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Asus Eee PC defeats MacBook, Taking Over Notebook Sales Charts

Asus Eee PCs are selling like hotcakes on Amazon.com, according to their PC Hardware Bestseller list. This list has been long dominated by the MacBook. The Eee PC 901, with it’s 12 GB SSD, 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor, and Windows XP, appears to have hit the sweet spot.

I for one am fascinated by this “NetBook” phenomenon. Their size is great, but their battery life is nothing special. They’re great at browsing the web, emailing and chatting, and general word processing, but clearly don’t have nearly enough power for me to run Visual Studio. I think I might buy one for my mom (she’s getting tired of sharing a computer with my dad!).

(via WinBeta.org)

UPDATE: Apple fanboys rejoice, the MacBook is back on top. But all laptops are completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of Eee PCs on the charts!

Windows Media SideShow Gadgets – Now on Windows Mobile!

Not too long ago (7/3/2008) Microsoft released the “Windows SideShow for Windows Mobile Developer Preview”. This software allows you to connect via Bluetooth to a SideShow-enabled Windows Vista PC to access all sorts of features on your Windows Mobile device. This includes mail apps, picture displays, system performance monitors, and my personal favorite, remote controls for Office PowerPoint, Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center!

The Media Player and Media Center remotes are very similar. The true greatness of these gadgets come in their functionality, although they are lacking (especially the Media Player gadget) in UI. Too much of the interaction with the gadget is through Windows Mobile menus, and not pretty buttons in the gadget itself. But considering they are betas, and Microsoft seems to be focusing on functionality and reliability and not yet UI, they are very impressive. (Although I’m pretty sure if Microsoft really wanted to they could have one of the resident ├╝ber-geniuses whip up a pretty GUI for it by tomorrow. I mean, we talking about swapping a couple dozen menu items with graphical buttons instead…almost makes me think they are intentionally leaving the UI bare so as not to infringe upon partner companies building SideShow remotes.)

You can browse all of your media libraries, change the current playing selection or add items to the queue, view the TV listings, and change radio stations, all though these gadgets! Amazing.

Here’s some screen shots of the Media Center gadgets:

You can download the installation files for SideShow for Windows Mobile here, and download the Windows Media Center SideShow gadget from Microsoft Connect (you’ll need a Windows Live/Hotmail login).

The Office PowerPoint Remote and a Windows Mobile device is probably the best PowerPoint remote available. No other remote I know of let’s you control not only flipping slides forwards and backwards, but see the slide you are looking at, it’s notes, and the next slide in the queue all on one screen. Simply amazing.

Grab the Office PowerPoint Remote on the Windows Live Gallery.

1 Trillion and Counting…only 3.3 years until Google’s Index Reaches Infinity

OK so I’m kidding about the infinity thing, but this I’m not: a couple of Google search engineers announced today that Google’s search index had reached a historic milestone: 1,000,000,000,000 (trillion) unique URLs on the web!

We’ve known it for a long time: the web is big. The first Google index in 1998 already had 26 million pages, and by 2000 the Google index reached the one billion mark. Over the last eight years, we’ve seen a lot of big numbers about how much content is really out there. Recently, even our search engineers stopped in awe about just how big the web is these days — when our systems that process links on the web to find new content hit a milestone: 1 trillion (as in 1,000,000,000,000) unique URLs on the web at once!

What I find really cool, is that their massive supercomputer is able to index all of this content, 1 trillion pages and new additions, nearly continuosly:

To keep up with this volume of information, our systems have come a long way since the first set of web data Google processed to answer queries. Back then, we did everything in batches: one workstation could compute the PageRank graph on 26 million pages in a couple of hours, and that set of pages would be used as Google’s index for a fixed period of time. Today, Google downloads the web continuously, collecting updated page information and re-processing the entire web-link graph several times per day. This graph of one trillion URLs is similar to a map made up of one trillion intersections. So multiple times every day, we do the computational equivalent of fully exploring every intersection of every road in the United States. Except it’d be a map about 50,000 times as big as the U.S., with 50,000 times as many roads and intersections.

As you can see, our distributed infrastructure allows applications to efficiently traverse a link graph with many trillions of connections, or quickly sort petabytes of data, just to prepare to answer the most important question: your next Google search.

I am surprised by that number. I figured maybe in a couple years…but wow. I don’t know about you, but my money says Googlenet is already more powerful than Skynet.

Read more on the Google Blog.

Famed NASA Astronaut Claims Confirms Extraterrestials Exist – And Visit Us

This has nothing to do with software development, but it is too good to resist. Former NASA Astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell has said in a radio interview that we have been visited by aliens and Roswell was real. (Full disclosure: I personally have complete confidence that not only do aliens exist, they visit us regularly, probably to the point of having formal diplomatic relations with at least the US government. But it is always nice to hear someone of Dr. Mitchell’s stature agree with me!) Here’s a snippet from the article:

Chillingly, he claimed our technology is “not nearly as sophisticated” as theirs and “had they been hostile”, he warned “we would be been gone by now”.

Dr Mitchell, along with with Apollo 14 commander Alan Shepard, holds the record for the longest ever moon walk, at nine hours and 17 minutes following their 1971 mission.

“I happen to have been privileged enough to be in on the fact that we’ve been visited on this planet and the UFO phenomena is real,” Dr Mitchell said.

“It’s been well covered up by all our governments for the last 60 years or so, but slowly it’s leaked out and some of us have been privileged to have been briefed on some of it.

“I’ve been in military and intelligence circles, who know that beneath the surface of what has been public knowledge, yes – we have been visited. Reading the papers recently, it’s been happening quite a bit.”

Read the whole story and listen to the interview at the Daily Telegraph…

Tracing the Stack in SharePoint

As a SharePoint developer used to working with pure .Net, the first thing that I had to get adjusted to was SharePoint’s error handling and general debugging. Error messages, when they say anything other than a generic “error has occurred” message, are often irrelevant to the actual error that’s occurring.

Worse, the sharepoint logs are OVERLOADED with entries (I’ve seen SharePoint write over 100 log entries in a second) making it very very hard to find the entries that actually contain an error (this is why someone long ago invented the “log viewer”).

Add to that there is no switch in place in Central Administration to enable detailed errors, it instead requires manual modifications of the web.config file. So if you’d like to be able to see the stack trace of the error that is occurring, open the web.config file of your Central Administration site (or a different site if you so choose, located in C:\Inetpub\wwwroot\wss\VirtualDirectories\YourSitePort) and edit the following entries to turn off Custom Errors and enable the Call Stack:

<system.web>
    <customErrors mode="on" />
</system.web>

Should say…

<system.web>
    <customErrors mode="off" />
</system.web>

And

<SharePoint>
    <SafeMode MaxControls="50" CallStack="false" />
</SharePoint>
Should say…
<SharePoint>
    <SafeMode MaxControls="50" CallStack="true" />
</SharePoint>

If you are debugging a production system, you can instead set the “customErrors” mode to “remoteOnly”, this will allow the stack trace to be shown on the server’s browser, but not on any remote computers.

I guess we can chalk this lack of easy to use error handling on to the list of SharePoint “oversights” on Microsoft’s part (along with the lack of a x64 SDK, the SPTimer bug that often can’t queue more than 15 items correctly, and the fact that their paid SharePoint support line is usually unable to actually, you know, support anyone. At least we got our money back!)

Dreaming of Printing My Own Gadgets…

Today I got a new Sprint Mogul (PPC-6800). I was watching the LCDs blink, and it hit me really deep: I can’t wait for the day 3D printers have matured to the point where they can print the case, circuit boards, and chips, and maybe even the batteries and screens themselves, so that I can make my own portable electronics. Not to say that what’s out there isn’t impressive, or that we aren’t moving in the right direction as a whole, but I can think of many people and researchers that could use their own, uniquely functional, gadget design.

In the meantime, here are some companies leading the charge:

Continue reading ‘Dreaming of Printing My Own Gadgets…’

Lost in… Dell’s Support Maze

UPDATE: Problem solved (no thanks to Dell), see below!

Calling all Dell Representatives: Does anyone know what a “Digital Cable Tuner” is? Or that you sell one by the name of “ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuner”? Seriously, anyone at Dell?

OK, maybe I’m being too harsh. 2 out of 15 people had heard of it before I called, although to be honest only 1 of them even came close to convincing me that is true. This all began a couple of weeks ago, when I tried to watch a 1080p video on my then Media Center PC only to learn that it simply wasn’t up to muster. After learning an upgrade meant pretty much replacing everything but the case, I decided to go all the way and replace my cable box as well, with a Dell XPS 420 and ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuner.

As it turns out, despite a Direct2Dell’s blog insistence to the contrary, not all XPS 420 machines come Digital Cable Ready (meaning OCUR capable BIOS and the Digital Cable Product Key). They say “Back when we supported digital cable tuner on the XPS 410, we only offered it on a single configuration. On the XPS 420, it is a base option on the system.” Interestingly, I have since noticed out of the four default XPS 420 models listed on the Dell Home listing, the most expensive and feature filled one does not have Digital Cable Support as the default option, though it is selectable. This makes no sense, and serves only to confuse the customer. I thought the point of making all XPS 420 Digital Cable Ready was to remove confusion. Right Dell?

So anyways Dell is often advertising their outlet shop when your on their site, so I took a look at their XPS 420 listings, and found a model that had the exact same base specs as the base XPS 420 on the main retail site. The Outlet system details are sadly lacking, and barely list any details. So when all I could get out of the outlet was that it shipped with Vista Home Premium, I didn’t think much of it because it didn’t list SP1 either. I ordered the machine on July 8th, 2008.

Lo and behold, when the machine arrived on July 14th, it did not have digital cable support. I tried calling Dell before it was shipped to check, and was told that “nobody at Dell can provide you that information, sir” when I asked it if had the proper BIOS and Product Key.

After it arrived I made several calls on the 14th, talking multiple times to the Customer Care, Sales, and Technical Support departments, including the XPS specialists. No one was at all familiar with the digital cable tuner, and were all completely unhelpful.

On the 16th I tried a chat session with XPS Technical Support. Although the representative assured me he had worked with this issue before, the information he provided was incorrect. A copy of the entire transcript is available here after clicking the “continue reading…” link. I was able to find a helpful sales representative that sold me the tuner, however. This after the Chat support rep assured me the Digital Cable Product Key would come with the tuner.

On the 20th I again tried the phone, and the chat, all to no avail. Still, no one is even familiar with the product. Thanks to Chris M. in the Dell forums, I was able to get OCUR support activated in my BIOS. On the 21st I tried the phone and chat again, still no success getting help with my missing Product Key.

So I’ll probably edit this tomorrow, it’s late and I need sleep, but I wanted to get this out in the public ASAP. Because as of now Comcast is scheduled to arrive Wednesday at 3pm with my new CableCARD and take away my cable box, a visit that is costing me a $80 fee, and they won’t be able to activate the card if Dell doesn’t give me the Digital Cable Product Key. And I haven’t even touched on the fact it didn’t come with the Media Center Remote I expected it to come with.

So Dell guys, anyone know how to get a Digital Cable Product Key?

UPDATE 7/22/2008 4:02 PM: Continue reading to see the Dell reps embarrass themselves, if for no other reason than they seem to like avoid saying “I don’t know”…

UPDATE 7/22/2008 5:18 PM: Heard back from a Dell rep, Chris M in the forums (the same guy who commented below and was able to help me with the BIOS update). He reports: They told me that the key cannot be issued. I went up the chain pretty high.

So I guess Dell is trying to tell me the only option is to return the computer. So I have a perfectly functional computer that Dell will have to incur costs to return and refund the order, all because a simple product key cannot be issued? Or worse, because the guy that can issue the keys cannot be found?

Doesn’t one returned computer wipe away the profits of several successful computer sales? This doesn’t make sense to me from a customer care or dollars and cents point of view! And Dell wonders why they are no longer the industry leader….

UPDATE 7/24/2008 5:30 PM: Heard back from Dell Representatives:

  • I asked the sales person who sold me the tuner to escalate this problem to the resolution department if possible. Yesterday I received a call from someone within the department in “headquarters”, they were calling in direct response to my request for escalation, but they had also read my blog, which I wrote after I made the escalation request.
  • I received a second call yesterday from a different escalation department, this time not calling in direct response to a request, but instead because of the request of a Dell manager’s that I had not worked with before. They had also read the blog. Judging by this and the referrer links on my blog, it seems as though my blog post has been emailed around a bit…
  • In both cases, the representatives were not previously familiar with this issue, and neither are sure it is even possible to issue the product key. Obviously someone in Dell can do it as they issue them with new computers, but there is not process in place after the fact to do so. Hypothetically, as it stands now, even if I purchased it new with digital cable support and by chance it did not come with the product key affixed, Dell has no system in place to issue a new key short of returning the computer.

Overall, I am very confused on what exactly Dell’s policy is with Digital Cable Support:

  • The Direct2Dell blog says that digital cable support is “a base option on the system.”
  • If you try to buy a new XPS 420 from the home site, you cannot buy it without Digital Cable Support, even if you wanted to. (this is what I mostly based my decision to buy one form the Outlet on…)
  • If you buy a XPS 420 from the business site, it does not come with digital cable support. (I learned this only recently after investigating the issue in depth.) Personally, I think this should cause a second product line, i.e. XPS 425, if the base options don’t match.
  • If you choose to add digital cable support to a business purchased computer that did not have it in the base configuration, it DOES NOT COST ANY ADDITIONAL MONEY!

Both Dell resolution experts have said they will personally investigate the issue, one I expect to hear more from today, the other will contact me on Sunday or Monday. After that I will either have a product key, or I will have to return this computer.

UPDATE 7/24/2008 8:12 PM: Heard from Dell Resolution Specialist:

I got the call I was expecting late this afternoon. For once I actually have hope this issue will be resolved. While this Resolution Specialist was not previously familiar with the issue, after our first call he literally spent the next several hours reading blogs and getting up to date, and when he called he actually had a pretty firm grasp of the technology and what the digital cable product key was for. What I was told is that that the key is issued with all new Dell Home XPS 420s, and only with new computers. Those that are returned, but were originally issued with the key, are scrubbed of digital cable support during the refurbishment process. He also said there is no process within Dell to issue these keys other than purchasing them with a new computer, but he is going to talk to superiors to see what can be arranged.

He has agreed there is a discrepancy in what is advertised, considering that you cannot buy it new without digital cable support and it is then removed when refurbished, and what is actually available. I’ll know more tomorrow, stay posted!

UPDATE 7/26/2008 3:44 PM: I heard back from Chris, the Dell Resolution Specialist. He said he tried very hard, but there is no way to issue the key other than buying it new. He did say maybe the other resolution specialist (who was off until Sunday) will have better luck; he is located in a different office. This resolution specialist is having someone who handles returns and reorders call me back. At this point it looks like I will have to return this computer; I am not sure if I want to but a full price new Dell, as much as I like the XPS 420 as a machine. I am thinking of switching to a HP with Digital Cable Support.

I’m still pissed about the fact that all new Home XPS 420’s come with Digital Cable Support, but Dell removes it during refurbishment (although some clearly make it through). Sounds to me like Dell doesn’t want to pay the extra license fee on those machines.

UPDATE 7/28/2008 1:01 AM: May have a solution (no thanks to Dell). Will report more tomorrow.

UPDATE 8/1/2008 4:17 PM: This update actually happened on Tuesday, but work has prevented me from finding the time to post it until now. Dell was ultimately unable to resolve the issue. Despite escalating it pretty high, and discovering they did indeed have a problem, the only solution they could find was to have me return the computer. They did not offer a discount for a new machine to match the price I paid for the Outlet machine, although I didn’t push for it as I was quickly given this solution before I could.

Thankfully this blog got out there to some people, and someone who read it happened to have an unused Digital Cable Product key from a XPS 420 that was returned. Being that it was returned, he guessed it was unused, and sure enough the key activated without issue. Comcast came and installed the CableCARD (although I’m giving them too much credit – they didn’t know where to plug the CableCARD into the tuner, and they didn’t know how to look up the card’s numbers within Media Center. So basically I did the installation and Comcast tried to charge me $80 for it. Yeah right!), and after tweaking the 2400 HD PRO’s drivers I was proudly watching Weeds on Showtime in HD in the glourious Media Center UI!

Come back soon for a How-To guide…

Continue reading ‘Lost in… Dell’s Support Maze’