personal, home, windows comments edit

Well, I’ve got Windows up, I’ve got Office installed (and updating), I’ve got my antivirus software in place, and everything seems to be generally functioning. A few more apps, a little more customization, and I’m back in business.

If anything, this has taught me something: I’m going to store my user data on a different partition (or physical disk - even better!) than the OS. If it goes tits up on me again, at least I won’t lose my data.

personal, home, windows comments edit

I ran into this ridiculous chicken-and-egg scenario while trying to repair my Windows installation.

See, the problem I was having was that the DVD-ROM drives (plural - two different drives) would not read any media. I decided, after jumping through a bunch of hoops, that it was time to run the Windows repair. (I could do system restore until I’m blue in the face; I don’t know when the problem started, so I don’t know how far back I should go, or even if I still have a good restore point. Bah.)

Now, here’s the real killer on the Windows repair: If the problem you’re having is with some sort of registry entry or driver thing, it doesn’t fix it. That is, it doesn’t undo registry entries for you or repair files it didn’t put there in the first place. Normally I’d say that’s fine, but the problem seems to be that some driver(s) that some other program put in there are not communicating nicely with the Windows drivers. That means the registry needs to have entries related to the bad driver(s) removed.

It doesn’t do that.

Instead, it goes about making you think you can repair the install, and when it finally reboots it comes back and says “The file asms on Windows XP Professional CD-ROM is needed.”

That translates to: “I can’t talk to your CD-ROM.”

The Microsoft article on this says that in order to fix it (basically) you either have to edit the registry or you need to install Windows on a different partition, boot from that, and get your data off the disk.

I have issue with this. I can’t edit the registry because it won’t let me get to a spot in the installation where it allows for that. It boots up, goes straight to setup - do not stop at GO, do not collect $200 - and pops up the error. Safe mode doesn’t work - it thinks it’s in setup. Command prompt doesn’t work - it thinks it’s in setup. Recovery console doesn’t work - you can’t edit the registry from there. I don’t have any other partitions to install Windows to, so that’s out.

Basically, I’m screwed.

So I reformatted using the built-in IBM restore function that puts all of the hardware back to factory settings.

Except that they forgot to put in the Intel INF stuff and it gets confused when it loads up and sees all the devices I have (God forbid it just detect and install them all) so it pretty much hosed stuff right from the get-go.

I tried installing a clean version of Windows except I think the version I got from the IBM factory was a volume license version - the sticker on the side of the machine (with the license and serial number and all that) has a Windows XP Pro key… but my Windows XP Pro disc tells me it’s not valid (which is bullshit, otherwise why did I pay for it?).

So I’ve unplugged all of the unnecessary devices (didn’t remove internal stuff) and I’m back to trying the IBM restore route. I’m in the process of downloading all of the drivers they forgot so I can burn them to a disc on my work laptop and get them over to my home machine.

Assuming the DVD drives finally decide to work, that is.

This is exactly what I wanted to be doing this weekend. Reinstalling Windows. Because I don’t get enough of this sort of tedium elsewhere in my life.

home comments edit

I don’t get on the computer at home too often. If I have to work from home (or do some quick development), I usually fire up my work laptop and do what needs to be done. I primarily use my home computer as a word processor, data storage, and sometimes gaming machine.

Fired up the ol’ home PC today so I could watch some videos on this CD-ROM I got bundled with a toy I bought. (The videos show different things the toy can do.)

My DVD drives don’t work. Neither of them. You put the CD in and it registers that it’s a CD in the drive but it thinks the disc is blank.


I have since uninstalled any software I have that might do freaky stuff to the drive - anything Roxio, iTunes, etc. - and that didn’t fix it. My next step is to run a repair on Windows.

Of course, to run a repair on Windows you need a Windows CD, which my computer didn’t come with. Luckily I have an MSDN subscription through work so I can get the ISO for a Windows disc… but I can’t burn the damn thing because my drives aren’t working.

Now I’m on the work laptop, getting the ISO so I can burn it, and then I’ll see if it’s a Windows driver issue or a hardware issue (I’ll try to boot off the disc and see how it goes).

You know what would be cool? If I wasn’t the only one in my household - let alone my family - who knew how to fix this stuff. It would be nice to be able to rely on someone else to help me out rather than always being the place where the buck stops.

I’m a high-stress individual. I stress out about everything. Little stuff, big stuff, stuff I have no control over, stuff I have control over, my stuff, your stuff, his stuff, her stuff… I stress about everything.

I don’t know if this is a function of my ultra-type-A personality, my distinct need for a vacation, or what, but it is certainly the case.

As usual, things are just not letting up for me.

I just bought this house I’m living in - my first house - and I’m still coming to terms with the additional financial burden it places on me as well as the general issues of home ownership. (Note to you “condo” people out there - this has nothing to do with the yard work and everything to do with the things that anyone deals with when not renting: taxes, mortgages, indoor maintenance, home improvement, etc.) It’s taking some time to adjust.

With that goes this bathroom situation. For the life of me, I can’t get a drywall contractor to call me back or be available. The ones who call back are booked for the next two months; the ones who aren’t booked are unreliable. Having no closure on this thing is killing me. I can do minor handiwork around the place, but when it comes to something larger like retexturing a wall, I’m not quite ready for it. So the bathroom sits in this near-unusable state of limbo, waiting for completion. I need it finished.

At work, I’m getting a crash course in being a manager. Over the course of the last week I’ve gotten two contractors in that generally report to me (technically they report to the project manager, but I’m the one assigning tasks and following up on them). I’ve never really had to deal with that aspect of development, and making sure they have enough to do, answer their questions, keep track of the project, and develop on the project (all the while interviewing other contractors for additional positions) is not something I was prepared for. I guess we all evolve to that point eventually, I just wasn’t prepared, you know?

Not only that, but I’m coming on a time where I have a career decision to make. I’ve pretty much topped out where I can go in the IT organization so I have to decide: Do I stay where I’m at and enjoy the various perks that go with being in IT (among those being a nice big cube - like double the size of other cubes, a good boss who’s also a great friend, and a reasonable amount of autonomy on projects) or do I do a somewhat-lateral shift over into the product development group where there will be more of a chance to grow (both professionally and financially)? I’m thinking I’ll be making the move, but pondering on that is a stressful thing, like getting a whole new job.

This morning on the way to work my “check engine” light came on. This happened a back in May, too (though in the server move I lost that blog entry). The first time, it was the oxygen sensor. Who knows what it is this time? They can’t get my car in until Tuesday, which, it being Friday now, is three days of waiting and “driving moderately” until I can get there. The dealer, of course, is on the other side of town (which means possibly two hours away, maybe more, in the morning), so I get to look forward to that come Tuesday. Not to mention the last time it was in, a whole bunch of other service (new brakes, etc.) had to be done, too, so it was an unexpected bill of several hundred dollars - right after moving into the new house. I can only anticipate what it’s going to be this time.

I won’t even get into the other moderate financial speedbumps (usually in the form of unexpected bills - things like having to purchase a washer and dryer when we moved in because we didn’t think about the fact we didn’t own those appliances) we’ve run into as of late. When it rains, it certainly pours.

So here I am, getting ready to phone screen another job applicant (which stresses me out because not only do I hate the phone, I hate talking to people I don’t know over the phone). That’s where it sits.

I suppose I had better get on with stressing about how to avoid cardiac arrest by this time next year.

css comments edit

I’m working on a project at work where we use a combination of ASP.NET user controls, CSS, images, and JavaScript to offer a “theme” sort of effect. Change the set of user controls, etc., and magically the site takes on a new look.

As a demonstration, I implemented two different “themes” for the site - one being a “fluid” layout (sizes and positions of objects on the screen being relative to the browser window width) and the other a “fixed” layout (everything absolutely positioned and sized).

I am a big proponent of the “fluid” layout, particularly in corporate sites. I feel that there are too many sites out there that absolutely size everything, and while it may look like a nice print-based brochure, I feel that having half of my screen left in white space because the site designer fixed everything at 800 pixels wide and I’m running my monitor at 1600x1200 is a little less than optimal. Not to mention the accessibility issues surrounding absolute font sizes.

I got asked a question this morning and I couldn’t handle it any more. “On the ‘fluid’ themes, will we ever be able to avoid [text] wrapping? For example, on [the fluid theme we implemented, if you] change to largest fonts, make your browser about the size of an 8x6 screen and it wraps out the wazzoo. It will be hard to say ‘that is how it is’…”

My (slightly edited) response:

In a fluid theme you will never avoid text wrapping. NEVER. I realize this is a difficult thing to accept and it’s why many places don’t implement it. That said, text wrapping is a natural occurrence that should happen.

Look at some examples in your everyday life that you don’t think twice about… and might consider it crazy if text wrapping didn’t occur:

  • Outlook
  • Word

Using a fluid layout is a paradigm shift. People need to stop thinking in terms of “do all these things line up pixel by pixel” or “how much exact control can I exert over my web site to make every single experience 100% identical” and move into the idea that people with different monitor resolutions, font size settings (which may override ours, whether we like it or not – check out the “Accessibility” button on the “General” tab on the Internet Explorer “Internet Options” menu… Tools -> Internet Options), and other needs will have to be accommodated. What happens when a blind person comes in with a screen reader? Are they going to care that some error message might wrap to the next line? What about browser compatibility? We already know different browsers render things differently… do you really want to fight and tweak with every single browser out there to make sure text doesn’t wrap?

The solution is not to fight against it but to design for it. Embrace it, assume it will happen, and accommodate for that.

I realize in the fluid theme we’ve made some strides towards that, but as you’re also noticing, we’re finding some shortcomings with it that we failed to design for. I don’t have all the answers here. Maybe we need to step back and take some actual time to redesign it. Maybe we need to step back and look at the whole way the site works in relation to themes and invest time in making that more robust. We probably need a graphic designer who knows how to work with the web, and we need them to create a more robust “fluid” layout.

I can’t stress enough that the focus should not be on how to avoid text wrapping but how to design to it. Maybe error messages should all show up in validation summaries at the top of the page rather than in text next to the field with the error (and then just display a little error icon next to the problem field). Maybe they show up on the next line (or on the line above the field) rather than next to the field where wrapping is disturbing.

Side note: Consider this: when you say “I don’t want the page to be less than X pixels wide” you’re once again working in pixels. If any measurement you mention has the word “pixels,” “points,” or “picas,” or any unit other than a relative percentage based on the browser size, you’re back working in “print mode.” Print mode is fine when you’re talking about how you want a given page to print out when the user clicks the “print” button. It’s much less okay if you’re trying to work in a fluid mode. Instead, try something like: “I want a three column layout with a header and footer. I want the header to have the site logo and some navigation. The logo appears above the navigation tabs. The font size in the main navigation tabs should be ‘x-small’ and the sub navigation tabs should be size ‘xx-small.’ Column 1 should be 15% of the browser window width, Column 2 should be 65%, and Column 3 should be the remaining 20%. The text in each column should be size ‘small.’ The footer text should be ‘xx-small.’” Right there, I just defined a complete site layout using relative positioning (“above” or “below,” in relation to headers and footers) and relative sizing (percentages or relative font sizes). Never once did I provide a hard measurement for any of the items that would appear on the screen.

I realize that’s not a simple task. It is giving up a lot of control over the page layout. The user is the person who reaps the benefits of our forethought, though, and isn’t the user the ultimate, end customer we need to please?

We can go around and around with this all day for the rest of our lives. It’s one of the never-ending battles - Google for “fluid layout” and you’ll find everything from discussion groups to usability studies

  • between web designers. The long and the short of it is, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. There are benefits and drawbacks to both fluid and fixed layouts, and based on the layout type you choose, you need to design to it and embrace it for what it is.