The odd bit

Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is an enemy action.

The odd bit - Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is an enemy action.

IE8 defaults to IE7

This is surreal… I just posted about Microsoft’s latest trick with IE8 and a meta tag and I already have an update that warrants a new post. Through some reading and clicking, I arrived at a blog post by Jeremy Keith on this subject. Without going into the pros and cons of the meta tag, his post shows me three things.

The first thing is the format of the tag. It appears it will take the following form:

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=8" />

A second point is IE’s default behaviour. In this case, default means without any changes to existing pages. Apparently, Microsoft decided that, without meta tag, a page will be rendered in IE7 mode. I’m going to borrow Jeremy’s words because they are perfect:

Unless you explicitly declare that you want IE8 to behave as IE8, it will behave as IE7.

That’s just plain ridiculous! What’s the point of creating a new version if the default behaviour is to use the old version? I guess this is Microsoft logic.

The third point is closely related to the second one. The right default behaviour would be to use the current browser version. There is a way to activate that option by using IE=edge as… you guess it, value for the content attribute of the meta tag. Using that trick is strongly discouraged though.

So essentially this means the meta tag is not an optional step, but rather a mandatory part of creating a web page. To use the mode associated with a browser version beyond 7, you have to specify it. To disable the checks, you also have to specify it.

This is so surreal and such mess..

Microsoft does it again: IE8 and web standards

I thought this was a really early April’s fool when I first read it, but this is all over the place it just has to be true. I picked it up from Robert O’Callahan’s blog. I don’t know who keeps inventing these things, but sometimes you just can’t come up with such funny jokes no matter how hard you try.

Microsoft feels they made a mistake when they changed the behaviour of the “Standards compliant” mode between IE6 and IE7. They argue that web developers had implemented hacks to go around the imperfections of IE6’s standards mode (no kidding, the standards mode really didn’t live up to its name). Then IE7 came and it shipped with improved support for standards. But because of IE detection, IE7 received the same content as IE6 and as such the improved standards mode broke more than it fixed (that says more about the web developer though, I haven’t done a lot of fixes to be IE7-compatible).

So the folks in Redmond believe they should do something. Web pages are developed for a particular browser version and they should never break in a newer browser. It should be rendered by the engine it was created for. Microsoft’s solution? Let’s ship different rendering engines!

<insert awkward silence>

The first thing I can think of is maintenance hell. The second thing I can think of is development hell and the third thing is testing hell. So basically, IE is heading to hell. Small clue for certain readers: typing this paragraph made me think of a certain Peanut. But wait… there’s more from the Redmond Beast!

What if you, as web developer, know a page is compatible with a new IE engine? Just because you know how to do your work shouldn’t leave you with old pages stuck in an old IE version, right? Well, Microsoft agrees and they’ve come up with a way to signal which IE mode you want. You can indicate your page’s compatibility by using a … wait for it … <meta> tag! And it will be a meta tag of the http-equivalent type so you can achieve the same effect by sending an HTTP header via the server.

Is it just me or does Microsoft have a nose for picking the worst solution to solve a problem? Instead of fixing their part, they’re putting the burden on the developers once again. Before IE8 comes out, we can all waste hours/days to add their silly meta tag. This is all for Microsoft’s “Don’t break the web” philosophy. Well hello, Microsoft! You broke it in the first place, fix it without harassing us every time you release a new version of Internet Exploder.

Mind boggling questions sometimes have a really easy and simple answer. How can we make the web a better place? Get rid of IE and leave the web to browsers.

Oh, for the record: this has been made official on the IE Blog.

Communication at its finest

Sometimes you just have to wonder which bright mind invents these things…

My bank sent me a letter to promote a new flyer containing all information for young people. They think I should have the flyer and invite me to visit the local office where I can get my copy of the flyer. Uhhm… hellooooo! If you want me to have the flyer, send the effing thing to me instead of this stupid letter!

End of rant :-)

Tracing two more Vista issues

After successfully defeating Windows Vista in the media playback department, I’m tracing two more issues. I only noticed these issues last week when trying Futuremark‘s latest incarnation of the PCMark benchmark: PCMark Vantage.

The first issue doesn’t really have a performance impact. When starting PCMark Vantage, it told me Windows Mail was running. Ehh? Unfortunately it was not a detection error because Windows Mail was really running. That’s pretty strange because (a) I haven’t even configured any email client on my laptop and (b) I would certainly not use Outlook Express or its new version as my email client. But there’s even more weirdness involved. By tracing the winmail.exe process, I found out it was launched by the same process that caused the media playback issues: “svchost.exe -DcomLaunch”. What the hell?

I’m still trying to find out why Windows Mail gets launched by the Dcom server. The bad part is that there’s much less information available than with the media playback issue. If anyone has any clue, please let me know through the comments.

The second issue surfaced when copying the PCMark installer from my main machine to my laptop. Transferring files across the network is SLOW! And it can’t be the network… Initiating the transfer from my PC results in a sustained network throughput of 90%. Initiating it from my laptop makes the throughput peak very briefly, followed by a stall in network activity. The net result is a 20 second difference doing exactly the same transfer. For a ~650MB file on a 100 megabit network, that’s a huge difference.

A search on the internet quickly revealed I’m not the only one. I’ve tried several suggested fixes, but none of them improved the performance. I had my hopes set on a tweak of the new TCP/IP stack in Vista, namely:
netsh interface tcp set global autotuninglevel=disabled
but that didn’t help either. Again, magical solutions or hints are much appreciated.

Aside from those issues, I’ve been much happier with Vista once I disabled the indexing service (it really does trash the HDD) and system restore. Both “features” put a high burden on the HDD and the system feels much more responsive with those two things turned off.

Choices: the lottery of life

Choices are a common thing in the life cycle of a human being. They’re some kind of puzzle, often with many solutions and not always resulting in a predictable outcome. Sometimes, those “puzzles of life” are easy to solve but they can also be quite hard to solve.

An easy choice was the direction of my IT education. We were the first “generation” to actually have a choice. The education used to be a mix between development and networking/system administration but the main focus was on development. We were offered a choice for the third (and thus last) year of the education: software development or networking/system administration. With two years of software development being part of history, I figured I would have enough background to do fine in software development (and web development in particular) and decided to explore new horizons. Looking back at that decision, I still think it was the right one.

Time warp to the present which is a gap of 6 years and I can see the choice reappearing on the horizon. I’ve spent 5 years doing web development mixed with very brief moments of maintaining two Linux servers. While short in time, those moments have provided a welcome distraction from the development job. In fact, taking them away from me would really piss me off. So I feel I’m rapidly approaching a crossroad and I have no idea what direction to take. I would like to remain active as a web developer but I also feel an increasing desire to do system administration.

Web development is an exciting area when you can live on the proverbial edge: trying new and emerging trends/technologies. But the fun is completely gone when you’re not allowed to create new challenges or to be innovative. If the only goal is to get the job done (that means without any interest in the user experience, the quality of the product, the architecture of the backend, …), web development becomes just as boring as looking at an old sock. The real thrill comes from e.g. playing with new technologies and then incorporating them into your projects ending in a better user experience ultimately making users happier. We are not drones, we’re creative minds!

It’s probably that frustration that drives the system administrator in me. It’s like going from the front lines to the supply lines. You’re not taking commands all the time and you’re fine as long as the supply line doesn’t collapse. Managing servers, a domain, network infrastructure, user policies, security, … are things I really enjoy doing.

Eventually, it all comes down to who I am as an IT guy. I’m not an analyst, I’m a technical guy. I love to get a deep knowledge of the product I’m working with, I love diving in APIs to find hidden features or nifty things, I love pushing things to the limit just to see how far the tech can go, I love trying new stuff and I love looking for other ways to accomplish the same thing. But I can only reach my full potential when I’m given some room to be creative and innovative. And I do have a real-life example to back that up.

And after all that text, I still don’t know what to do…

Free speech, but not for everyone

While watching the news I noticed a disturbing event. An organisation intended to hold a protest action today. The theme of the protest: the growing influence of the islam in Europe. In fear of fightings, Freddy Thielemans, the mayor of Brussels – the planned venue of the action – denied them the right to demonstrate.

As expected, a few hundred people did show up today. Despite them holding a peaceful protest, police forces removed all protesters hardhandedly.

I do not understand why they weren’t allowed to hold the demonstration in the first place. This wasn’t some racist demonstration, it weren’t purely far-right people. And when they really are holding a peaceful demonstration, is it really necessary to remove them manu militari? It’s pretty sad if this is what’s left of free speech: you can say what you want, but only if you’re part of the right group.

Or (theory mode now) this could just as well be a political move by the mayor who is a member of the french socialist party in Belgium as the theme of the protest would target the religion of a great share of their voters. I’m just guessing here, so don’t kill me if I’m wrong :-)

Regardless of what his reasons are/were, I feel they should’ve allowed the demonstration. The message did not go against any law which means they just wanted to use their right of free speech. And for the record, I would say the same about any demonstration as long as everyone keeps it peaceful.

Game demos: do they really need to be so big?

I’m browsing through forums and the game sections are really filled with posts about a game named Bioshock. I’ve always been cautious with hyped games, especially since the Doom 3 fiasco. A lot of posts also mentioned a demo being available for Bioshock. Well isn’t that a great way to know if you like the game or not before you actually buy it?

So I started looking for the demo and when I found it, I fell off my chair (so to speak of course 😉 ). The size of the download is 1850 megabytes. Yes, that’s right… nearly 2 gigabytes. A normal internet subscription with my ISP has a monthly download cap of 12 gigabytes. This demo equals 15.1% of that monthly volume. Just to try the game…

I agree that download caps are about the worst thing in broadband land and I’m of the opinion they should be abolished. But I’m also of the opinion that a demo of 2 gigabytes is really over the top. Not too long ago, complete games were smaller than that. The job of a demo is to convince you to buy the full game, but what’s the point if the download size is similar to a full game?

And I’ll turn this into a teaser for my next post: the ever increasing download sizes for demos are not a sign of increased quality, but an attempt to cover up the downwards spiral that PC gaming is in right now. Stay tuned for that post :-)

Landing day for Endeavour

Today is homecoming day for space shuttle Endeavour. The crew has been given the go for deorbit. The deorbit burn will take place in about 2 minutes at 17:25 CET. The landing at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Shuttle Landing Facility will take place around 18:32. If anything important happens, you’ll read it here.

The vehicle was cleared for landing earlier in the mission after NASA engineers and managers spent a week analysing one damaged area. The area got hit by a piece of foam from the external tank during the launch. Thermal assessments of the damaged tiles revealed that they don’t pose a threat to crew and vehicle safety during re-entry. A final post-docking inspection of the Thermal Protection System revealed no other damaged areas.

Updates (all times CET):

  • 17.24h: Good config for the burn.
  • 17.25h: Deorbit burn started!
  • 17.30h: Deorbit burn complete! The 1-hour trip to Earth’s surface has started.
  • 18.01h: Endeavour is now at the point called Entry Interface.
  • 18.04h: Mission Control warned the crew about a period of intermittent communications around the point of the first roll reversal.
  • 18.07h: First banking maneuver happens about now. This is used to bleed off excess speed.
  • 18.17h: As it just crossed Central America, Endeavour is now heading towards Cuba as it enters its first roll reversal.
  • 18.20h: Communications have been restored as the shuttle passes over Cuba.
  • 18.26h: And there she is! Visual contact at an altitude of over 80000 feet about 7 minutes from touchdown.
  • 18.29h: We just heard the famous double sonic boom.
  • 18.31h: The crew just reported the runway being in sight. She sure looks beautiful gliding down to the runway!
  • 18.32h: Gear down and locked.
  • 18.33h: Main gear touchdown… and nose gear touchdown!
  • 18.34h: Wheel stop!
  • 18.42h: The crew and Mission Control are now going through the procedures to put the vehicle in a safe configuration.

These are the official times given by NASA:

  • Main gear touchdown at 18:32:16 (Mission Elapsed Time [MET] of 12 days 17 hours 55 minutes 34 seconds)
  • Nose gear touchdown at 18:32:29 (MET of 12 days 17 hours 55 minutes 47 seconds)
  • Wheel stop at 18:33:20 (MET of 12 days 17 hours 56 minutes 38 seconds)