Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Demise of Netscape

AOL pulls plug on Netscape Web browser

Like many people, AOL was the first ISP I used when I started surfing the web. It was an OK service, but on dial-up the constant updates were too much of a hassle. Thankfully, I soon learned there was more to the web than AOL and got on a local ISP.

Netscape was the browser of choice back then. In the early days of the browser wars, one had to pay for Internet Explorer as Microsoft hadn't yet integrated it in with their operating system (Windows 95 at the time). Netscape was great: it was easy to use, it supported all the web standards of the time, and it even came with a WYSIWYG HTML editor which came in very handy in my early web page-making days.

When Microsoft put out a free version of IE, Netscape had a real run for the money if it was going to make it. Soon, IE stood head and shoulders above Netscape in features and ease of use. It seemed like the Netscape folks just gave up. They put out some VERY bad versions in the early 2000s which really spelled out doom for the old standard.

When AOL bought Netscape, they were bundling IE into their package. I though for sure AOL would bring Netscape back to life and dump IE in favor of something they would have more control over. But, it was not meant to be. Soon IE took over as the dominant browser and has been there ever since.

So, it comes as no real surprise to me that AOL is finally going to let Netscape die. I think it was a long time in coming. A chapter of web history closes.

I think the spirit of Netscape is still alive in Firefox. I find Firefox to be much better than IE in many ways. I don't see them going away any time soon.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Love The Message

Newcomer on block calls Santa display art, but Bremerton neighbors repulsed

Crucify Santa?

I love the message! Don't fall for the commercialism, greed, avarice and craziness of the holiday season and remember what the holiday is really all about. I posted on this last year (Boycott Christmas!).

I'm not sure if I like Mr. Conrad's method, but I certainly applaud his chutzpah and the underlying meaning of his message.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tax Dodgers in the Great White North

Canadians Discarding Old Clothes in Mall Parking Lots on U.S. Shopping Trips

This is nothing new; it's been going on for years.

My mom worked at the catalog desk for a department store in suburban Detroit before her retirement a few years ago. She often said it was pretty routine for Canadian customers to order from the catalog (over the phone in those days) and have their purchases delivered to stores on the US side of the border.

They would drive across the border, out of their way, to come in to the store, pick and up their stuff. She said there were countless times she saw people put on the new clothes over their old or pack the new clothes into suitcases for the trip back across the border. This was, no doubt, an effort to avoid paying the 15% or so sales and value-added taxes they would have had to pay if they made their purchases at home in Ontario.

For a time, it wasn't unusual to see more Ontario plates than Michigan plates on cars in the parking lot.

It's a sad tale for those folks in Ontario who are forced to pay such high taxes that they must resort to going way out of their way to buy things without going broke doing it. For those in the US who want government-run health care, who want the "nanny state," take heed. That type of socialism comes at a high cost - not only out of our freedom but also out of our wallets.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Guilty Until Proven Innocent - Part IV "A New Hope"

Please pardon the "Star Wars" reference. You'll see why I thought of that as you read on:

In my previous posts about my trials (or, more correctly, my lack of trials) with my child support issues I had quite the horror story to tell in Guilty Until Proven Innocent, Return of "Guilty Until Proven Innocent", and Return of the Son of Innocent Until Proven Guilty. I have a new chapter to add to this saga, and a surprisingly pleasant one, too.

After my previous experiences with the Texas Attorney General Child Support Division (AG), I was rather upset to receive a letter from them informing me that my child support agreement was to be "reviewed" to make sure everything was set up properly. It was a nicely written letter which described the benefits of going directly to the AG and negotiating since I wouldn't have to hire an attorney, pay court costs and would have any disagreements settled in a "friendly" atmosphere.

To say the least, I was somewhat dubious of the letter's claims and figured I was on my way to a kangaroo court. My fears were reinforced when I got another letter in ALL CAPS with a far more threatening tone which informed me if I didn't show up for the meeting a settlement would be made with no input from me. Of course, I was going to show up.

I took the day off and headed to the local AG office at the appointed time. What a place. It seemed that most of the people there were angry to one degree or another. Many of the employees looked shell-shocked as they went about their tasks. And no wonder, most of the angry people were giving them such a hard time about things. I have a healthy respect for those folks who work in that office, I doubt I could deal with angry people all day long and not go crazy.

The meeting went very well. My ex-wife and I agree on many things, and we weren't there to fight. I presented my recent pay stubs and the lady recalculated how much I was supposed to pay according to the AG's formula. In Texas, child support is pretty much set according to the law, so there really isn't much to argue about. My obligation went up a little because of a raise I got a while back, but it was still fair and according to the law.

All in all, it was a somewhat pleasant experience.

I do have to point out again how harried the folks working in that office looked. The lady who working in our meeting thanked us over and over for not fighting and getting ugly with her. I imagine we were probably the very rare exception to the rule that most folks go in there and give the employees a hard time. Again, I couldn't work there. The stress would have me in a nice white jacket, the kind with the long sleeves that tie in the back. My hat's off to the folks who work in our local AG office.

This good experience, however, does not erase my concerns about the lack of due process of the AG when it appears someone is in arrears in their child support. Though I appreciated their professionalism in this case, I still disagree with their methods in situations such that I experienced this past summer. After this latest experience, though, I am cautiously optimistic that us noncustodial parents aren't automatically vilified in all circumstances.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

ASP.NET DropDownList and SortedList Problems

In my computer-geek day job I'm working on a logistical system for our transportation department. Part of this application is to administer data on the driving teams. Each team consists of two drivers and a tractor rig.

I set up the first page in the application to list all the teams and sort them by various criteria such as last names, seniority date or tractor number. Then, one can click on a link and be sent to the page where a particular team's information can be edited.

The drivers are assigned to a team as either a senior driver or a junior driver. Since a senior driver can be moved into a junior driver spot and vice-versa for the junior driver, I created 2 drop down lists so the administrator can pick and choose which driver goes into which spot. I also created a method to get a sorted list with the drivers' names and numbers to populate the drop down lists. As the lists are filled, the app checks the actual team data and pre-selects the two drivers' names in the list.

Sounds simple enough. The code was something like this (in C# - it's similar in VB.NET):

int keepCount = 1;
ddlSenior_Driver.Items.Insert(0, "Select Driver");
ddlOther_Driver.Items.Insert(0, "Select Driver");
foreach (DictionaryEntry q in driverSortedList)
ListItem w = new ListItem();
w.Text = q.Key.ToString();
w.Value = q.Value.ToString();
ddlSenior_Driver.Items.Insert(keepCount, w);
if (w.Value.ToString() == teamData[1].ToString())
{ ddlSenior_Driver.SelectedValue = teamData[1].ToString(); }
ddlOther_Driver.Items.Insert(keepCount, w);
if (w.Value.ToString() == teamData[2].ToString())
{ ddlOtherDriver.SelectedValue = teamData[2].ToString(); }

When I ran that code, the selected driver in both lists was the same person, the person in the team array which was the Other Driver. Strange.

I double-checked the data, the array data, the method which pulled the data from the database. Everything checked out. I even had a colleague look at the code to see if I missed something. Everything was set up correct as far as we could see.

So, in desperation I set up the Other Driver drop list to get its data from another sorted list. I set up the sorted list and made it equal to driverSortedList. Once I did that, everything worked as I expected.

I don't know if this is a bug, "feature" or just a quirk in the .NET Framework. But, here it is just in case someone else has the same problem. Perhaps this will save someone some aggravation.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Evel Knievel 1938-2007

Motorcycle daredevil Knievel dies at 69

For those of us who are 40-ish and can remember the 70s, the image of Evel Knievel on his motorcycle flying through the air is indelibly imprinted in our minds. From the near-tragedy of the attempted leap over the fountains at Caesar's Palace to the triumph of flying over 13 buses, I can remember the exploits of this larger-than-life man very well.

Other than watching him on TV, I remember how so many of us kids tried our own daredevil stunts, though on a smaller scale. That was in the days before the "experts" told us that kids imitate things they see on TV - though it is perfectly true.

I remember visiting my cousin Frank one Saturday afternoon. He and his friends were trying to see how many garbage cans they could jump over on their bicycles. They started with two and eventually worked their way up to five. On more than one occasion my uncle, Frank Sr., yelled out of the screen door at Cousin Frank telling him to stop that foolishness before he was seriously injured.

You see, the three or four kids who were jumping the garbage cans with my cousin had well-maintained bikes; but, Frank's bike was missing a very important part - the seat. On his last attempt, Frank peddled as fast as he could. He was at top speed and hit the ramp perfectly. He made a perfect landing on his wheels. Then, the force of the landing forced his butt down right on top of the metal pole to which his seat would have been attached. That pole went right up his behind an inch or so causing him great pain and injury.

In my mind I can still clearly see and hear my Uncle Frank hollering at his son, "If you weren't already hurting down there I'd pound on your a$$!" Cousin Frank was OK in the end, but his recovery was quite painful.

The Evel Knievel toys were great. I had the set with the toy motorcycle which came with ramps and a launcher which one cranked and then stopped to send the motorcycle with the plastic action figure riding along off to daredevil glory.

My friend, Barry, next door had the same setup, but he also had the toy version of the rocket cycle which Knievel used in his attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon. The toy version, though, was rather slow and klunky, being a bit too heavy to jump things if it was only set off from the cranked launcher.

Barry had a better idea: take one of the ramps and anchor it on the edge of the roof and then launch the toy rocket from the peak of the roof and see how far it would fly. Ah, yes. A bit of foolishness for the preteen. I think he merely slipped the ramp under a shingle at the edge of the roof. He then climbed to the peak and got ready for the launch. Now, where we lived in Michgan the roofs are pitched at a little more than 90 degrees so they can withstand the weight of snow, so Barry had quite a good run-up to the ramp.

At the peak of the roof, he set up the rocket in the launcher and started cranking. I watched from the safety of my front yard as he let the rocket go. It flew down the roof at an unimaginable speed (at least from my young perspective), hit the ramp and took to the air. I don't think I'm exaggerating that it flew at least 25 feet across his front yard and landed on its bottom. When it hit the paved walkway which lead from the sidewalk to the porch, it exploded in a shower of plastic and metal. It was a glorious sight! We found the twisted action figure, not too far away in a position of certain death had it been a real person. Our only regret was: we could only do it once.

Eventually Evel Knievel retired. These days, I watch his son Robbie with my kids and reminice about those days when the name "Knievel" was a household name which meant "daredevil."