Friday, January 25, 2008

iPhone Not Recognized

I have an iPod Touch / iTouch, not an iPhone.  I recently ugraded to v1.1.3 of the firmware, v7.whatever of iTunes, and added the $20 set of apps.

Ever since, I regularly get a dialog box on connecting my device that says "iPhone not recognized, disconnect and try again."

How frickin annoying.  It almost certainly has to do with bugs in the new downloads, as it never happened before I upgraded.

Anyway, here's the best I've been able to figure out re: making it go away:

1) Make sure the device is awake.  That also means don't let it suspend/sleep while waiting for a sync.

2) Make sure the device is on the main menu, i.e. not doing anything else.

3) Close iTunes.

4) Now, connect. 

When these 3 conditions are met, I think thus far it's worked 100% of the time.  There seems to be a large delay, and I think that might be the problem - if there's other things running, then perhaps the long delay tips over the "timeout" line and you get the message. Just a thought.  For my previous ipods, the minute you connected the device it would be recognized, at least by Windows, even though it might take a little while for iTunes to come up.  But with this one you plug it in and you can sit and watch while you wait for it to switch to "Syncing..." mode.

Hope that helps!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Shameless Plug for My Day Job

Hi Everybody,

Over at my real job we've just launched our Facebook application, Connect At College.  The idea is to bring social networking to the college planning process and allow students (past, present and future) to choose the schools that interest them, and then compare notes with their friends, ask questions of alumni, stuff like that.  These days your "friends" go well beyond the kids you see in the halls every day.  Some of them you may have never even met!  Going to college together could be that opportunity :).

The application works primarily for high school students, but it's also setup to handle college students past and present who set themselves up as advisors to offer suggestions and answer questions. 

Future plans for the app include the opportunity to speak directly with representatives and admissions officers from the colleges themselves.  Personally I'm not planning on stopping until we've completely transformed the whole going to college thing.  My oldest is 5yrs old right now, so I figure I've got a good 10 years to change the world! :)

Hope you get a chance to check it out!  Thanks for indulging me.

- Duane

Thursday, January 17, 2008

ActiveRecord : Find vs Find_By_Id

Here's a silly mistake I make, perhaps others make it as well.  You've got an id (primary key) for one of your objects, so you do this:

obj = Object.find(id)

and off you go.  Right? 

Small problem that you might not even realize.  If there's no record in your database with that id, then what do you get, a nil pointer?  Nope - you get an Exception thrown!  I kick myself every time I do that and make the wrong assumption.

If you want a nil pointer returns, do an Object.find_by_id(id) instead.  This will return nil if the object is not found.


Anybody got the background on why that is?


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Help! Movie Title Needed

For a presentation we're doing at work, I need the image of a mystery behind a door.  And the first thing that came to my mind is an old movie poster that shows this big dark, mysterious door, and there's light peeking out around all the edges from the other side.  Standing in front of the door is a little kid in his pajamas, like he's trying to decide whether to open it.

Anybody have any idea what I'm talking about?  My first thought was Poltergeist, and others have said that too, but I can't find this image associated with that movie.  That movie is famous for the girl sitting in front of the television screen.

Another thought was Close Encounters, where the door is open and the kid is watching the space ship land, but I don't think that's what I was thinking of.

Anybody know what I'm talking about?  It's killin me!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

iPod Touch Software / Applications Update : First Look

So I ran out to grab the $20 upgrade for the iTouch applications as quickly as I could.  I figure, what the heck, either it's worth it, or else they change their mind and credit me back.  And worse case it's not worth it, and I jailbreak the thing.  $20 isn't going to kill me.

The install process was a bit of a nightmare.  First, I notice that iTunes tells me 1.1.3 is available for my device.  Cool, I think, and download it.  I don't see much change on the iTouch, other than what appears to be some different handling of video playlists.  And was the background of the icon bar always shaded like that?  Interesting.

Anyway, I go on to hunt down the upgrade at, but it says I need iTunes 7.6 to do that.  Ok, I upgrade iTunes.  This turns into a big pain for me because I'm at work and actually have to shut down my computer in the middle to continue later (more on this in a bit).

Once I get home I go back to get the upgrade, it makes me walk through two license agreements only to say "Ok, now purchase it again."  What?  I hit the purchase button again, check off one license agreement, and then it says "Ok, sync and you'll have it."  It's at this point that my device stops being recognized.  iTunes starts telling me, "An iPhone was connected but it can't be recognized, disconnect and try again."  An iPhone?  That's not good.  I begin to wonder if I should not have done the 1.1.3 upgrade first.

Long story short, I reboot the device and the machine a few times, and end up going back into iTunes setup to do a Repair, and finally get it recognized.  Not sure if that's the end of that dilemma, but that's my problem.  On to the apps.

I told a friend yesterday after playing with the new apps for just 5 minutes, "The problem with Apple is that they set the standard so high, that even the most trivial things but the heck out of you." Example?  The new mail app.  It's nice.  Has gmail integration built right in.  But you know what?  It doesn't understand landscape mode, so you can't get a wide screen.  But if I go through Safari to get to regular GMail (with the new interface as of the other day), I can.  I happen to like reading ebooks this way, by mailing them to myself.  And they look much nicer with the wide screen so I can get the bigger font.  So there's a strike against the mail app.  But, it does offline reading (mostly), which is something I can't do with Safari.  When Mail says that it has downloaded 25 of my messages from GMail, it really has, and I can read them when I'm not connected.  Unless there are images, in which case it tries to go back online to get them.  But I can live with that.

Weather is fine.  Given that it is so blatantly an exact copy of the OS X widget, it makes me a little sad that I had to pay for it.  It's even got a little Yahoo! brand in the corner.  But hey, it works, what more can you ask?

When I heard Notes was back, I thought "Woohoo, offline storage!"  I desperately want to save ebooks to read offline.  Thus far (keep in mind I have played with it for less than a day) I still can't do that.  I can write a note (in a weird font, on yellow lined paper, which I presume is how the iPhone does it), and I can email that note, but that's about it.

Maps is fun to play with.  Lots of clicking and zooming, because the screen is just so darned small.  But it does work.  I haven't had a chance to try it out for real yet (i.e. by needing actual directions somewhere), but from clicking around on it, it looked very simliar to the standard Google maps experience.

I haven't tried the stocks app yet, but I'll assume it is very similar to weather.  That is, an exact port of the existing widget.

Customizing the home screen is cute, but that's about it.  You can pull the standard icons up from the bottom bar and put them right into the screen now - which brings me to another of those trivial little things that bug me, because the new shaded area behind the toolbar?  Stays there.  So I have this empty gray line across my screen.  I put some of the icons back just so it would look better. 

Possibly the best feature of the whole upgrade is the web clips thing.  I said earlier that I like GMail in Safari over the regular mail app?  Super, I can make a webclip so that I can go right to it with one click, instead of having to do Safari first, and then bookmarks, and then GMail.  That's cool.  Do that with your most commonly accessed bookmarks and you'll soon have need to customize your homepage :).

In short, I'm a bit disappointed.  No offline storage that I can see.  No streaming flash.  A new mail app that's basically not going to be useful for how I want to use it.  Don't really care about stocks.  I want to see now how the SDK goes, and what sorts of apps become available.  I'm getting more and more willing to try the Jailbreak thing every day.


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Friday, January 11, 2008

What Kind of Geek Have You Been?

Today I'm wearing a shirt that says "Geek" on it.  It dawned on me that it's not in the center of the shirt, like a t-shirt would be.  It's actually a patch, like a nametag.  Like, "Hi, I'm Geek."

This got me thinking about how long I've been identifying myself with that word.  In the late 80's and early 90's, when I was leaving college and getting into my first job, I typically referred to myself as "Resident Geek."  The meaning was simple, I was the guy in charge of all the technology from installing Windows (when it came out :)) to unjamming the fax machine, to writing the product. There was only one of me, and I did what needed to be done.

As the late 90's rolled around, it was more often "Alpha Geek."  This, too, had a pretty clear connotation, that being to "alpha male."  My field was now a more competitive one, and I fancied myself at the top of the heap.  The decision maker.  The one who had proven himself worthy of that title because no one had taken it from him.  The analogy is stretched a bit, but looking at it now I can see that it's more accurate than not.

Early 2000's, as the boom turned sour and all of our best efforts went "enterprisey", it was Chief Geek.  This was more formal, like an actual title.  An attempt to sidle up to the existing management structure and identify oneself with such terms as Chief Executive or Chief Technical Officer.  What are you?  I'm Chief Geek.  Whether the new seniority that came with the new title was all in my head or not, I'll never know. :)

These days we've gone in the other direction, and it's back to being about the technology.  You may be the "Rails Geek" in your shop, while the "Java Geeks" are down the hall.  There's lots of us.  There's not so much of a hierarchy anymore, nor is the competition quite so cutthroat.  You show your value by demonstrating your expertise.

What sort of geek will I be 5 years from now, I wonder?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Amazon's "Call Me" Service

Ok, this is cool.  The biggest downside with online retail is that you have to sacrifice customer service.  You don't get to talk to a human, and even if you do, you get somebody offshored someplace who is reading from a script and can't really help you with anything but frequently asked questions.

So I did not have hope when I screwed up my Amazon return.  I've apparently got UPS showing up at my office tomorrow to pick up this package, but I got no shipping label.  I can't find any addresses on the site, and I know that emailing customer service is not going to get me an answer in time. Then I finally find the "contact by phone" button.

First it asks me to pick which order I'm calling about.  Fair enough.  Then I click Phone again.  And it says "We'll call you.  Seriously.  What's your number and when do you want us to call?"  I type in my number and click "Now."

Phone rings.  Nice.  I mean, like, 5 seconds from the time I click the Now button.

There's a quick computerized voice that says "blah blah thanks for using this feature, hang on a second" and the next thing you know there's a nice human with some sort of southern (Texas, maybe?) accent asking what she can do for me.  I explain the situation and she says, "Yeah, common question.  UPS will bring their own label.  Yes, we really do expect you to just leave a blank box out for them."

So, there you go.  At first I would have given the process a failing grade for leaving me hanging - how logical is it to not offer a shipping label, and just say "UPS will be expecting it?"  But the whole "call me" thing just turned it right around.  That is outstanding.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Computer Camp : What Language?

Today a friend mentioned the possibility of signing up his kids for "computer camp".  His older boy is 11, his daughter is either 7 or 8, not sure which.  And not sure which he's signing up.

I asked what language they're teaching.  The answer?


I think they're nuts.  I've lost count of all the seasoned professional programmers I know that can't stand C++.  So why teach it to children, when there are so many other more logical choices?  Have I just been out on the web too long, and is this a camp for traditional software engineers who are going to be writing Windows apps?  I'd have assumed you'd start out kids these days with Java, or maybe even Python or Ruby or something.