinesh D'Souza. It's a rather opinionated book that offers up a view of Western culture and how the Muslim world views it, as a way to explain why America is hated by the Middle East. It's kind of interesting, and the more I read, the more respect I gain for some of the Muslim culture's values. (It's also kind of insulting, because he's so focused on blaming Liberals that he leaves out so much; it's really a specialized form of "Blame America First" -- but that's another rant.)

And then I see stories like this, and respect just flies out the window. The gist is, a British teacher in Sudan asked her class of 7-year-olds to name a teddy bear. One of the kids suggested Muhammad, his own name and the most common given name in the world. The kids voted in favor, and so it was. Well, the Sudanese government decided that by allowing the use of the name Muhammad for an inanimate object, the teacher was "guilty of 'insulting the faith of Muslims in Sudan' under Article 125 of the Sudanese criminal code" and sentenced her to 15 days in jail and deportation.

I suppose I should give the Sudanese court a little credit here. The original charge was "inciting religious hatred," which would've gotten her up to 40 lashes, a fine, and six months in prison. I'd like to think that they realized no harm was intended and chose the least possible sentence for the least possible crime.

Still, the fact that this was even an issue (and one that was so severe that lawyers assigned to her defense received death threats) sickens me. Maybe D'Souza would accuse me of ethnocentrism, but this is just ridiculous.

edit: It seems the USA Today link I used keeps changing; it was a report on the sentencing a moment ago (and is what some of my quotes were citing), and now it is a report on the response by the British government (which lacks some of the facts I quoted). I wonder if this Bloomberg.com link will be more stable...

edit 2: I've seen many reports that suggest this whole thing was blown out of proportion, that many Muslims do not support this decision. Good for them. I hope they are the majority, and that the sickos that were calling for the teacher's execution represent a radical minority. (Goodness knows this country has its share of vocal whackos that seem to do their best to try to give the rest of us a bad name.) I still think there is sufficient cause for concern, because at least some of those people who think she needed to be punished had the power to make it happen. What would've happened if the British government didn't hear about her and intervene on her behalf? Would reason have prevailed? What's that saying about knowing a person's true character by what they do when no one is watching?


Goofy IE6 bug of the day

Yeah, here's one that took a while to track down.

If you are able, check out this HTML in IE6:

<span style="color:Red;display:none;">Please enter valid date</span>
<span style="color:Red;display:none;">Please select a Month.</span>
<select style="float:left">
   <option value="0">Month</option>
   <option value="1">Jan</option>
   <option value="2">Feb</option>
   <option value="3">Mar</option>
   <option value="4">Apr</option>
   <option value="5">May</option>
   <option value="6">Jun</option>
   <option value="7">Jul</option>
   <option value="8">Aug</option>
   <option value="9">Sep</option>
   <option value="10">Oct</option>
   <option value="11">Nov</option>
   <option value="12">Dec</option>

This is a much-stripped-down segment of a web page I'm working on, generated by ASP.Net. It is generated by two standard ASP.Net validators (one Custom and one Required) set to Display="Dynamic" and a standard ASP.Net DropDownList inside a standard, run-of-the-mill HTML table cell, with an element from an included stylesheet thrown on. What you will see is a select box, with the last bunch of bytes from the list of options displayed below it. This text cannot be clicked or selected, the IE Developer Toolbar disavows any knowledge of its existence, and it's obviously not in the source as plain text. The text does appear in the select box where it's supposed to be; there's just a duplicate, unexplained copy on the screen. The amount of text displayed varies from select box to select box -- there is another that is in an AJAX UpdatePanel that loads a very long list of names that only displays the very last character from the very last option.

This appears just fine in IE7, Firefox, and Opera (and probably most others).

What I found, as I was systematically stripping styles and other elements off of the page, is this only seems to occur when there are two validators both with Display="Dynamic" (rendered as "display:none" in the span styles), and only in a table cell. Remove either validator or change its Display property to Static or None makes it go away.

Of course, removing validators or changing their display wasn't going to be the answer -- there are too many pages and too many different ways validators are drawn and used to alter. But as I was going through the stylesheet, I found this block of code:

   font: 11px Verdana, Arial, sans-serif;
   float: left;

I commented out the "float:left", and sure enough, the problem went away. You can try it yourself by either removing the "float:left" on the SELECT tag, or changing it to "float:none".

Why are we floating all input elements left? I'm about to find out, but considering just about everything is in a div or table cell, I'm guessing (and hoping) this style element can be removed safely...


Cheaper to replace than to repair?

Either Friday or Saturday, I got a new box from the Xbox Repair Center. We noticed it as we were on our way out for the day, sitting on the doorstep, so my wife just grabbed it and put it inside. I figured it was a new empty box for the Wireless Wheel, with instructions and hopefully a return address label this time.

Today, I remembered the box and decided to get my wheel ready to ship out for repair. I grabbed the box and brought it to the kitchen table. It seemed a little heavy for an empty box; perhaps there was more packing material this time? I opened the box, and inside was... a new wheel. No pedals or power supply or anything, just the wheel.

"So," my wife says, "it was easier for them to send you a new wheel instead of sending a return address label?"

"I'm confused," I say. "And, I think, so are they."

Oddly enough, this isn't the first time this has happened. I bought a Mad Catz racing wheel for my Xbox 1 years ago. It was a nice piece of equipment, but it had this rather annoying issue in that it would seemingly randomly lose connection to the Xbox. I'd get a message saying "Controller disconnected, press A to resume" from the game. I could press A immediately and be back in action; although the game would often forget my controller scheme and revert to the default, which meant I had to figure out which standard controller buttons mapped to which shifters and levers on the wheel, which was of course different from the wheel configuration -- very annoying to say the least. I contacted Mad Catz support e-mail and explained the problem. Apparently, some of the wheels had an issue where the vibration motors would interfere with the controller signals. They were aware of the issue and offered to send me a replacement immediately, and in the meantime told me I could work around it by turning off rumble in the game. The replacement I received worked a lot better, but it would still disconnect on occasion; when I emailed Mad Catz and explained that the problem was much improved but still there (I would see the problem maybe once in every three races), they were not satisfied and sent me yet another replacement. That one worked flawlessly. I asked them each time what I should do with the old wheel(s), and their response was just to toss them, not to even worry about returning them. Being the pack rat that I am, they're still around, even if they don't get used (except once when I and my wife's brother's kids turned off rumble and used them for some split-screen racing one holiday).

I'm starting to think I could make a living doing this. If I could fix these things myself (which is the one critical piece missing), I could make some serious money buying racing wheels, calling the manufacturer when they're defective, and getting replacements sent to me.


They may not have lions or tigers...

It's winter time in Colorado, which means time to buy stock in hand lotion. Even someone with naturally oily skin such as myself ends up with dry, scaly hands when heaters turn on for the season.

My wife got me some lotion to take to work, and I was just looking at the label. It is Neutrogena's "Norwegian Formula Fast Absorbing Hand Cream". "Developed with dermatologists", the back of the bottle proclaims. But, why "Norwegian formula"? What is so special about Norway that would make a hand lotion developed there better than, say, a "Swiss formula" hand lotion? Do all Norwegians have "perfectly soft, supple, smooth hands" (to quote the bottle) thanks to their world-renowned hand lotion formula?

Perhaps it's as my wife says. Americans equate "high culture" with "European", but since the Swiss thing and the French thing have been overdone, they picked another country. Perhaps there were involved marketing meetings where they discussed what country they would use next.

What about Denmark?

Hmm. "Danish Formula." No, sounds like a pastry. We'd have law suits from people seeing "danish" and trying to eat it for breakfast, we'd have to have a whole awareness campaign about not eating hand lotion...


"Swedish Formula." I don't know, makes me think of the Swedish Chef.

Maybe we could get the Swedish Chef to market it for us!

No, the licensing fees alone would bury us. Besides, we're selling skin care products, not food, remember?

How about...looking at a map of Europe...Finland?

Finland, Finland, Finland... "Finnish Formula"? Sounds like something you'd use to treat wood, not skin.

I've got it! Norway! "Norwegian Formula." It's still white European, but has a bit of an exotic sound to it.

Why, that's brilliant! Good work, everyone! Let's break for lunch.


No more Money for my money

Several years ago, I switched from Quicken to MS Money for managing my finances. The two programs were virtually identical, and I think I had a free offer or something for Money, so the choice was pretty easy. And for a long time, I was fairly satisfied with what I got.

Lately, though, I have started to be more and more frustrated with the program. The major issue is one of performance. Upon launching Money, the CPU will peg at 100% for minutes at a time, when it seems to be doing nothing. Downloading transactions can take 15 minutes to a half hour, with the added frustration that it will sit there and do nothing until I go to enter a transaction, and then, only then, will it start "updating transactions" and lock the form I'm working on ("operation could not be completed at this time") until it gets to a stopping point. It's like it's deliberately wasting my time. When it downloads a transaction that matches a scheduled bill, quite often it will match the downloaded copy to the next instance of the bill (instead of the instance on the exact same date). If I'm not careful, it will consider that next bill paid, and I won't get reminded when it is due. And when I click "Change" to match it to the correct date's instance, it's another 5-minute-or-so wait before it shows me the list of transactions to match.

The straw that has broken the camel's back, however, is this new feature they've been trying to push for a while. The gimmick is, you link your Money file to a Passport ID, and you can access your financials from anywhere with a web browser. Sounds neat, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out this means uploading your information to Microsoft's servers. Call me paranoid, but I don't want my bank accounts on a publicly-accessible server that can be accessed from anywhere with a web browser.

It started with simple "reminders" that you can secure your data file with a password -- a move which automatically enables the "access anywhere" feature. However, now they have locked out one of the main features behind this "requirement". For some reason, the link to the online services for one of my credit cards disappeared, meaning I couldn't download transactions for it anymore. When I went to set it up again, Money insisted -- nay, required -- that I enable the Passport link. It also does this for new accounts, even new accounts at existing institutions. For example, it refuses to acknowledge the new savings account I just opened up, even though I'm sure it's already downloading it with all the other accounts from that same bank with the same login; certain, because before it decided to play this little "give me all your data or I start taking away features" game, I had opened new accounts at existing banks, and the very next update, Money offered to set up the new account it found. Not anymore, though.

Probably the most insulting chapter of this story is that it did not happen when I upgraded versions. It is the same Money 2006 I've had for over the past year. At some point, it must've downloaded a program update that took away a feature of the program that I use, and held it hostage in trade for uploading my account information to their servers.

And to think I used to joke about Microsoft requiring your bank account information before their software would work.

I don't know if the open source projects are mature enough for my needs yet -- they weren't the last time I checked, but that was a few years ago. I have a feeling I'll be purchasing a copy of Quicken in my immediate future.