John Kaster

Behind the Screen

Archive for the ‘IT Industry’ Category

MacBook Pro Impressions #3

with 3 comments

In my first and second posts on this subject, it looks like the MacBook has been losing in the comparison to Windows 7, so I thought I’d do a quick (we’ll see!) post on some things I do like about the Mac.

Spotlight rocks

Spotlight kicks butt all over Windows search, particularly when searching in the windows start menu, which frequently doesn’t even find installed software by name. Spotlight is fast, it finds everything, and the UI is set up so you can just type as much as you need to find the item you want, you hit enter, and it opens. I actually almost never use my dock.

I started using it even more after I discovered the Command+Space hotkey that invokes the spotlight search.

Fancy fingerwork

The 4-finger swipes are quite handy (pun intended) now that David Clegg has told me about them.

  • Swipe 4 fingers left or right: show all running tasks
  • Swipe 4 fingers up: show your desk top
  • Swipe 4 fingers down: show all open windows
  • Swipe 4 fingers in the opposite direction: revert your view

3-finger swipes that work in Safari and Firefox (at least):

  • Swipe 3 fingers left: move backward to previous browser page
  • Swipe 3 fingers right: move forward to next browser page

Lots of configuration options

As several people pointed out in comments to my last post on this subject, there’s also a lot of configuration options available on the mac. It turns out I disagree with Apple on what should be the default setting for at least a few of them Winking smile.

The following bookmark is one I refer to when I remember to teach myself some more Mac features, also.


Written by John Kaster

April 14, 2011 at 8:18 am

Posted in IT Industry, Mac

Fun and games with MSSQL installations

with one comment

After spending a couple minutes scratching my head wondering where my SQL Profiler was for SQL 2008 Standard R2, I did some searching and found out that Microsoft evidently thinks you don’t want a SQL Profiler on a machine that has Visual Studio on it.

The Visual Studio installation also installs SQL Express. There’s lots of samples that are pre-configured to use SQL Express. That’s fine with me.

The headaches come when you want to install SQL Standard or higher on a machine that already has SQL Express installed. The profiler is part of the “Complete” management tools, as explained in this blog post.

Problem is, I couldn’t select “Complete” when I installed SQL Standard, because I already had SQL Express on the machine.

You can’t get there from here

A picture’s worth a thousand bug reports, hopefully. Here’s my confounded picture.


What’s the solution? Evidently, it’s wiping out all vestiges of “SQL Server” from my machine in add/remove programs and starting all over. Again. (I’d already had to do this once because SQL 2008 R2 had issues with installing on a different version of SQL server, and SQL 2008 (not R2) can’t install on Windows 7.)

Please, Microsoft – think for a couple seconds about your installation practices for future MS SQL installer releases, and make some appropriate implementation decisions. Thanks.

Written by John Kaster

April 8, 2011 at 9:43 am

Posted in IT Industry, SQL Server

MacBook Pro Impressions #2

with 9 comments

Wow, I’ve been so busy since my last post on my MacBook impressions, I’m going to keep this post to some quick observations so I don’t fall so far behind I never get back to this topic.

UI Oddities

I keep hearing about how great the Mac UI is, and how much better it is than Windows. Maybe it’s because I’m comparing it to Windows 7, but I’m just not feeling the “Mac UI” love that much. I really don’t see that it’s significantly better than Windows. Some examples:

  • Hitting “enter” on a file in Finder (Mac’s version of windows file explorer) allows you to rename the file. It doesn’t open the file.  Having the Enter key invoke a file rename UI rather than opening the file I’ve “selected” really doesn’t seem like the best choice.
  • I can only resize a window by clicking on the bottom-right corner of the window. I can grab any edge in Windows and resize the window. Windows is definitely more user friendly for this, and minimizes mouse movements.
  • Apps that have multiple windows frequently hide my most recent window when I have to temporarily switch tasks, and the only way to see them is to hold down icon in the Dock (taskbar) and wait until the windows are gathered, then I have to click on the hidden window to bring it back up.
  • When I stick a movie DVD in the drive, the Mac doesn’t do anything. I have to start the DVD player explicitly. I don’t know what the reasoning behind this, but sticking a DVD in the DVD drive is a User Interface event, and it should respond to that event. Windows certainly does.
  • The Mac has drag and drop issues for several stock Mac applications when trying to drag a file from a networked drive into the application. In several instances, it just won’t work at all. I have to use that same Finder window that’s pointing to the networked drive, copy the files locally, then use the files from the local copy. Lame.

Quality comparison

For those people who claim that the Mac doesn’t crash, spin up on CPU cycles, or lockup as much as Windows does, all I can say is, you’re wrong. I’ve actually experienced more frequent “issues” with my MacBook than with my old Windows laptop that was not built for Windows 7 but was upgraded to Windows 7 Ultimate.

I have also had very flaky external display issues with my Dell U3011. Calls to Apple support didn’t resolve it, other than insisting it was my Dell display that was causing the problem. After more than a month of problems, and finally not being able to connect to my external display at all, I decided to give the “Genius Bar” at my closest Apple store a try (an hour round-trip away from the house.)

After plugging in the laptop to the monitor (also lugged up to the Apple store) at the Genius Bar, it “just worked.” So something related to the amount of time disconnected/powered down reset the display issue. Everything I know about hardware and software issues points to it being a display driver problem, though.

I have since learned to never close the lid (putting it to sleep) on my MacBook when connected to my external display. Whenever I’m going to close the lid, I disconnect the mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter first. I have had zero display issues since adopting this practice.

Bad design decision

I spent about a month trying to figure out why my line-in/microphone input wouldn’t work on my Macbook when doing voice conferencing. I even talked to two Apple Care technician about it, and they didn’t know. The people at the Genius Bar finally gave me a partly accurate answer – rather than using a standard Laptop headset that works on any one of dozens of different kinds of devices, I have to have a “USB headset”. What they really meant is I need a powered microphone attached to the input jack.

Requiring a powered mic for a laptop or any other portable device is a ridiculous design choice/limitation. There is absolutely no valid reason to require a powered microphone as an input source for a laptop computer.

More observations when I have time. There’s plenty more to bring up. I need to start taking better notes while I’m working …

Written by John Kaster

March 15, 2011 at 8:10 am

Posted in IT Industry, Mac

What’s the staying power of your code?

with 2 comments

I just reconnected with an old friend (he called us both dinosaurs, but we’re not that old!) on LinkedIn. Brian has been in business so long his company actually has a three-letter domain name, CUS Business Systems does auction software and consulting, and many years ago I wrote some utility functions for him.

Part of his reconnection email to me said “We’re still writing software for auctioneers, and still using those rtf routines you wrote for me 20 +/- years ago…”

Naturally, I was amazed and impressed by the “staying power” of code I wrote more than 20 years ago, still being used in production. (This is for a Clipper application, by the way.)

So, this prompted me to ask both of my readers:

  • What’s the oldest code you have that’s still in production use?
  • What language is it written in?
  • What is it used for?

Written by John Kaster

January 19, 2011 at 5:35 am

Posted in IT Industry, Personal

MacBook Pro Impressions #1

with 8 comments

I got a MacBook Pro on December 23rd, 2010.  I’m jotting down my impressions as someone very familiar with DOS and Windows, and not at all familiar with the Mac.

I haven’t worked on a Mac since about 1986, so any previous experience I’ve had with them is irrelevant.

I’m not comparing Windows vs. Mac OSX. In fact, the primary reason I got this laptop is so I could run both Windows and Mac software on the same machine, which I’m already doing.

Naturally, the shipping box for the Mac is attractive and well-designed, with a plain outer cardboard box, and a cardboard anchor/pad for each corner of the inner decorated box. The inner box has a black plastic handle so you can lift the box out of the outer box without any difficulty. I like that the self-contained and compact design of the shipping system.

The lid opens and closes nicely. I think it’s held shut magnetically. The power plug also is magnetic – it plugs itself into the laptop when you get the adapter near the receptacle on the laptop. It’s also reversible, so the cord will run alongside the laptop coming toward the front or the back, allowing you to choose which way works better for your current layout. The power brick has a short plug adapter that can be swapped with a longer cord if you need to reach further to your power source. (I just leave the longer cord on all the time).

Apple provides some introductory training videos I found somewhat useful. It’s interesting that options for also running Microsoft Windows on your Mac are also prominently featured.

The keyboard has a pretty good feel. There’s no home or end key, or page up or page down. The delete key is really a backspace key. I really miss not having both. You have to use various multiple keys to get the missing keystrokes and some of them are less intuitive than others. The use of the command and control keys is completely inconsistent, and is still a source of frustration for a keyboard jockey like me.

I’ll record additional impressions in later posts regarding sleep mode, headphone jacks, ISO support,  “intuitiveness”, spotlight, VMWare fusion/parallels, VPN client, Finder views (no tree!), VoiceOver and more. If you care! Winking smile

Written by John Kaster

January 19, 2011 at 5:24 am

Posted in IT Industry, Mac

Transactis is hiring!

with 2 comments

Transactis is looking for a few good developers to help develop highly scalable, distributed systems for the US financial services market. The software is written C#. If you’re interested in finding out if Transactis is a good fit for you, send me an email with your CV/Resume.

Written by John Kaster

January 12, 2011 at 7:29 am

Posted in IT Industry

Dell "Chat Expert" is not quite so expert

with 6 comments

This is the transcript of a chat I just endured with a Dell representative when trying to get some answers regarding the Dell AY511 I just received. The only change I made to the chat was replacing the name of the rep, and other identifying bits of information. The text of the transcript is unaltered, for your reading enjoyment. (Someone should get some joy out of this, since it won’t be me!)

This is an automated email sent from Dell Chat. The following information is a log of your session. Please save the log for your records.

Your session ID for this incident is *******.

12/30/2010 03:07:20PM
System: “Thanks for choosing Chat to assist you in making your purchase on A Chat Expert will be with you shortly.”

12/30/2010 03:07:26PM
Session Started with Agent (DellRep)

12/30/2010 03:07:30PM
Agent (DellRep): “Welcome to Dell US Chat! My name is DellRep and I will be your Sales Chat Expert. I can be reached at us_con_sl_apos_chat or via phone at 1-****-****-**** ext. *******.
Hi there, feel free to provide your phone number so we can contact you in case the line got disconnected. Thanks. How can I help you today?

12/30/2010 03:07:46PM
John Kaster: “Hi. My phone is ****-****-****”

12/30/2010 03:08:03PM
John Kaster: “I just received a Dell AY511 SoundBar and have some questions regarding accessories for it.”

12/30/2010 03:08:07PM
Agent (DellRep): “Thanks John, glad you chatted in today and hope you’re doing fine =)”

12/30/2010 03:08:20PM
Agent (DellRep): “Sure thing, how may I assist you on that?”

12/30/2010 03:08:47PM
John Kaster: “I’m well, thanks. it comes with an external power supply. I thought it would also come with the power plug for plugging it directly into my monitor. I’d like to know what part that is so I can order it.”

12/30/2010 03:09:04PM
John Kaster: “Also, I’m interested in what subwoofer you sell that’s compatible with the AY511”

12/30/2010 03:10:30PM
Agent (DellRep): “I’ll be glad to assist you on that. Please give me a minute or two while I’m checking on the specs of this sound bar. One moment please.”

12/30/2010 03:12:30PM
Agent (DellRep): “So it didn’t come with instructions on how to connect it to your computer?”

12/30/2010 03:14:18PM
John Kaster: “I have it connected”

12/30/2010 03:14:35PM
John Kaster: “but I have to use an external power plug (that came with it)”

12/30/2010 03:14:57PM
John Kaster: “my monitor has a power plug for a sound bar – but I don’t have the cord to go between the monitor power source and the sound bar”

12/30/2010 03:15:04PM
John Kaster: “it didn’t come with the AY511”

12/30/2010 03:15:46PM
Agent (DellRep): “External power plug in order to connect it to your monitor, right? The external power supply of it is connected directly to the wall socket?”

12/30/2010 03:16:16PM
John Kaster: “yes, connectied directly to the wall socket right now. No cord to plug the sound bar directly into my monitor”

12/30/2010 03:16:38PM
John Kaster: “that’s what I’m looking for. a cord for plugging the soundbar into the monitor directly”

12/30/2010 03:18:29PM
Agent (DellRep): “Actually, you don’t need to get any cord to connect it to your monitor. It says here that this item is directly mounted on the monitor.”

12/30/2010 03:18:48PM
John Kaster: “yes, it’s directly mounted. but that doesn’t give it power.”

12/30/2010 03:19:21PM
Agent (DellRep): “I see. May I ask for the model of the monitor that you have?”

12/30/2010 03:21:09PM
John Kaster: “it’s a Dell U3011”

12/30/2010 03:21:48PM
Agent (DellRep): “Got it,so you already mounted it on your monitor or not yet?”

12/30/2010 03:21:58PM
John Kaster: “yes, it’s mounted on the monitor, and working”

12/30/2010 03:22:36PM
John Kaster: “again, what I’m looking for is the cord to connect power to the AY511 from the monitor power plug available on the Monitor.”

12/30/2010 03:24:33PM
Agent (DellRep): “Alright, as per checking, this sound bar is connected via mini-phone stereo 3.5 mm cable. What we can get here is a cable that has 3.5mm jack on both ends. And you don’t need to connect it directly to the monitor. You will connect it to your tower. In the”

3.5mm port for headphones.

12/30/2010 03:24:58PM
John Kaster: “DellRep, you’re not answering my question.”

12/30/2010 03:25:05PM
John Kaster: “I have it mounted. I have sound.”

12/30/2010 03:25:49PM
John Kaster: “What I’m asking about is a cord for electrical power that goes directly from the AY511 to the monitor”

12/30/2010 03:27:36PM
Agent (DellRep): “If that is the power cord that is directly connected to wall socket, it should came with it.”

12/30/2010 03:29:01PM
John Kaster: “I know about that cable. I’m using it. Can you repeat back to me what it is that I’m looking for so I can be sure you understand my question?”

12/30/2010 03:30:51PM
Agent (DellRep): “You mentioned that you are looking for a cord that connecting the sound bar directly to the monitor.”

12/30/2010 03:32:24PM
John Kaster: “Correct, a POWER cord that connects the sound bar directly to the monitor.”

12/30/2010 03:33:01PM
John Kaster: “There’s a power plug on my monitor that’s compatible with the power plug on the AY511. What I don’t have is the power cord that will connect both to each other.”

12/30/2010 03:35:10PM
Agent (DellRep): “You mentioned that it already has a sound? What is the reason why you want to get it?”

12/30/2010 03:35:26PM
John Kaster: “without power, the sound bar will not work”

12/30/2010 03:37:37PM
Agent (DellRep): “You mentioned that it also has a power cord that is connected to the wall socket right? That cord will give the power to the sound bar.”

12/30/2010 03:38:51PM
John Kaster: “Yes, DellRep. I’m aware of that. Is there someone else I can chat with? We seem to be having trouble communicating.”

12/30/2010 03:40:33PM
Agent (DellRep): “Let me just connect you to our technical support department, since this is just a new Sound bar, you should get free technical support on this.”

12/30/2010 03:41:27PM
John Kaster: “ok, thank you”

12/30/2010 03:41:43PM
Agent (DellRep): “Please stay on the line.”

12/30/2010 03:41:53PM
Session Ended

If you require further assistance, please visit us at
The customer experience is our top priority. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated (link removed)

In case you wouldn’t know by this point: I did not actually get connected to a tech support rep, nor did anyone from Dell call me back after I was disconnected during the “transfer”.

I hope Dell provides better training soon to “DellRep”, and that this blog post helps inform Dell they need to improve their online service.

Written by John Kaster

December 31, 2010 at 6:10 am

Posted in IT Industry