Monday, November 30, 2009

Firefox Tips Part I

I recently found myself having to reinstall my OS and browser. I decided to start from scratch and configure it to get the best browsing experience I could get in Windows. I started by leaving IE8 in - for those tough cases of web sites who haven't embraced proper web standards yet. I then added Chrome 4 - for my continued experiments at extensions development. And then I got to Firefox.

I've been using Firefox since the beta. The jump from v1 to 2.0 was a significant improvement. The slew of add-ons and themes made my browsing experience easier and more effective, saving some manual operations and providing a securer surf environment.

The jump from v2 to v3 brought with it the first signs of extension incompatibility, and for the firat time I started missing an older version. But over the years, most add-ons were adapted or replaced and FF turned to be my default browser, both in Windows and Mac OS. My least favorite question to face from a customer became "why doesn't your software support FF?" - mainly because I thought they were right.

But then came FF 3.5. Wow. Talk about a major regression. Sluggish. Buggy. Leaky. Those are just some of the adjectives that come to mind. And not just me - just search the web for reviews. Add to that Google Chrome that appeared all of a sudden, shiny and screamingly fast, and you can see why people were jumping of the FF ship.

But I still kept it around - mainly because of the add-ons, but also out of my attachment to the open-source ideal. I recently installed the 3.6 beta and I'm happy to report, it seems like FF is back! I'm currently running Firefox 3.6b4 and it's THE browser to use in Windows 7. It supports the 7 taskbar preview, meaning you can get small previews of all open tabs and jump directly to the one you like.
It also provides it's own internal tab navigation, when you click Ctrl+Tab:
These 2 features can be turned on or off through the FF configuration settings. There are several useful things you can set up to make your browsing experience smoother. Start by typing about:config in the address bar, and promise to be careful wink.

1. Extensions compatibility
I've already explained how to turn off extension compatibility check, but in the 3.6 beta, they've added another key, so now you have to set these 2 booleans to false (create them if they don't exist) if you want to install extensions that don't support the beta yet (and most don't):

2. Move your cache
Since I'm using an SSD, which excels in data reading - but not that much at writing, I'm trying to keep the amount of HD write operations to a minimum. This hack will allow you to move your cache to a secondary disk:

3. New window open behavior
FF allows you to open new windows in new tabs, this sounds like a cool idea, until you hit a site that tries to open a small window (let's say, to allow you to select a date from a calendar) only to find it spread across a full page in the next tab. After mixing and matching, I found the following combination works:
In the Tools>Options dialog, set FF to open new windows in tabs:

In about:config, set the following value to 2:

This will ensure that windows opened using target="_blank" will open in a new tab, while those opened using will open in a small window.

4. Robots
I have several more config hacks, but I think that's enough for one column. But just for fun, try typing about:robots into the address bar, and counting how many movie references you recognize razz:

In my next post, I'll review the extensions I use and how each benefits my browsing experience.

Monday, November 23, 2009

American Airlines Sucks Part III

As you may recall, I sent an email to American Airlines' Customer Relations manager, Sean Bentel, complaining about the level of (dis)service I received when being denied boarding to a flight, and the poor compensation offered.

I just received an answer from American, in the form of a direct email and a comment on that post. Both contain the same text. I really, really, really wanted this to be over. I wanted this post to have the title "American Airlines unsucks" or "AA redeems itself" - but this is what I received:
November 23, 2009

Dear Mr. Vider:

We've received your additional email to Mr. Bentel, and have looked into the facts and record of your flight where you were denied boarding. While situations like this are very rare, they do happen on occasion and we are truly sorry it happened to you in this case. We historically have one of the lowest denied boarding rates in the
industry, but we also know that statistics don't mean much to folks like you whose
travels do not fit the usual pattern and end up being affected in this manner.

Our policies were correctly followed in this case and we believe most other airlines
would have handled it quite similarly since their policies are much like ours.
Unfortunately, as you have stated, your flight was oversold by five passengers, which
simply means more passengers showed up that day than we had seats available.
Historically when this happens, we are usually successful in finding volunteers who
are willing to fly on a later flight and receive dollar-for-dollar vouchers spendable
on any American Airlines/American Eagle fare within one year. In this case, that did
not happen, and involuntary denied boarding rules set by the U.S. government were the next step those rules were followed exactly as they are set forth by the government.

Overbooking of flights has been a common practice of all airlines for many years. The
reasons are simple nearly every full flight has passengers who simply do not show up
for that flight for any number of reasons. The example of a 100 seat airplane in
which only 100 seats were sold would nearly always leave the gate with some empty
seats (four or five empty seats would not be uncommon on that mythical 100 seat
plane). Those empty seats could have ultimately been provided and sold to other
customers who also need and want to travel that same time and day, but would otherwise be turned away. This practice also helps us provide the low fares we offer to be competitive with other airlines. To estimate the number of empty seats for each full flight, we use historical data for that flight, that day, to estimate how many
"no-shows" it will have, using both computer and human input, and also considering any
special factors that might skew the historical data. Most of the time we are quite
accurate in our estimates. Occasionally, passenger behavior on a given flight does
not match our best estimates. As we said, this is what unfortunately happened to you.
It's rare, but not unprecedented. And again, we're sorry for your inconvenience.


Russell Shady
Customer Relations
American Airlines

Couple of points about this response:
  1. As far as apologies go - this is quite a weak one. Again, more an explanation than an apology, educating me on what is overbooking and why is it so great for me and fellow travelers. You see, it's better for airlines, nay - every provider out there! - to oversell his/her product - in case people pay but decide not to use it.
    How come Amazon never thought of that? To hell with stocks! - just sell to everyone who wants and expect some of your customers to cancel.

  2. Saying "Overbooking of flights has been a common practice of all airlines for many years" does not make it any more acceptable. Just ask every Wall Street weasel who traded in CDS (Credit Default Swaps) and brought us the current economy crisis - he was just doing what his colleagues/competitors were.

  3. I guess I'm more affected because my "travels do not fit the usual pattern". Can someone please explain this sentence to me?

  4. This email/comment completely ignores the compensation issue. No reference, apology, or offer is made.

    A diligent reader named John commented on the post and pointed me to the following Department of Transportation document that deals with compensation in the case of boarding denial. I quote 250.05 (emphases are mine):
    Sec. 250.5 Amount of denied boarding compensation for passengers denied boarding involuntarily.

    (a) Subject to the exceptions provided in § 250.6, a carrier to whom this part applies as described in § 250.2 shall pay compensation to passengers denied boarding involuntarily from an oversold flight at the rate of 200 percent of the fare (including any surcharges and air transportation taxes) to the passenger’s next stopover, or if none, to the passenger’s final destination, with a maximum of $800. However, the compensation shall be one-half the amount described above, with a $400 maximum, if the carrier arranges for comparable air transportation [see section 250.1], or other transportation used by the passenger that, at the time either such arrangement is made, is planned to arrive at the airport of the passenger’s next stopover, or if none, the airport of the passenger’s final destination, not later than 2 hours after the time the direct or connecting flight from which the passenger was denied boarding is planned to arrive in the case of interstate air transportation, or 4 hours after such time in the case of foreign air transportation
    John thinks I may actually have a case against AA, first for not notifying me of my rights and second - a $100 is definitely not 200% of my fare. If there's a lawyer in the crowd, please feel free to comment on this, or contact me personally. I'll definitely keep this option open.
I feel like I gave American a fair chance to respond and I'm sure they feel they have. I still think their customer relations responses should be taught in business schools as how to NOT manage an incident. I shall consider my next moves, but until then American Airlines still sucks.

So this coming Thanksgiving and holiday season, say NO to American Airlines - unless you want to take the chance of spending your Christmas eve at an airport somewhere, just because all passengers decided to show up.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Windows 7 and my new SSD

A friend commented on some of the negativity in my blog lately (he meant all those American Airlines posts), so I've decided to write a positive one to end this week :).

I've been using Windows 7 since early beta, and the RTM version since September. I recently read somewhere that the single best, cost-effective upgrade you can add to your laptop would be a Solid State Drive.

I always had great belief in Flash technologies. I owned one of the first flash drives, called Disk-On-Key from M-Systems. I paid quite a hefty sum in 2002 for a 128MB piece of Flash memory, at a time people were slowly switching from mountains of floppies to slightly smaller mounts of CDs (DVD-RAM was just on the horizon). At the time, people didn't really understand the significance of the technology. I just enjoyed being able to lug around the equivalent of 80 floppies in my pocket. Today, everyone has at least one such "flash drive" at arm's reach, and the capacity is measured in gigs.

So here I am, 8 years later, buying a 128GB flash drive (Gordon Moore, consider your law officially broken :) ). I delayed my decision for quite some time, debating between the Intel X-25M series, Crucial and Corsair. Finally, mostly due to the high Intel prices, I went with the Corsair P128. It has 128GB, a 128MB buffer, 220Mb/s read speed, 200Mb/s write speed, and a Samsung controller. Buying it from amazon set me back $369 - but so far, I'm happy as can be.

This is not a hardware blog, so I'm not going to extol all the benefits of using an SSD, the speed, the silence and the lowered wattage. I'll refer you to AnandTech, or Tom's Hardware, or even Linus Torvald's blog to draw your own conclusions. I won't spill too many adjectives, just share some statistics with you:

1. Boot time: BIOS to Windows 7 logon screen After SSD installation:
Notice that although the overall score is the same, this is due to my graphics card - look at the HD score).
9. Read/write speeds (screen shots from HDTune):
The overall experience is that of having a new, faster laptop. I can't comment on the battery life improvement yet, as I had no chance to test it, and as for the noise levels, my Thinkpad was already one of the most silent laptops I ever owned, and it's even quieter now.

Bottom line: I recommend adding an SSD to your computer if you want a noticeable bump in speed. Prices are still quite high now (over $2.50/gig, compared to $0.15/gig for regular SATA drives). You can wait for the imminent price drop. Or you can buy one now and consider the time you save and the overall speed improvement well worth the price paid.

PS: to improve the life span of your SSD and the overall performance of your Windows 7, I recommend going through some of the tips and tweaks outlined in this post. The main drive is to transfer all those temp files off your SSD and keep it focused on applications and files.

American Airlines Sucks Part II

I got quite a few remarks and comments about my American Airlines Sucks post. Some people shared similar stories about being maligned by AA in the past. Some told similar overbooking stories from other airlines - but with a better treatment, understanding and compensation.

A good friend just ran an "American Airlines Sucks" search on Google, and concluded I'm joining the party a bit too late: 219,000 (!) results show that many people out there share my conclusion. Hey, there's even a guy who's taken the time to register a domain! ( I will let you sift through the results and highlight the funniest stories.

I started a twitter hash tag #AASucks and it keeps collecting twits from "satisfied" customers. The funniest comment I got was a request to change it from AASucks to something else, lest someone mistakes it for the Alcoholics Anonymous organization :).

My fellow blogger Damian
referred me to a story about a web designer at American Airlines who was fired upon answering a customer's comment about the suckiness of AA's web site.
You can read the full story, reported firsthand, in Dustin Curtis's blog. The short of it is, just like me, Dustin commented on the bad design and usability of the site. A web usability designer at AA read his blog and sent him an email explaining some of the design decisions and promising they are aware of the situation. He asked to be kept anonymous, since he was not officially representing AA. Alas, The AA IT team scoured their exchange server, found the original response and the guy was summarily sacked. They won't even let their own employees alleviate the public's perception of them.

As for me, one of the comments on the original blog suggested I ping Christopher Elliott, a leading traveling journalist working for National Geographic. Christopher replied immediately (thanks Christopher!), and pointed me to a page on his blog listing the addresses of all AA executives involved with customer relations.

I just sent the following email to Sean Bentel, (Manager of customers relations) and cc'd Mark Mitchell (Managing director, customer experience):
Dear Mr. Bentel,

Please excuse my addressing this email to you directly, but I have been receiving, in my opinion,
less than adequate treatment from the CR representative I've been corresponding with so far. Furthermore, all my emails to the people
taking care of my case at your department have been ignored and filling and re-filling your online form is quite time consuming. I've also taken the liberty of cc'ing Mr. Mark Mitchell to this email.

I will not bother you with the full description of my case. I'm sure you can pull my earlier correspondence from your CRM system. You can also read about my case, along with the detailed back-and-forth, on my blog post (

I'd like to get a final response to my issue, consisting of a proper apology to the situation I was put in, and a proper compensation. To make it clear that I'm following this matter out of principal and not for monetary gain, I hereby offer that any compensation you offer shall be fully contributed to the charity of your choice. This way, everyone will be happy: I'll get some closure and regain my confidence in your customer service, you'll gain the renewed confidence and goodwill of my readers, and someone will benefit from the compensation.

I will publish a copy of this email on my blog ( and will await your reply. I ask your permission to post your reply to my blog (either verbatim, or the spirit of it). I will follow up on this subject in 2 business weeks from today (December 5th, 2009).

Awaiting your reply and thanks for your time,
So, let's see how this would end. Hopefully, we will all get some closure.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I LOVE Chrome Extensions!

It's true - the first one is always the hardest. But once I got my first Google Chrome extension done, the next 2 just flowed out of me. And believe me, it was a fun process. JavaScript, jQuery, Ajax, JSONP, event-handling - fun to learn, easy to implement.

This time, I decided to solve some real-life problems. How many times have I been on the phone explaining to a non-computer-savvy person how to get their current IP? Let's count the steps:
  1. Click Windows Key + R (explain "holding a key" to the uninitiated)
  2. Type CMD and click enter
  3. type i-p-c-o-n-f-i-g and click enter (the word "config" nly means something if you're in IT)
  4. look for that line that has four numbers separated by dots and read it to me
  5. What was it again 192.235 or 192.265...?
  6. Etc.

MyIP is a simple Chrome extension that shows your current IP in the status bar.

To install the extension, click this link. The functionality is quite simple:
  • Upon startup, the extension pings a web service and gets your IP (ergo, you have to be connected for it to work). The extension also attempts to get your geo-location based on the IP. This is not the most accurate process, as the IP location tag at the top of my blog can attest.
  • Hovering over the IP will show you your location
  • Clicking it will open a Google Ma, centered on your location
  • Right-clicking it will force a refresh (one occurs automatically every 10 minutes)
Remember, you need to have Chrome 4.0.222 and above (I'm using 4.0.229 at this point), or wait for the official Extensions Support to trickle down to the release version.
One final fact: the above number is not MY IP :).

The StackOverflow Reputation Extension deals with my obsession of knowing my reputation on the StackOverflow sites at any given moment. If you revisit my original post, you'll see I've gained close to 1k reputation points since publishing it. But I hate browsing to all 3 sites to follow my point accumulate (or dwindle - I do get some down votes from time to time). To use the extension you provide your profile ID from StackOverflow, SuperUser, and/or ServerFault. To add your profile/s, do the following:
  1. Install the extension
  2. Select "Extensions" from the wrench menu, or type the address "chrome://extensions/"
  3. Click the Options button next to the installed extension
  4. Fill in your profile/s (found in your profile URL for the respective site/s), click "Save Options".

  5. Click "Close Window" and right-click the extension to refresh it (or restart the browser).
And here you go - your reputation is in the task bar.
Click any of the numbers, and it'll open your profile page on that site.
And when I ran into an issue with refreshing the content, I put it as a question on, where else, StackOverflow :).

As for the (bright) future of Chrome Extensions: beginning with version 4.0.229, Google started teasing with the imminent arrival of extensions:
But when you click the link, you get:
So, in the meantime, enjoy my extensions - and develop your own. I'll be glad to share my experience (or lend my services hint, hint) to anyone interested.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why, Lenovo?

As you may recall, I'm a satisfied owner of a Lenovo Thinkpad T400. My one pet peeve was (and still is) the reverse positions of the Ctrl and Fn keys on the keyboard. I've since been approached by 2 other Thinkpad owners who share the same frustration.

So imagine my delight when I heard that Lenovo is going to offer a BIOS update that will allow switching the 2 keys. And then I read the post to the bottom (highlights are mine):

We plan to offer this in all future ThinkPad models, including the over 10 models that we are currently planning. While we really regret that we were unable to use some of the great ideas that we received, such as a BIOS update for our current products or switching the Fn and Ctrl key caps, we will continue to keep these ideas in mind as we move forward. Thank you for your understanding!
What?! Why??? Don't thank me, because I'm not sure I'm understanding. Please Lenovo, let my Ctrl go!


We all get spam email (less so if you're using the GMail filters). But over the last 2 weeks I've been inundated with blog spam. It all started with an innocent comment on my Windows Live Writer post - quite an oldie from 2006:

Anonymous said...

I found this site using [url=][/url] And i want to thank you for your work. You have done really very good site. Great work, great site! Thank you!

Sorry for offtopic

"Ah yes", I thought, "reader appreciation" - and clicked the "Publish" button. Little did I know that this was a hook. Once the comment got published, I started getting 2-5 comments a day to the same post, trying to sell certain "enhancing" drugs, pirated software and plenty of other things I can't comment about since I can't read Russian. All of those, I of course reject, but it's getting to be a hassle. So from now on, I'll be very careful with comment approval. And to the spammers out there, may you all @#@%^^$%!

IE9 on the Horizon

Today at PDC Microsoft "introduced" IE9. The word is in quotes, because there's no real version out there. In fact, the development teams have started working on it only 3 weeks ago, and there's only an internal work build.

This comes a bit over a year after the release of IE8 - a much shorter release period compared to the one between 7 and 8 - and definitely shorter than the 6 years between 6 and 7. What prompted this speedy development cycle? It could be Microsoft's new dedication to internet technologies, or the rapid release cycles of Firefox and Chrome.

But my guess is that the reason is this:
For almost a year now, sites like BetaNews have been running browser performance comparison tests. You see that tiny purple line at the bottom? That's IE8, performing at an abysmal 1.75 x IE7 (or 75% faster), compared to Google Chrome, at over 15x IE7. (To read about the test itself, read this).

What's even worse for Microsoft are graphs like this:
This shows that all browsers perform better on XP than on Windows Vista (no surprise) and Windows 7 (bad surprise). The good news is that this time, Microsoft is not going to discuss the disturbing results in endless committees, but instead started developing the next gen IE. According to Paul Thurrott, a beta version of IE9 is expected at March '10, with a release following in October. As for me, I'm knee-deep in Google Chrome extension development. Fun.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Consumer Rant: American Airlines Sucks

Should you fly with an airline that screws you up and thinks that you should do your best to see their point of view? I think not - and that's why American Airlines sucks.

3 weeks ago, on October 12th, I had to visit a customer at Montreal. Due to the short notice, I could not find a ticket for a reasonable price, so I had to resort to an American Airlines flight from San Francisco. I had a few problems with American Airlines in the past, so I tended to avoid them over the last 5 years, but I was ready to give them another chance. Boy, was I disappointed (to say the least).

My flight had a connection in Chicago. I checked-in online, verified all is OK, arrived at SFO well ahead of time and arrived in Chicago early. And that's where my problem started. American Airlines has overbooked the flight to Montreal - big-time. About an hour and a half before the flight was due to leave, they started asking for 4, then 5 volunteers to stay behind for the night, for the "amazing" compensation of a $250 American Airlines certificate. Needless to say, the underwhelmed crowd did not volunteer. (Just for comparison's sake, I've heard calls for volunteers before, but usually these included an immediate booking with another airlines, and usually a much more generous compensation - I remember one overbooked Lufthansa flight were they offered 400 Euros in cash). They kept on announcing for more than an hour, asking for people with flexible plans.

Apparently, American Airlines sold more tickets than were seats on the plane and were taken by surprise when all ticket holders appeared for the flight on time. This is what airlines call "overbooking" and I call "outright theft". If you have a 100 seats, you should sell a 100 tickets. If a customer cancels or changes his booking - you charge him an exorbitant change fee ON TOP of what he already paid for the ticket - and make even more money. But if you sell 105 tickets to a 100 seat flight - you better have a contingency plan for a case 105 customers arrive. Oh, and muttering "that's just the way we do business" is not a contingency plan - more on that later.

The way I see it, if I buy a ticket, for a large chunk of money, to a certain destination, on a certain date - the only thing that can prevent me from making that flight is weather, a technical difficulty, or an act of God. Anything else is a breach of contract. Hey, try telling your airline that you are not willing to pay for your ticket, because you "overpaid".

10 minutes before boarding time, I heard my name called. I went to the check-in counter, and the attendant informed me that I just "volunteered" to spend the night in wonderful Chicago. They would not book me on a flight to Montreal with another airline (and both United and Air Canada fly to Montreal from Chicago) - presumably to save American Airlines some money.

I had a meeting planned that evening in Montreal, and an early start planned for the following day, so I tried convincing him my plans were not "flexible". To no avail. He told me that they sorted by the dates tickets were booked - and mine was booked just 7 days before the flight. That made no sense to me at all, but he wouldn't hear me further - he was busy selecting 4 other "volunteers". All the other people boarded the plane, and it left the gate. The attendant then gave us vouchers for a night at an airport hotel, a ticket on a flight the following day, and a $10 certificate for dinner (when I asked him what kind of a dinner he expected us to buy for $10, he said, and I quote "this is the maximum the computer allows me to give" - yeah, blame the computer).

And then came the "compensation". Since I didn't "volunteer" in time, but was forcefully taken off the flight, my compensation was to be either a certificate for $159, or a check for $102.29 (I'm not making this up). The other 4 people were offered $500 and $800 checks. When I asked why, the attendant claimed that compensation is given based on the ticket's fare. Again, he was not open to discussion. And I ask - how does the fare of the original ticket matter, when the ticket itself was not respected? And if my ticket was purchased with miles - how can you put a price to that?

Well, needless to say, my evening was shot. I had to call my customer and apologize (imagine how lame an excuse "they overbooked" sounds), leave the airport, sleep in a hotel, come back the following morning, clear security again ("take off your shoes, laptop, belt, watch....") and arrive at Montreal in the afternoon.

I got an email address for the Customer Relations person in charge of complaints from the attendant, and sent them a complaint email. After a week without reply, I tried finding another way.

The only way to submit a complaint to American Airlines is going to American Airlines’ site, and drill 4 levels down to a horrible, outdated web form, that forces you to fill in all your details (I counted 30+ fields) and limits you to 1500 characters. I filled it all in, and tried typing my complaint, but no matter how much I edited it, I couldn’t get below 1500 characters. I finally printed my complaint (PDF) and mailed it the old way. After a week, I received a reply email (PDF), containing the following:

Our seat management system is highly sophisticated (my emphasis GV), and usually we are able to accommodate every confirmed customer who shows up for a given flight. Inevitably, though, there will be rare occasions when there are not enough seats on the aircraft

The offer made to you was applicable based on the fare rules of your ticket. I'm sorry that we are unable to offer additional compensation

I know that you were inconvenienced, but hope that you will give us the opportunity to win back your respect.

Oh, and let's not forget the instructions on how to respond to this email:

This is an "outgoing only" email address. If you 'reply' to this message by simply selecting the reply button, we will not receive your additional comments.Please assist us in providing you with a timely response to any feedback you have for us by always sending us your email messages via at

Ah yes, back to the amazing form. I took the time, filled in the form and send my response (link to PDF):
I received your reply to my complaint. It contained neither an apology, nor a satisfying explanation to what happened to me - just some vague corporate excuses. Your overbooking policies, described as “highly sophisticated” are based on an assumption that not all people will show up for a flight – with no provision for what happens if they do.

I also find your policy of compensating people by the fare they paid misplaced, to say the least. My ticket was purchased by my cousin for 50,000 miles + whatever fees you charged him. How do you put a price to that? And how do you put a price to the damage I incurred from being late? And is that price a $100?

And this morning I received their final reply, which I bring here with my interpretation of what the person who wrote it thought while typing:
Dear Mr. Vider: I'm sorry to hear that our overbooking policies and procedures do not meet with your approval.
(In other words - it's your fault for not getting our policies - not ours for making them.)
While we understand your position and regret your disappointment, we do have very specific policies and procedures, and we are unwilling to make an exception in your case.
(We could care less about you and customers in your position. We have corporate policies designed to increase our revenue. Be thankful you got a $100.)
Mr. Vider, we hope in time you will understand our position and again choose American for your travel.
(If you are ever stuck on a volcano island and the last flight you can take to save yourself is operated by American Airlines, we hope you'll be kind enough to forget our transgressions and take that flight. Or not - frankly, we couldn't care either way.)

The last thing I did today before typing this post was to send an email to the person who sent me those emails (I omitted her name from the quotes, as I’m hoping she’s representing her company, and not her personal opinions), and asked her permission to use her email to train customer relationships and support people on how to NOT WRITE TO CUSTOMERS.

So, this is why I think American Airlines Sucks, and I’ll do my best to share my opinion with the world. Look for the #AASucks channel on Twitter for some future activities I’m planning (maybe print some T-shirts, write a song... Stay tuned). To include the badge that appears at the top of this post in your blog, paste the following HTML into your post:

<a href=""
target="_blank" title="American Airlines sucks">
<img style="width: 175px; height: 91px; cursor: pointer;"
border="0" />

All I ask from you, my readers, is to spread this story and link to this post, from your blog, twitter, Facebook – whatever you can do to spread this tale. Oh, and DON’T FLY WITH AMERICAN AIRLINES – they do not deserve your business.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chicago, Twice

It’s been a busy 3 weeks for this poor traveler. This post will be a bit on the longish side, as I’ll try to cram travel, tech and personal experiences one on top of the other, so please bear with me. If I were less lazy, I would have posted more regularly, but pushing yourself to write, even if it’s your hobby, tends to get harder when you’re on the road.

Yes, I’m back on the road, after a month’s hiatus. To some degree I missed it. After 5 straight years on planes, trains and automobiles, I get bored to death working from home. But there’s nothing like some winter air-travel in the US to cure me from my airport addiction.

After looking at the first draft of this post, I decided to break it into several headings, to make some sense of the mess:

1. Montreal – backup your files!
I love Montreal. You can find it floating around my blog time and again. It’s one of the 4 cities I frequent the most on the planet (the others are NYC, London and Tel Aviv). It has some of the best restaurants I ever ate in, and has an overall look of a European city.

My customer in Montreal needed some software upgrades, network and devices tuning, and a backup solution. I cannot stress enough the importance of backups in this digital age. A simple thing like a hard disk failure can cause you to lose all your documents, presentations and large digital photo collection you’ve been taking all over the planet for the last 10 years. Setting up a backup device, with a daily/incremental backup task is quite easy, painless and extremely cheap (compared to the damage and grief of not backing up).

But what if your office burns down, or your house broken into and the thieves carry out every thing that has an AC cable?
To combat this, you need online backup. Not only would you still retain digital copies that have multiple backups of their own – but those will also be accessible everywhere, from every computer. I’ve been utilizing several such apps and services successfully for years now, so it was easy to set my customer up with an account with one of the leading backup services (I won’t mention its name yet – I might try to become an official reseller for that service).

2. Chicago – first time
On my way to Montreal, I connected at Chicago's O’hare airport. The airline I flew with overbooked the flight to Montreal – and guess what? Everyone who bought a ticket showed up. For an hour and a half they asked for volunteers to stay a night in Chicago, for the ridiculous compensation of a $250 certificate. Needless to say, there were no takers.

5 minutes before boarding, the attendant called out 5 names, mine included, and “volunteered” us to stay. No explanations or apologies. The compensation that was offered now was a $150 certificate, or a check for $100. A few other stupid things occurred after this, but suffice it to say I got stuck in Chicago for a night, had to leave the airport, return to it the next day (don’t you just love clearing security?) and missed my morning meeting with my customer.

By now you’re wondering why am I omitting all the relevant details and most importantly, the name of the airline. rest assured, I haven’t gotten soft: I sent the airline an email complaint 3 weeks ago, and a real snail-mail letter last Sunday. I’ll give them another week to respond/apologize. After that, they will be the deserving recipient of a Customer Rant post. Is there anyone in the audience skilled enough to help me mount a consumer campaign a-la United Breaks Guitars?

3. Hockey – the real prime-time sport
I lucked out and my visit to Montreal coincided with the first week of hockey season. I got to watch the Montreal Canadiens play (and sadly, lose) their 2 opening home games. I was seating at the best seats in the Bell Centre (thanks George!) and even met the Canadian Prime Minister Harper, who came to cheer his team (the Ottawa Senators).

I decided to embrace hockey as my favorite sport in this hemisphere, as it is the most dynamic and as closest to football (real football, not the American version) as you can get.

So I went to watch my local team with a friend (hola Diego!). We lucked out and the SJ Sharks (see that big shark head in the image? that's where the players emerge from at the beginning of the game), beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-3. I am now considering adopting them as “my” team. I wonder who I’ll cheer for when the Canadiens come to play here?

A funny thing that occurred during this game: after the Sharks' Dan Heatley scored a penalty goal, thousands of people (I'm not exaggerating here) started throwing their hats and caps into the rink. The maintenance people worked for several long minutes to clear all the hats of the ice, as more and more were thrown in. Our bench neighbor explained this is a tradition whenever a player scores a hat-trick (3 goals in one game). I tried capturing some of the action, but my Blackberry's camera is quite limited.

4. Zendcon – visit to the far side
Last year in October, I attended PDC, the Microsoft developers conference. This year, I decided to check how the “other side” lives. I followed up my visit to StackOverflow DevDay by visiting Zendcon – the PHP conference sponsored by Zend. I attended several announcements and sessions and enjoyed several lectures about how to run open-source, multi-contributor projects (hint: ego management). It was most informative and convinced me that I have still a lot to learn (and thanks to Eldad for the invite!).

5. Chicago – second time
My next customer visit took me to Chicago again. I got a chance to get stuck in O’hare again (although for a much shorter time). It was the first time I used Windows 7 and XP Mode to teach a class, and I’m very impressed – I decided to carry out all my future training sessions from XP Mode.

This also gave me a chance to catch up with old friends, and try Deep Dish Pizza – the local dish. Hint try one slice – that’s more than enough (and thanks to Ariel for introducing me to Ginno’s).

6. Yotta – it’s not a car
You’ve all must have heard about Gigabyte – a storage capacity size standing for a 1000 Megabytes (which is a million bytes). You have also heard of Terabyte – a 1000 Gigabyte, and maybe even of Exabyte (a 1000 Terabyte), and Petabyte (a 1000 Exabyte). But today was the first time I ever heard of Zetabyte (a 1000 Petabyte) and Yottabyte (a 1000 Zetabyte). Yes, there exists a storage unit that stands for 1,000,000,000,000,000GB (or 10^24 byte). Where, you may ask? According to this TechCrunch article, the amount of data the NSA intends to hold and analyze will be measured in Yottabytes by 2015. Scary.

7. Windows 7 – because they ran out of good OS names
I’ve been using Windows 7 for over a year now. I got the RTM version at the end of August, but the final drivers for my Thinkpad came out on the official release date, 10/22. Other than a couple of driver related issues (mostly the display driver), everything is peachy. I recommend it to everyone, although if you’re using Vista SP2, it’s very hard to find a compelling feature that will get you to update. I'll probably dedicate a future post to my Windows 7 experiences.

Other than that, I’ve been using Visual Studio 2010 beta 2 and I’m very impressed with the debugging and analysis features.

8. SSD – back in a flash
My next upgrade is a Solid State Drive (SSD) so I can get the maximum out of 7. Strangely, right now the SSD stock is in a flux, prompting many online sellers (notoriously Newegg) to hike prices for no good reason (i.e., an Intel X-25M 80GB drive, MSRP $225, will cost you about $400 on Newegg, and is out of stock on Amazon).

I think I’ll just wait for the stock to replenish before pursuing this further, and will of course report in a future post, once I get it.