Tomer Gabel's annoying spot on the 'net RSS 2.0
# Wednesday, 14 June 2006

My travel history is not a particularly interesting one: a trip to London with my parents when I was 14, another trip to Turkey last year. Other than that, nada. So it was with particular interest that I took on a business trip to China: for starters, I was eager to get into the business side of things at Monfort. Second, I am fascinated with Chinese culture and have been planning a trip to China in ages. Lastly, it's a paid business trip to another country... I'm being paid to do things I would never have been able to afford on my own. Obviously, I said yes!

Going on a business trip is quite different from going on a vacation and has its own set of rules. I had to get a business suit, business cards and similar crud. I'm not a big fan of clothes in general (Israel is extremely hot and I'm very averse to heat) and uncomfortable, constrictive clothes in particular, so it's no surprise that I have never worn a business suit. There is a whole etiquette involved: colour matching, the type of jacket, button placements etc. These are mostly trivialities, but it gets a little more interesting with ties: the first and last time I ever wore a tie was for my Bar-Mitzvah party, and my dad put the tie on for me. This time it wasn't really an option as I was going to Beijing on my own. Luckily the 'net has once again proven to be an indispensible information repository, and over a weekend I was able to successfully teach myself how to tie a half-windsor knot from scratch. (This might be a good time to note that, externally, I can't see any difference between half-windsor, full-windsor or four-in-hand knots. They all look alike to me.)


Image courtesy iol.org.uk

I'm usually inclined to do my homework before going into a new venture; in this case it meant doing serious reading on business suit etiquette (as mentioned above) and an overview of both Japanese and Chinese business culture (since I'll be meeting both). At least in theory business cards are a major aspect of oriental business culture - such cards are prerequisites for businessmen from either culture, or those interested in doing business in the orient. There are even customary rules on how to present business cards: either one hand (always the right) or, preferably, with both hands, with the written side facing the other party. Some sites go as far as to recommend double-sided business cards, one side in English and the other in whichever language is relevant to your uses. Finally, it makes an impression to hand out the cards from a holder (pictured on the right). These are supposedly easy to come by in any gift shop (which are abundant in Israel for some reason), however I found this out a little too late and was unable to obtain one in time for my outgoing flight. I figured I'll just pick one up at the airport, but apparently none of the shops in either the Israeli or the Turkish duty free zones carry such products.

A major difference between this trip and any other I've ever been on is packing detail: packing the suit takes special attention. I'm a pretty experienced hiker so packing is a trivial task for me; I usually pick the smallest necessary bag and pack just what is necessary (or useful) for the purpose of the trip. Although a suitable strategy for hikes through Israel or trips to Turkey, this strategy proved inadequate because of the suit: I used a folder for packing the suit shirt, and a special carrying bag for the jacket and pants. I'm only going for a few days so I didn't pack a large bag or suitcase and settled for a medium-sized carry-bag... which turns out to have been a mistake. Although I carried very little on this trip, the jacket bag wouldn't fit in under any circumstances (not without twisting the jacket inside) and I had to carry it with me everywhere (duty free, lounge, plane, etc.). I'm definitely picking a proper suitcase for the next trip. The special shirt folder also proved inadequate and I had to have the shirt ironed again.

I figured the few things I'll be needing before and during my flights can be kept in the laptop bag. This includes a wallet, glasses and the various documents (flight tickets, passport) I'll be needing on my trip. This would've been a wise decision if it weren't for two factors: I needed some extra space for the stuff I bought at the Israeli duty free zone (The Da Vinci Code and a bottle of Rémy Martin XO Excellence), and the damn suit carry bag kept bothering me. I think I'll go with a small traveller's bag next time.

The one thing I didn't plan properly was a camera. I could've borrowed my dad's camera (Minolta Z2), but it's large and unwieldly. I wanted to buy a compact digital camera and figured I could buy a mainstream camera for a reasonable price in the Israeli duty free. This also turned out to be a mistake, because the price for the camera I was initially interested in (Canon Digital IXUS 50) was considerably higher than the price I could get even inside Israel. No luck in the Turkish duty free zone either, so it's mostly a question of whether or not I can find the time in China to look up a camera.

Next: the actual flights.

Wednesday, 14 June 2006 21:34:14 (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Personal
# Sunday, 11 June 2006
  • I've been keeping hella-busy lately; this in itself wouldn't keep me from posting, but it's keeping me from coming up with good ideas for posts. Sorry about that, it's only temporary.
  • I'm going on a business trip to China in a couple days. I hope to have some pictures and stuff posted when I'm back.
  • Easy Star All Stars - Dub Side of the Moon is as listenable as it is funny.
  • I've ditched Gaim, at least until the next beta. Aside from being ugly, it's currently too quirky and slow. Since I can't really stand Miranda the only viable alternative at current is Trillian.
  • I've had to reinstall my machine at work... experiences in a separate post.
  • ReSharper 2.0 is at version #251, which supposedly fixes a lot of performance issues.
  • Oren Eini's posting like mad, make sure to finger his blog occasionally.
  • I'm rennovating my home theater setup. Current candidate list: Panasonic TH-42PHD8, Paradigm Monitor 9 v4, Paradigm CC-370, Denon 2601. Regardless, I would appreciate any pointers in the same price class.
Sunday, 11 June 2006 23:46:06 (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Personal
# Tuesday, 06 June 2006

There are some extremely nonobvious repercussions to switching domains, a few of which we were unfortunate enough to encounter here at Monfort.

The first of those is that certain source control providers (such as Vault) consider the host name an integral part of a check out atom; since the domain name switch resulted in a change in all host names, the direct result was that after the switch our developers were unable to do anythign with files that had been checked out before the switch. Although Vault is based off of SQL Server I couldn't figure out how to "surgically" take care of the problem; changing the host record in the check out object table had no apparent effect. I thought this might have to do with client/server side caching, but restarting both did not have the expected result. To save time, we eventually worked the problem out by undoing all check outs server-side from the administration tool and manually checking the files back out.

The second problem was much less obvious: some of our projects make use of cryptographic key containers for signing .NET assemblies; after the switch we started getting "8013141C errors" (Windows will not format this error message). We tried reinstalling the key container only to get an "Object already exists" message from the sn tool. Yaniv, one of my colleagues, managed to find an article with the apporpriate solution: apparently one needs to update the ACL on Documents and Settings\AllUsers\ApplicationData\Microsoft\Crypto\RSA\MachineKeys. Simple, but not trivial.

Tuesday, 06 June 2006 18:30:30 (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Development
# Saturday, 03 June 2006

It's been a while since I've posted anything gaming-related, and I'll make it short and sweet: stop whatever it is you're doing. Buy Dreamfall. Play it. Relish it. It would be better if you played The Longest Journey first, but it's not an absolute must (you'll enjoy the sequel a lot more though).

Suffice to say that this game looks amazing, plays amazing, sounds amazing... the voice acting is top-notch, the story and settings are magnificent. It's... bloody awesome. Along with Psychonauts it must be the best game I've played in years.

Saturday, 03 June 2006 05:22:30 (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Gaming
# Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Quietly and (apparently) without fanfare, JetBrains have released ReSharper 2.0. Those of you used to 1.5 will find that the new version is extremely feature-rich, but also radically slower than 1.5; I seriously hope JetBrains are aggressively optimizing their plug-in, because on large projects it can become quite sluggish.

That said, the huge amount of new features as well as Visual Studio 2005 support are a definite reason to move to 2.0.

Wednesday, 31 May 2006 17:38:24 (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Development | Software
# Tuesday, 30 May 2006

Damned if I know why, but Visual Studio 2005's debugger just stopped working today. I initially found this out when I attempted to run PostXING in debug mode, and although the debugger seemed to be working (VS2005 switched to debug view, the postxing.vshost.exe child process was right there) absolutely nothing happened for minutes. When I eventually hit Shift+F5 I was faced with another 30-odd-second stall, after which I was duly presented with this astoundingly useless dialog:

"Mom! The VS2005 debugger is being a dildo!"

If I didn't want to stop the debugger, I wouldn't have hit Shift+F5. This is a class case of the "I know what you want but I'll ask you anyway" syndrome which is becoming increasingly evident in Microsoft's newer products (such as Windows Vista).

But that's not the issue. I can't get the damn debugger to work. It stopped suddenly and wouldn't debug any project at all - it just hangs during or immediately after loading symbol files. And I can't find anything about it on the 'net, either. Oddly enough, attaching to external processes seems to work fine. Ideas?

Tuesday, 30 May 2006 23:51:55 (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Development
# Sunday, 21 May 2006

How closely coupled the various components in Windows are. Take Internet Explorer, for instance; this wretched thing has been around since the days of Windows 98, and is now so entrenched in the bowels of the operating system it's impossible to get rid of. In fact, if you tried to remove it from your machine you'll find that it's not even a relevant option:

That might explain why I reacted with very little surprise when I encountered the following dialog box when starting windows explorer (read: double-click on "My Computer"):

I didn't start the debugger, in case you were wondering. As much as I appreciate people who actually bother attempting production-debugging on other people's programs, I don't have the time and patience for this - I have actual work to do (particularly when at work). So I selected No. And the dialog came up again. And again. And again. To top it off, my CPU was bottomed out; Process Explorer seemed to think MDM was the culprit:

So now Internet Explorer and most programs that rely on it crash immediately on startup (oddly enough, RSSOwl, which relies on SWT, which relied on Internet Explorer, works without a hitch). I immediately suspected some sort of adware/malware/crapware, but Spybot wouldn't find anything. Now what am I supposed to do? I hardly think Internet Explorer (which I hardly ever use anyway) is worth a complete system reinstall.

Sunday, 21 May 2006 21:58:32 (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Development | Software

Warning: Emotional outburst follows

So here I am, working on the latest and greatest version of Microsoft's flagship messaging and collaboration application (read: the antiquated Outlook 2003 and its bug-riddled back-end). I've switched back to Outlook after over a year of using the generally excellent Thunderbird. It's driving me insane.

For starters, despite the fact that Microsoft has had years to perfect the multilingual - bidirectional text, in particular - support in its applications, Outlook still suffers from what - in a new product - would be considered amusing issues that a hotfix will come out for in a couple of days. Over three years after its release Outlook still manages to completely mangle plain-text e-mails. Take a normal, Engilsh plain-text e-mail and try to reply to it. At times (I still haven't been able to find a pattern), although the e-mail is displayed just fine, replying to it causes the bidi heuristic engine built into Outlook to decide that this is a right-to-left e-mail, and the reply is prepared accordingly (quoted lines included). This wouldn't be such an issue if there was any way at all to change the reading order without completely mangling the text (Ctrl+A, Ctrl+Left Shift):

Original imageAfter clicking on Reply...After changing the reading order
Original e-mail (left), Outlook's reply (center) and after changing the reading order (right)

I showed this to Ilya (a friend and colleague with much experience in bidi-related issues). His best idea was to write a macro to do the low-level conversion for me. That's not really a solution; where bidi support in Thunderbird is merely missing, in Outlook it's outright broken. Thunderbird allows me to insert arbitrary HTML if I want to; in Outlook there's simply no way at all to work around this problem.

To add insult to injury, I started using IMAP when working against one of my mail servers. I was frustrated for a few days becaue the messages marked as deleted were never actually removed from the server; aside from the nuisance of seeing old messages displayed strikethrough along with fresh messages (which can easily be filtered out), I simply could not figure out how to purge the deleted messages. The most obvious option, "Process Marked Headers", was completely useless; nor was "IMAP Folders..." of any help. This has got to be the first time I ever actually used Office's help - a fact I would normally attribute to a fundamentally impressive UI - only to find that the option resides under "Edit->Purge Deleted Messages." Obscure location? I thought so too. But at least the option is there.

Sunday, 21 May 2006 17:37:06 (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Development | Software
# Tuesday, 16 May 2006

Last month was full of interesting occasions and happenings for me - most of those of an uninteresting, personal nature. It was hectic, to say the least. Which is why my posts over the last month or so were extremely sporadic. I intend to remedy the situation; now it's just a question of what to post about, and this is where the problem lies: I am not familiar with my readership, such as it is. Most of the comments I get in response to blogposts are either from direct friends or occasional Google searchers; I appreciate these comments a great deal, but they don't provide me with equally important information: who are the people who consistently read this? What are the RSS subscribers interested in? This is more or less a personal blog, which has its advantages (freedom) and disadvantages (lack of focus), and I have no real way of telling which of the subjects I touch gets more attention or interest.

This is where I'd really appreciate feedback! There are (presumably) reasons why you read this blog. Is it for the development-related bits? Which posts do you find useful/interesting, which are completely pointless? Please, help me to keep you interested. Post a comment, e-mail me or whatever, and let me know!

Tuesday, 16 May 2006 22:17:21 (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Personal
# Thursday, 04 May 2006

Wanting synchronization capabilities and frustrated with a bizarre folder locking bug - a folder remains locked if a connection is dropped server-side while downloading mail - which I was too lazy to fix, I switched from Thunderbird back to Outlook 2003. It's actually a lot better than I remembered (having worked with it extensively from a development point of view until last year); when not working against an Exchange server (and on a gargantuan Athlon 64-based machine) it's actually very fast, doesn't stall and is pretty stable at that.

It's not, all in all, a bad product. But it's not a complete one either.

First and foremost, Outlook's search capabilities are so ridiculously bad that third party tools have been coming out for years to address this shortcoming. Among those are Google Desktop Search, MSN Search Toolbar beta, Copernic Desktop Search and very much my personal favourite, Lookout. Lookout is an Outlook plugin written in .NET (one of the first commercial-grade products I've ever seen to use the platform) which indexes your mail in the background and performs extremely fast searches. It's complete free and was, in fact, so good Microsoft bought the company a couple years ago and is presumably busy incorporating Lookout's features into Outlook 12.

Second, the spam filtering options are lacking. I've no idea what sort of mechanism Outlook uses, and it is effective for certain kinds of spam, but it also generates a lot of false positives and misses a lot of other spam. Looking for a client-side (i.e. non-proxy) bayesian filter implementation for Outlook I eventually settled on SpamBayes, which is so far completely stable and hassle-free - not to mention effective, and open-source at that.

Moving back from Thunderbird was not without hassle though; I wasn't inclined to import the Thunderbird mails over to Outlook so that wasn't much of an issue, but I couldn't get the "Send To Mail Recipient" shell option to work with Outlook. Theroetically, merely changing the default mail program in "Internet Options->Programs" to Outlook should do the trick, but it appears not to be the case. I eventually found a solution on Joel's old forums: start RegEdit, go to HKCU\Software\Clients\Mail and change the default value from "Mozilla Thunderbird" to "Outlook". That's all there is to it.

As a bottom line, if you do not require simple bidirectional mail support or PDA synchronization via ActiveSync, stick to Thunderbird. It's a basically superiour piece of software.

Thursday, 04 May 2006 17:01:39 (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Software
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