On orientation and learning when to be quiet

As I was roused from my slumber this morning by the enraging tones of “Yakkety Sax”, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect this morning. In this case, I learned that being proactive when there’s free food being offered is a wise idea.

I arrived at RIM this morning, parked my bike, and grabbed a (sigh) legal form so that I could board a yellow bus. There were about 250 students in total at this morning’s presentation, and the venue of choice was Bingeman’s, where they’d rented out two ballrooms for the occasion.

As expected? Yes. Much information on intellectual property? For sure. Dire warnings to shut our mouths about company business? Got it.

I’m going to take that advice until I actually experience the workplace, and not just a Frosh Week-esque version of the cheerleading squad.

End and beginning of employment

Today was my last official day of employment as a Student On-Call for IBM. My About and Resume sections give most of the official details about my work there, but a more general overview would be that I worked from home in Waterloo for two terms of four months each – in Summer 2006 (May to August) and Winter 2007 (January to April). It’s an interesting experience and a great opportunity, but any longer than about four months consecutively and the work would probably have lost focus. It was really a huge relief to be able to get back into the office in September 2006 and get a decent eight hours of work done, without worrying about VPN connections and whether other people were going to be online to answer questions.

Tomorrow begins my orientation at Research in Motion. I’ve been hired for an eight month term as a Tools Developer for BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service), which will count for two co-op work credits. It’s great primarily because the company’s local, I can take another CS course up at the university while working, and it’s an excellent opportunity for a second year student.

I’m not necessarily looking forward to certain parts of the day, as they’re bound to be the typical corporate necessities that you definitely wouldn’t find in a smaller organization. What’s more, since it’s a group of students all starting tomorrow, the focus will be on making a large production and event out of the day. I’m glad it’s only one day dedicated to the process, since IBM’s Lab student orientation took the better part of three days to finish up.

For example, things I (and other students in the same position) can learn from a webpage, instead of a laborious presentation put on with much pomp and circumstance:

  • Workplace security. This was the largest part of IBM’s orientation process, and by far the most difficult to stay awake during. There’s an extremely heavy emphasis on what’s considered confidential information, which always ends up being defined as “anything that says it’s confidential, and even if it doesn’t, use your best judgement.” There are items called non-disclosure agreements, and they have to be signed, sealed and delivered before you can even step foot inside the campus. You get canned if you leak the information, and that’s a very heavy emphasis from both the school and the workplace.
  • IT security. Anyone in computer science or a related field is keenly aware of what can happen when you use weak passwords, insecure protocols, or don’t test your applications properly before deploying them. This should be listed under “common sense”. I’m not going to remember how many characters, digits, and symbols have to be used for your passphrases if you splash it up in PowerPoint; show me the restrictions when I go to manage passwords.
  • Email use above and beyond sending and receiving. IBM gets a bit of a pass on this one because they use Lotus Notes internally, which is a bit of a unique beast on its own. Notes also has concepts such as “replication” and flagging that aren’t necessarily part of Windows’ standard UI. Instead, go over the basics (how you log in, where you might find and change your user/pass combination, sending and receiving) and put the rest in an online demo. Chances are, your employees aren’t going to be working all eight hours that you have their attention during the day, and especially not at full capacity during the first week. Why not take a week with an intern, record some Flash demos of setting up more advanced items, then point new students to the Intranet address if they have any other questions?
  • Intranet addresses are another huge thing. Without revealing any confidential information, companies can have a confusing local network structure as it is, and there are often multiple Intranet sites to accomplish similar purposes. Don’t just flash up URLs in presentations and expect people to remember them, especially if they end in “.nsf”, followed by a question mark, followed by a ridiculously long series of characters. Give the root site, then the navigation path – people are more likely to remember a series of steps than a series of seemingly-random characters.

I’m also not necessarily impressed with my start time tomorrow: departure from the HR building at 7:45am, which means getting there earlier. The Toronto Lab had a huge population of people who would come in at, say, between 10am to noon on a regular basis – but then they’d stay late into the evening or work from home at early hours of the morning. I never had a scheduled meeting at IBM earlier than 8:30am, which was because the presenters had schedules such that the only time they could talk to students was at that time.

In this case, it’s probably best to think proactively, and get some sleep knowing that this event requires the commitment of changing my sleep pattern.

New Rogers speeds – about damn time

From BroadbandReports, crossposted to ev98:

New Rogers speed increases are finally here after new price increases. For those curious, I’m on the Extreme profile and am currently pulling 900-920K/s speeds (8MBit) downloading. There’s about 2K/s increase in my upload speed, but I’ve yet to perform any serious testing. Express users (standard high speed) are reporting about 7MBit down with a slight increase in upload speed.

Rogers’ site doesn’t have any updated information, as expected, but this is good news for now. The downside is that they’re probably going to start enforcing their caps of 60GB/100GB per month, which is unpleasant news for heavy users. We’ll see what happens in the next little while.

To activate the changes, unplug your cable modem for five seconds, then plug it back in. This lets the modem download the new speed profile. My IP address hasn’t changed from before the speed upgrade, for what it’s worth.

Samsung ML-2010, using Windows networking, from OS X

Setting up a Windows networked printer to function correctly in OS X is a process that I’d rather not deal with again. Here’s the way I eventually managed to accomplish it, with some information from Scott Hurring’s website.

The printer model in particular is the Samsung ML-2010, which can be had for about $70 after mail-in rebate at NCIX. Once you get the printer installed and sharing working in Windows XP, follow these steps:

  1. Install Print Services for UNIX from Control Panel / Add/Remove Programs / Windows Components / check “Other Network File and Print Services”. Contrary to Scott’s site, I was indeed prompted for my XP disc, since it’s not a default component included in CD-based installations. Make sure you have it handy.
  2. Download and install the latest drivers from Samsung’s site for OS X.
  3. Open Disk Utility and click New Image. Create a new image file on the desktop with read/write capabilities and 40MB of space.
  4. Install the Samsung printer drivers to the new disk image. This is so that you can actually locate the installation path.
  5. Open System Preferences / Print & Fax and click the Add button. Hold down Option (Alt) while clicking the More Printers button.
  6. In the Device box, select “Windows Printer via SAMBA.” Provide a device name of your choice.
  7. The Device URI should be a SAMBA path in the form smb://user:pass@Workgroup/Machine/Printer.
  8. In the Printer Model box, select “Other…”, browse to the disk image where you installed the Samsung drivers, and open Library/Printers/PPDs/Contents/Resources/en.lproj/Samsung ML-2010 Series.gz.
  9. Try printing something – great success.

This is absolutely the last straw

I am either about to become one of the hardcore neckbeard-wielding Linux supporters, or do something drastic to Microsoft’s programmers. Why is it that an operating system like Vista, put together after five years of effort, is actually WORSE than its predecessor?

Just this week I’ve experienced the following issues with my legitimate, genuine MSDNAA Vista Business installation:

  • Random nVidia kernel driver crashes. I don’t actually see the crashes themselves, only the tray tooltips that follow them indicating that “nvkdtm” or some similarly-named file has caused my display device to stop working. I could theoretically pin this on nVidia, but the drivers I’m using are WHQL certified.
  • My user profile refuses to log in with my preferences. My desktop wallpaper, Start menu customizations, etc… are all gone, and I’m told to check the Event Log to find out what’s wrong. There is nothing useful in the Event Log.
  • SMB file sharing just randomly crashed, interrupting a download and halting my music. I go to investigate this and Windows indicates that everything is fine. Except it’s not.
  • Remote Desktop can take up to two minutes to log in, where XP would accomplish the same task in two seconds.
  • Windows Explorer duplicates folders on the root of the drive. I have two entries of the same “Users” folder present when I look at the C drive.

This has all been just this week.

What am I doing then? I’m reinstalling XP Pro from the latest newsgroup build – the pirates build an ISO every month with the latest Windows Update fixes, giving a better installation source than my pre-SP1 media.

I’m also refusing to touch the OS with a ten foot pole until I can verify that all this crap has been fixed. It’s not like I’m running exotic hardware (Asus board, Intel Core 2 Duo chip, OCZ RAM, nVidia graphics) and I haven’t actually touched the box since two weeks ago – all it’s been used for is web browsing and SMB serving.

When the final release Ubuntu 7.04 comes out in a few more days, I will seriously consider it for regular use.

When I get a bit more cash, I will seriously consider a Mac Pro instead.

Back on track

With school, exams and other random nonsense popping up fairly frequently, I haven’t done much in the way updating here. I’ve tweaked and updated a few minor pages this morning, and some of my programming adventures in Visual Basic 2005 are approaching a point where I can make them public.

Lately I’ve been spending more time with my Xbox console than the 360, specifically due to my purchase of a KF42E200A LCD projection HDTV. I’ve wanted one of these for about six months now, or at least something comparable to it. One thing I can say for Sony is that despite their media division’s monkeying with DRM, and SCEA’s FIVE HUNDRED AND NINETY NINE US DOLLAR PlayStation 3, they still make beautiful displays and televisions. You know exactly what you’re getting when you buy a Sony TV.

In any event, while the Xbox 360 has some nice downloadable 720p content and plays games in HD natively, the Xbox still has XBMC to take names and basically be a slimmed-down Kaleidescape unit for the basement. It upscales DVD’s, reads XviD and DivX files in packed RAR format over the network, and there’s a new upgrade pretty much every two weeks. For the non tech-nerds out there, just trust me that it’s really decent.

Unfortunately to run this sort of setup, you need an Xbox capable of booting unsigned code. I ended up buying a used unit off eBay and using the XboxHDM tutorial on Xbox-Scene to complete the process. At the time, EB wasn’t carrying any used systems; I’m debating going there and picking up another console since I saw about three on the shelf last week.

There are a few things you have to do if you want the console to run properly once it’s been modded, or set it up as an entertainment center. I’ll follow up sometime this week on the “post-installation” tasks that new users might want to consider, such as setting the system up for HD and installing Xbox Media Center as the default startup dashboard.

Along with the TV, a new Yamaha amp (RXV559) has graced the basement’s presence with a reasonably-decent sounding 3.1 surround setup (for now, at least.) Center channel and woofer are Paradigms, and the stereo L&R channels are Advent-branded speakers rescued from upstairs. I’ve ordered a set of cabling from Monoprice for the various components here, and it’ll be interesting to see how soon it arrives in the mailbox.

Apart from media entertainment: last month, I broke down and started playing World of Warcraft to see what the game was like. After being roundly harassed by several good friends for partaking in such a travesty, I’m still undecided as to whether I’m going to pony up for another month of playtime – perhaps during the workterm. Maybe I should get a real hobby? 😉

27″ RCA F27650 Xbox-compatible TV for sale (sold)

Update: Sold.

Details follow. If I don’t get a response from here or the Facebook crowd, this is going on uw.forsale and perhaps Craigslist in Kitchener.

Model: RCA F27650, 27″ CRT TV
Details: TV has been in use for approximately 4 years. Has component, S-Video, and three composite inputs. Also has a 1/8″ stereo headphone jack for personal listening use. Works perfectly (I’m only selling because I have a new TV coming soon) and ideal for student use. A special feature is the “VPORT” capability: it’s a native component video and stereo audio connection to your Xbox, with an optional digital 5.1 output – basically, you can hook up an Xbox using the VPORT and another component device. It’s absolutely perfect for Xbox Media Center, which I’d be glad to help you set up if you’re interested. The purchase price includes the M/M VPORT cable, which you can’t find in retail anymore.

Another nice addition is the “Guide Plus” TV information system – it’s a virtual program guide that tells you what’s coming up next on TV, as well as additional information about the show. This is free and works perfectly with standard Rogers analog cable.
Included: TV, original universal remote, manual, VPORT cable (direct Xbox to TV).
Terms: Local pickup only, near University/Bridge St. intersection. $100 or best offer.

How to check your Rogers cable modem signal

I know a lot of people in Southwestern Ontario have Rogers for their broadband ISP, and sometimes it’s extremely useful to be able to diagnose problems with your cable modem signal if you’ve been experiencing intermittent connection issues. Usually the phone support technicians won’t do anything based on this information, since they have the ability to read signal levels from the call center, but showing the levels to a field technician might assist in figuring out the issue.

In order to follow these instructions, you’ll need a Motorola SB5100-series modem provided by Rogers. These modems are the standard ones deployed for all tiers, with the exception of Ultra Lite; a few people I’ve talked to have had the old Terayon “black box” or “blue shark fin” models installed when they order the lower tier of service.

If you have Rogers Home Phone service, you’ll likely have a Scientific Atlanta voice+Ethernet gateway, which as far as I’m aware doesn’t work with this configuration page. You may want to check out the Rogers forums on dslreports.com for more information.

Your modem also must be active: this means that the first four lights (going from top to bottom) should be green, and the fifth light should be either solid amber or blinking amber. The last light (Standby) should be off. If your modem isn’t synchronized, you won’t be able to access the status page.

Configuration URL
The URL for the SB5100 configuration and status page is From this page, you can access the Signal and Logs tabs, which give most of the relevant information for the modem.

Signal Tab
In the signal tab, you’ll want to look for the following values:

  • Downstream Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR): This number should be over 30 dB ideally; values under 30 indicate a less than quality connection, although it’s possible to have a number as low as 25 here with a working connection.
  • Downstream Power Level: The power level is one of the more important factors in having a quality connection. This scale goes from -15 dB to +15 dB, with numbers closer to 0 dB being better. If this number is under -12 or over +12, you may have connection issues.
  • Upstream Power Level: This value should be as low as possible, with values above 50 indicating connection quality loss. Anything up to 55 should be functional, but many connections will cut out completely above 57 dBmV.

A snapshot of my current signal readings:
Cable Modem Signal Levels

The Logs tab will have information on the latest disconnects that the modem has experienced. Entries with a date of 1970-01-01 are errors that occurred before the modem received the latest timestamp information from the provider.

Vista impressions, day two

The Good:

  • When you go to rename a file with the Hide filename extensions for known files option enabled, the extension is not selected by default. This makes renaming a folder to the same name as a file much easier.
  • The Screen Clipping tool replaces HyperSnap for all my screen capturing needs.
  • Search support is comparable to OS X, which means that it’s actually pretty decent.
  • Driver recognition for Ethernet cards out of the box is much improved.

The bad, so far: When right-clicking in a folder details view, it seems completely random whether you’re going to hit the “do something with this file/folder” menu, or the “actions for the current folder” menu. This is due to the “selection bars” that reach across all columns. Maybe I’ll find a better method of creating new folders/files that doesn’t require this step?