The sad state of application programming

The Hulu app froze again yesterday and required a force stop. We had another episode of the house phones (the Panasonic DECT6.0 cordless set) not seeing the line from the Ooma, and the Ooma Telo box needed to be power cycled to fix it. I’ve had to power-cycle the Fire TV Cube a couple of times since I installed it a couple of weeks ago. It seems that the Fire TV Cube and the Ooma box will just need regular power cycles to keep them from hanging. This kind of stuff is becoming more and more common… apps are stable for a few hours or a few days, but past that your chances of things working as they should decline rapidly.

I think software development is really being taken over by people who are only marginally competent. You probably know the type. They’ve been to all the classes, got the degrees, can write the code, but really don’t understand how things work, and their code is functional only under ideal conditions. I work with these types daily. They’re unable to think about what happens when things don’t work exactly as they should. The typical conversation consist of me asking one of them what happens when X breaks, which results in a puzzled look. X isn’t supposed to break, you see, and if it does then X is at fault and should be fixed. Never occurs to them to allow for X breaking as a known possibility. Problem is, the guy who wrote X is also a marginally competent idiot, so in the end everything breaks and no one understands why.

We seem to be accepting this as the norm. I talk to people a generation younger than myself and either they are incredibly lucky, or I’m incredibly unlucky, or I’m the only one in the world that ever has an application misbehave. They seem to just accept it as normal and move on. A quick power cycle, a quick reboot, force stop and move on, whatever. As do I, but I do notice it. I can remember when applications being unstable was not unusual, but everyone understood that it was a problem and something to be fixed. Now it just seems that no one cares. OK, if we’re talking about some time sucking game, I don’t care either… but we’re not. We’re talking about systems that should be at least as reliable as what they replace, but turn out to be a pile of crap. I can’t count how many working hours are wasted on bad phone connections, twitchy chat sessions breaking, crappy remote meeting sessions, and slipshod work by people who should know better.

Cord cutting update

Well, we’ve been watching Amazon Prime and Hulu Live for a week now. We have not yet needed to switch back to cable, which is good. It has not been quite the seamless transition one would hope for, but it’s not a complete pain in the ass either. Compared to watching cable, it’s a lot more labor intensive. Lots of button pushing, menu navigating, and we seem to have a disruption of some sort on average at least once a night. Wrong video streams, app crashes, Fire TV reboots, etc. It may not be a deal breaker, but then again it may be. It certainly is a pain in the ass.

My short take on it is, this whole thing is great. Or it would be, if the apps were written by people who actually gave a damn whether things actually worked for more than a few hours at a time. I’ve started doing a power-on reset of my Ooma box once a week to keep it from wandering off the path of righteousness; it looks like the Fire TV Cube may need that once a day or so. Unfortunately, there is no way to force reboot either one remotely so it turns into me remembering to go unplug the stupid things.

Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly so far…

The Good:

  • The shows we watch are automatically recorded, so we can watch them whenever we please.
  • Video and audio quality seem to be very good. I haven’t tried any lower quality settings to see how it impacts things.
  • So far, I don’t think we have found any of our shows that we can’t watch.

The Bad:

  • Navigation is just clunky, there’s no other way to describe it. There’s lots of button pushing, and you have to be careful of lag and slow response.
  • Different apps for different shows. Amazon Prime for Jack Ryan and a couple of others, Hulu for most things. Not a huge deal, but integration could certainly be better.
  • Data burn. We’re on a 1TB/month plan. We had been using 2-5 GB/day; now we’re hitting peaks of 25GB or more. Average seems to be around 15, which is still OK… but we’ll actually need to pay attention to our data usage, which is not ideal. Obviously streaming video is going to burn bandwidth; this was not unexpected.

The Ugly:

  • Alexa commands are a joke. Tell Alexa “Tune Discovery on Hulu”… no dice, Alexa says Hulu can’t find that channel. We use the remote for most everything.
  • The Hulu app is not what I would call stable. I have started force terminating it once a day, just to keep it from crashing at inopportune times.
  • The Fire TV Cube is also not what I would call stable. roughly every other night or so, it will just spontaneously crash and reboot in the middle of a show.
  • Hulu’s inexplicable and stupid lack of a program guide. It’s idiotic, there’s really no other way to describe it. Guys, you’re selling this as a LIVE TV service, why not act like it and put up a damned program guide?
  • Occasionally, our sound bar will simply power itself off in the middle of watching something. What turned it off? Why? No indication, it’s a mystery. And of course, that means you have to grab another damned remote… unless you tell Alexa to turn the sound bar on, which Alexa will, and then you lose the audio stream from the Hulu app.

Why I fear for Western civilization

I really wish I could just drop our cable T V service altogether.  I am beginning to think that just having the cable signal inside the house is lowering our IQ.

With crap like The Bachelor and the rest of the voyeuristic garbage on network TV, and the horde of brainless bullshit on the cable networks…  what have we become?  A nation in which Honey Boo Boo (and her circus sideshow of a family) can become cultural icons scares the hell out of me.  We’ve got pageants where toddlers and young girls are made up like street hookers and paraded in front of the crowd.  We can’t forget Dance Moms and now its growing horde of imitators.  And the phalanx of wedding dress micro-dramas.  And I see now Kate is back, minus spouse, but having picked up a few aides-de-camp along the way.  I can think of no more certain way to remain a single mom than to demonstrate on TV just how much of a train wreck you are.  So-called “Gypsy” clans, and the most ridiculous attempts at exploiting Amish culture that I can imagine – oh, to be Amish and have no electricity!  Then you wouldn’t ever see the fake “survival” shows, the fake “moonshine” shows, and the fake everything else shows.  I could go on and on and on. 

Honestly…  if I were of dating age and raised with a TV in the house I’d probably enter a monastery.  :shudder:  The fact that such shows find enough viewers to make them financially viable makes me question our collective futures.


Why am I such a tightwad?

Yesterday in the mail I got a really nice invitation to contribute to an organization whose goals I support.  They even sent me a nice little pocket sized copy of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.  And these guys are good; I really do like the work they do.  And I won’t send them any money.

Why?  Because it means that they will immediately add me to their list of people to harass constantly and incessantly for more, more, more.  I have had this happen with any organization to whom I give a dime.  I donated a couple of times to the Wounded Warrior Project, with a letter asking them very plainly to not waste their money (the money I donated, in other words) sending me crap in the mail begging for more.  I know who you are, I told them; I know where to find you and if I decide to donate more, I will do so without their prompting.  Furthermore, I told them, if they did decide to waste the money I donated on mailers and phone solicitations to try and get more from me, I would cut them off.

Unfortunately, since then they have wasted much of the money I donated on mailing me crap every week or two begging for more.  Sorry, screw ’em.  Not another penny, since they seem to be more focused on soliciting money than anything else.  I won’t donate to organizations that will simply waste the money.

I told the NRA the same thing.  After I joined I was inundated with junk mail begging for donations.  I wrote them a nice letter telling them that if they continued wasting my dues on sending me junk mail, I wouldn’t renew.  The junk mail stopped, and I’ve been a member ever since.

Most of the solicitations I get, though, go unanswered.  It seems that too many organizations are no longer charitable or activist or whatever their nominal purpose is — they are focused on fundraising, apparently for the sake of fundraising.  If I could kick in a few bucks and be left in peace, maybe I would.  But I hate paying for more junk mail.  Sorry if that makes me a tightwad.


AWESOME garbage collection job!

Man, the City of Omaha and Deffenbaugh are aces.  What a fantastic job of not only picking up the garbage, but making sure our street stays nice and quiet…  since you cna’t drive down it without zig-zagging around the chicanes.

Telemarketers getting entirely out of hand!

Over the past week it seems the number of illegal telemarketing calls we are getting has increased dramatically.  We’re now getting several calls per day.  The new ones are mostly live people, calling and asking for me by name, with some bogus crap about filling out an on line survey and winning some discount package or some crap.  Bullshit.  I don’t fill out online surveys, for one thing.  Certainly nothing with a phone number, and I’ve also told them to stop calling.

The latest batch has been guys with heavy Indian accents calling with Florida caller ID.  OK, first… Don’t call me if you don’t speak English, asshole.  Second…  I don’t know anyone in FL, and I’m sure as hell not answering your call if the CID just says the name of some shitty little town in Florida.

I’m going to move out land line to the Asterisk box and let the blacklisting and privacy extension features start weeding these slimy little bastards out.  In the mean time I’m filing FCC No-Not-Call complaints for each and every call.  It’s probably a waste of time and effort, but you never know.  The last time I did that, people went to jail.

In Florida.


Cell phone troubles

Well, the other day I pulled my 14 month old Droid 2 Global from my pocket, and found it powered off.  That’s unusual.  What was worse, it wouldn’t boot — I got a text bootloader screen telling me the battery was too low to load code.  Not good.  Figuring the battery had croaked, I ordered a new one ($3 or so eBay special).  Unfortunately, it seems the problem runs deeper.  The phone won’t charge the battery regardless of how I try it, and the new battery didn’t last long enough to load a firmware image from my PC.  I believe the phone is now expensive scrap.

So off to the Verizon store I went. I’ll spare the details, but suffice it to say that I left there, as usual, with no working phone and a serious intent to just cancel ALL our Verizon service.  Seriously, where do they find these worthless little retards?  A call to their customer service line was a complete waste of time…  I ended up finding out that their phone reps have to use a web site that sucks even worse than the consumer site (quite a tall order) and it’s actually cheaper to just use the web site.  Sigh…

After wasting most of a day on this — well, more than a day, since I’d spent several hours on it before today — I have a new Droid 3 on the way, at zero cost, with a vehicle mount and the desk charging dock.  I just had to go somewhere other than Verizon.  I found a place on eBay with a killer upgrade deal, did a little research, found out they were legitimate and that, in fact, even NewEgg uses them.  So I went through NewEgg, since I have more confidence in their ability and willingness to strong-arm a vendor if they don’t deliver.

Now, why I have to jump through so many hoops and do so much work for the exact same end result is beyond me.  In the end I get a brand new Verizon phone, and a new extension of my existing Verizon service.  Just like if I’d done it in 10 minutes at the Verizon store.  The only difference is that NewEgg and the company they use are both making money — and Verizon isn’t.  In fact, as far as I can tell Verizon is making a few hundred dollars less than if they’d just sold me the phone in the first place.  It’s beyond stupid.

In the end I get a new phone, but I’m about 50% less satisfied with VZW than I was before.  So much so, in fact, that I plan to see if I can get my phone to work on AT&T and T-Mobile networks (there is a way) so I can try out prepaid SIM cards from them and see if they suck less.  Maybe, maybe not…  but VZW has really gotten to be a pain in the ass to deal with.

On top of all this,  we were supposed to fly today but it’s too damn cold.  Oh well.

Fedora 16 released (and Gnome3 sucks).

Fedora 16 has been released as of, I think, yesterday.  I’d give it a mixed review, if not downright negative.

I upgraded my Fedora 14 system in the office to 16 yesterday using preupgrade.  The upgrade went relatively smoothly — thought for some unfathomable reason, it didn’t bother to install the new kernel.  The result was a system that took forever to do anything, was running the cooling fans flat out, and failed miserably to give me a working desktop.  once I noticed it was still running a 2.x.fc14 kernel, I had to reboot in single user mode, install the new kernel and fix grub.conf.

The biggest loser here is Gnome3.  While it’s visually kind of nice on the surface, it seems a lot of change simply for the sake of change…  and none of it good.  It’s actually much less convenient and less easy to use than Gnome2.  For example, I no longer have the drop-down menu structure for starting apps.  Now there’s an “Activities” link in the top right corner.  Any time I want to start a new application, I click that — and it rearranges my desktop, shrinking my running windows down to tile them on screen, while popping up a short bar of frequently used apps.  Or, I can click another word on the screen and see ALL of my apps, all at once, alphabetized.  No grouping, of course.  Oh – wait!  There are the groups, clear the hell on the right edge of the screen.  Why?  Did we move to Iraq or something?  Left to right, folks.  It’s almost as if they want to make Linux look like an iPhone or Android, which works OK (kind of) on a  phone sized screen but definitely not on a 1600×900 monitor.

Gone are the admin Settings menus.  How do I set video card resolution and color depth?  Beats the hell out of me.  Apparently it doesn’t want to let me log in as root now, either…   a choice that has always been MINE to make, not someone else’s.  I had to do a Google search, then edit two files to get that back.  My bottom screen bar is gone; minimizing windows makes them disappear completely, and you have to go through the stupid application click dance to see them.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I’m hoping they haven’t irreparably broken the “fallback mode”.  I’m switching to it.  Gnome3 is a loser in so many ways I’m not wasting any more time with it.


“What, you’re not on Facebook?”

Man…  I get this question from time to time, and it’s tough to restrain myself from going off on a minor rant.  Sometimes I don’t succeed.  So, I’m going to spell it out here, and never speak of it again.  I hope.

I have a number of problems with Facebook and other so-called “social networking” sites — Twitter, Myspace, and whatever new thing Google is throwing into the mix this week.  Some of these issues extend to so-called “cloud” services like Picasa, Google Docs and the hundreds of similar “Give us your stuff, we’ll take care of it for you” businesses.  Most of the issues I have revolve around three major points:

  1. Privacy.  Regardless of what you may think, Facebook and other sites are not secure.  There are fairly regular and major incidents involving privacy breeches involving Facebook and similar sites.  YOU may not always be able to get to your stuff (see below), your friends might not be able to, but you can bet that people you don’t want to will have access to it all from time to time — and you don’t know when, or how much of it.  If you bother to read the terms of service that you agree to (and which gets changed from time to time), you will see that you’re giving these people the right to use everything — your name, pictures, video and everything else — forever — however they see fit.  When they need a new revenue stream, where do you think that’s going to go?
  2. Information overkill.  Do we really need to know every random thought that passes through the head of every person you’ve ever known, and quite a few you don’t know?  How many examples of Facebook-spawned fights, feuds and divorces have there been?  It’s said that absence makes the heart grow fonder.  It can certainly provide the distance needed to maintain civility with people you don’t need (or want) to see or talk to every day.
  3. Security of data.  This pertains to social networking sites to some degree, but even more to the so-called “cloud” and other on line services.  Keep your stuff on storage media that you own and control.  Want to make sure you have copies of all your pictures and video?  Better keep it on CD, DVD, portable drives, whatever.  Keep backups.  Spitting it out to some web based service may be quick and easy, but in the end you have absolutely no control over what happens to it, nor any guarantee that it will be there when you want it.

So, no, I’m not on Facebook.  And I’m OK with that.

Sometimes you just shoot yourself in the foot.

Lisa and I spent several hours at a car dealer this evening, in a huge waste of everyone’s time.   I hadn’t planned for it to be a waste of time.   If they had what I was looking for and we could come to an agreement on price, I was ready to buy.   Unfortunately (or maybe not, for me), the car dealer games cost them a sale.

The first price they came up with — after leaving us cooling our heels for a bit too long — was, of course, ridiculous.   Less than blue book trade value for my current truck against retail for the new one.   Now my ’03 Sport Trac is a pretty desirable model in great shape with low mileage, good tires and a nice aftermarket in-dash nav system and backup camera.   It’s going to sell quickly and without a lot of time or money spent cleaning it up.  We politely declined, and it was time for Round 2.   I told the guy we were several thousand dollars apart, and gave him a number I thought was more fair…   from which Lisa then suggested we trim another couple thousand.   Half an hour or so later, we get the answer; it’s still a couple thousand higher than Lisa’s figure.

By this time I’d had enough time to think about what we were doing about that I had pretty much talked myself out of buying that truck — at any price. It lacked a few options I really wanted, and had a few I specifically did not want.   By the time we finally decided we were done and asked for the keys to my truck (which had disappeared, of course)   the sales manager made a last ditch effort to get us to take it for a thousand under even Lisa’s number, which I thought was pretty low anyway.   Sorry, too late.

If we’d been able to dispense with the idiotic games, if we hadn’t been left waiting on negotiations for so bloody long, we might have considered taking a truck home with us.   The guy could have come up with an offer a thousand or even two higher than their last offer, right off the bat, and we might have done the deal.   Maybe.   I would have regretted it later, but they’d have made a sale, and it still was a very nice truck.   Problem was, they felt the need to play the kind of stupid games that have given car dealers a bad name.   And we’ve seen it all before and recognize all of it for the nonsense it is:

  • “I’m going to lowball you and see if you’re stupid enough to fall for it.”   No, we’re not stupid – and this is not an impulse purchase.
  • “I have to run this past my manager.”   Yeah, right.   If you can’t make a deal, then kindly get out of my way and get me someone who can.
  • “This truck is going out on a dealer trade so we’re not supposed to sell it to you…   but we will, but you have to buy it tonight or it will be gone in the morning.”   Sorry, not buying that story.   You’re either lying to me, or reneging on another deal.   Either one is a very unattractive trait in a dealer.
  • “Oh, Ford financing is expensive, we’ll hook you up with a great loan rate, probably under 6%.”   Um.   ‘Scuse me?   Ford was at that time offering 0% financing for 60 months, PLUS $1000 cash allowance, PLUS a five-year extended powertrain warranty.   What, you didn’t know about that?   You’re supposed to be a Ford salesman and you are unaware of that?   Wait, this is another test to see if we’re stupid, right?

We walked in around 4 PM and didn’t get out of there until well after 7.   By that time I was tired and hungry, Lisa was about ready to fall over, and they had managed to convince me not to buy the very nice truck we’d driven.   And quite frankly, the whole experience pushed them down a couple of notches on my list of places I would buy from.

I’m going to give the next guy a 2-minute rundown of the stuff I am no longer willing to put up with, under any circumstances, and see if he still wants to deal.   No running off to the manager — if I’m in a chair more than 5 minutes without a warm body with a number on the other side of the desk, I’m out the door.   Make a deal or find me someone who can.   I don’t pay sticker price, I don’t take lowball trade offers, and please don’t piss on my foot and tell me it’s raining.