Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Stupid error message

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Last Wednesday, I went to the gas station because my car was a bit thirsty. When I wanted to insert my card and pay for the fuel, I was greeted with this ridiculous error message: “The exception unknown software exception (0x0eedfade) occurred in the application at location 0x77e73887.

Reliability?

This is so wrong..

  • The error message goes to the wrong target: the customer cannot do anything about it anyway, so why does it appear on the screen? The touch screen was frozen so I could not even press the OK button. In cases like this, the software should just log the error and blank the screen or display some customer-oriented error message such as “Out of order”. There should be a way to trap these errors (any kind of software error) and redirect them to the company that maintains these terminals instead throwing them at the customer.
  • The exception “unknown software exception” shows that things are definitely not under control. How can one trust a system that displays such a stupid error message?
  • Minor detail: the error message is in English only, while the user interface of this terminal defaults to French and supports multiple languages (Dutch and German, but not English). Trapping the error and displaying “Out of order” in multiple languages would have been more appropriate and more customer-friendly.
  • If you ask Google about this error message by searching for the error code and address, you will find several matches revealing that various applications are affected by this random crash: Internet Explorer, Photoshop, some Delphi applications and other specialized software. This looks like a mysterious Windows crash that confuses everybody.
  • Using Windows instead of a more robust embedded operating system is just asking for trouble. The main advantage may be that some customers are already familiar with the Windows error dialogs and can recognize them from a distance, so they know that they should go away and not even bother reading the error message.

Surprise on the way to the airport

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

Last month, I was driving a bit fast towards Brussels because I didn’t want to miss my plane. It was raining heavily, but fortunately there wasn’t too much traffic on the motorway.

Suddenly, I see the three cars in front of me slowing down very quickly and switching from the first to the third lane. Oops! The road is covered with sugar beets and some of them are still rolling… Fortunately, I was paying attention so I quickly stepped on the brakes and then moved to the third lane like the other cars. Once I had slowed down enough, I grabbed my mobile phone and took this photo through the windshield without aiming much because I still had to be careful and avoid the other cars… not to mention slaloming to avoid the rogue beets trying to attack my car.

Surprise on the way to the airport
That was an interesting driving experience… I eventually reached the airport safely and got my plane just in time.

Sophie

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

Sophie was born 6th of September, a bit before 16:00. She is not a small baby, weighting 4.390 kg and measuring 55 cm, but she did not take too long to come out and greet her happy parents Isabelle and Raphaël. A couple of hours later, she met her sister Catherine who is now two years old. The baby and mother are doing fine. The main job of the father was to hold the mother’s hand. This very important job was accomplished successfully according to the mother.

The picture below shows Sophie less than 4 hours after her birth. She was about to ask for more food…

Dead PC

Monday, January 16th, 2006

Back from vacation. Found that my PC does not want to start anymore. What a nice way to start the new year!

I did not have much time to investigate what died. It could be the motherboard, the CPU, the RAM, the video card or the power supply. In any case, the PC locks up on startup and does not seem to initialize the PCI cards correctly. I am guessing that because I get no video signal and the lights on the network card get stuck in an unusual state, which usually means that the card did not get the proper signals on the PCI bus. Regardless of what it is, it looks like I will have to waste some time finding the bad components and replacing them.

Fortunately, my data should be safe. I learned a lot from the disk crash that I experienced a few years ago just when I was starting my (then irregular) backup on CDs. At that time, that caused me to lose a number of GIMP source files that I was working on, such as a preliminary version of a GIMP macro recorder. Since then, I have started doing automated backups on external USB drives in addition to the less frequent manual backups on CDs. USB enclosures are relatively cheap (about 10 EUR) and buying two hard disks instead of one (or 4 instead of 2) is also cheap in comparison with the value of the data that could be lost.

Even if my main PC will not be usable for the next few days, I can still use the laptop that I got from work. But for how long? I just learned that 2 of my 6 colleagues who had the same model of laptop experienced a hard disk crash in the last two weeks. Another one had a disk crash a few weeks before the Christmas break. And another two lost their data after coming back from vacation due to software problems. So this means that 5 out of 6 had problems with their laptop recently (OK, in two cases this was likely to be a human error, but still…). I am starting to wonder if there is a timebomb built into these laptops. So maybe I am next on the list. I’m going to back up my laptop now…

Visited countries

Thursday, September 22nd, 2005

Following the meme started on planet.debian.net (but one week late), here is a list of countries that I have visited…

Rather dense in Europe, but unfortunately not much outside of it. I am planning to change that.

North America is shown as one big piece, but to tell the thruth, my visits to Canada have been limited to Quebec (plus one airport stop that doesn’t count) and my visits to the US include only CA, AZ, NV and UT (plus DC and IL if you include airports). Note that the isolated red dots (islands) around Hawaii are incorrect and came as a side effect of selecting the US, but most of the other ones are correct.

Update: Two months later, I managed to fix the title of this entry. It turns out that NewsBruiser gets sometimes confused with its authentication cookie and displays the unhelpful error message “Error: I don’t think you meant to enter that as the title.” if you put anything in the title. Submitting an entry without title worked, though. Solution: go to the configuration page, select “Security”, re-enter your password and enable or disable the authentication cookie. After that, you can enter titles again. <sarcasm>Why didn’t I think of this obvious solution before?</sarcasm>

ADSL adventures, part 2

Thursday, August 4th, 2005

Once I managed to get the necessary information for configuring my Speedtouch 350 DSL modem (see part 1), the next logical thing to do was to start using it. Or at least try to.

The first problem was that Belgacom apparently never sent me the letter containing the user name and password that I was supposed to use for accessing their services. After spending a few minutes on the phone (that music sounds familiar) I got a login and password that I could use. Well, that’s what I thought. I learned later that what I got was not the login/password pair that I asked for, but just a pair of passwords (for PPPoE and for POP). No login. Doh!

My second call to the support center (ah, that music again!) was barely more successful: this time I got a user name and a (new) password, but again I discovered later that the user name that I got was incomplete (last characters missing).

The third call was more interesting. After 20 minutes of music (I really know it by now), a technician told me about the missing characters in my user name and asked me to try logging in while he was monitoring their side of the DSL line. This time, the PPP authentication was successful but then the PPP connection went down immediately after that. Strange! The modem re-tried a few seconds later, with the same results. And again, and again… After a few more minutes of debugging, he told me that he was resetting their card and asked me to power-cycle my modem. I did that and when the line came back, the connection worked and I was able to access the Internet. Oh joy! But I also noticed something else while looking at the system log of the modem: the connection speed after the reset had dropped from 3 Mbps to 1 Mbps. I mentioned that to the guy, who said that it was normal. Ah well, at least the ADSL connection was usable so I was happy (after wasting two hours on that).

According to a colleague who had a similar experience, the reason why my line went down immediately after a successful authentication was related to the 3 Mbps. By default, the DSL access is configured for 384K/3M up/down. But the offer that I had accepted had a cap at 1 Mbps (apparently, because I never got the letter with the details of the offer). Although the telco part of Belgacom handling the DSL access was happy to let me in with 3 Mbps, the ISP part of the company was not happy with that and dropped the connection immediately. That could make sense, but I am still wondering why the access line had not been configured correctly on their side in the first place and why it took so long for the problem to be identified. Ah well, at least I can use my connection now… And I am glad that I could do all the tests using the built-in web interface of the modem over Ethernet instead of USB. I’m wondering what would have happened if they had required me to use some Windows software for configuring the stuff.

ADSL adventures, part 1

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2005

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a telemarketer about a new ADSL
offer from Belgacom/Skynet (main telco and ISP in Belgium). I did not
hang up immediately and I even accepted the offer. By now, you
probably think “sucker!” and you may be right, but that’s not the
point of this blog entry. After a bit of discussion about this offer,
he asked me what version of Windows I was running and I said “Linux”.
Hmmm… Two minutes of please-do-not-hang-up music later, he was back
and said that everything should work fine with Linux and my “free”
modem would be delivered soon. So far so good.

One month later, after returning a package containing the wrong
modem (USB only), I eventually received a package containing the right
one (Speedtouch 530, with both Ethernet and USB ports), some cables,
ADSL filters and CD-ROM for setup and documentation. That CD-ROM
surprised me, as it appeared to be empty. Strange… It was mounted
without errors, it had a label and a non-zero size, but there was
something missing: the files.

After a bit of investigation, it turns out that the CD-ROM had both
Joliet (Windows) and Rock Ridge (UNIX) extensions. But the Rock Ridge
extensions were hiding every file on the CD! So mounting this CD on a
Linux machine (or Solaris, MacOS X or other UNIX systems) shows an
empty filesystem. From a Windows system, everything looks fine.
Fortunately, mounting the CD with the option -o norock
allowed me to access its full contents. I did not care much about the
drivers for Windows included on the CD, but the whole documentation
including the basic hardware and software setup instructions could
only be found there. Without that documentation, it would have been
hard to guess that I had to use the address 10.0.0.138 in order to
access the configuration menu of the modem.

I found out later that I could get this information and much more
by visiting the Speedtouch web
site
directly instead of relying on the CD distributed by
Belgacom. But still, that CD was interesting considering that I had
specifically asked for Linux support…

By the way, if you want to create such a CD, you can play with
mkisofs and the options -hide and
-hide-joliet. I have used these options a few years ago to
create useful CDs that were showing README from Linux and ReadMe.txt
from Windows (with DOS CRLF line endings). But you can also use these
options for creating broken CDs, if you really want to alienate your
customers.

Joining the blog meme on blogs.gnome.org

Friday, May 13th, 2005

Well, well, well… So I have been somehow convinced to join the fun here on blogs.gnome.org. This place looks nice.

But I have to admit that I am not good at blogging. I just imported the previous entries from my Advogato diary. The last one was from February 2002. The previous one from February 2001. These dates should say something about how active I have been in the last few years.

I am not sure that I will have interesting (or even uninteresting) things to say here on a regular basis, but who knows? Maybe I will update this journal more than once a month and not abandon it after a couple of months? Only the future will tell…