Sandton retailers that irk me

What’s the story with retailers that think the consumer must be honoured to be their customer? This weekend it really got to me, both times at Sandton City.

On Saturday night I tried to take two of my ex-pat friends to my favourite Thai restaurant, namely Wang Thai above the Nelson Mandela Square. We got there just after 9pm only to be chased away as their kitchen was closed for stock take. You gotta be kidding me! A stock take on a Saturday evening at the end of the month? That’s what Sunday morning is for damnit. Anyway Pappas on the Square next door was more than happy to feed us and the live entertainment was great too.

Now Sunday I found myself back at Sandton Shitty to watch Inception with friends – a great movie by the way – and found myself amidst the Sandton Winter Sale. Ok I’m not such a fan of the crowds but I love to shop, especially for tech. First stop, the Apple iStore for a wireless keyboard. Not a single salesperson offered assistance nor did they seemingly have any wireless keyboards on display or in stock. Useless!

Next stop, Incredible Connection – a trusted tech haven. Oh wait, it appears the store has moved from one side of the mall to the complete opposite side. No fear, brisk walk and lo and behold what do I find? A pathetic excuse for a tech store and not even the Incredible Connection store name to be seen – more HP and Vodacom signage than anything. A complete waste of my time!

My conclusion is to steer clear of the excuse that is Sandton Shitty.

Silverlight 4 beta and my disappointment with the WebBrowser control

Silverlight 4 logo by Tim Heuer So as most of you probably know by now, Silverlight 4 has been announced and a beta is already released, you can head off over here to find out what’s new and to download the bits you need like Visual Studio 2010 Beta 2, etc. One big warning though, if you have the Silverlight 3 SDK installed on your machine, uninstall it before installing Visual Studio 2010 as it might barf the Visual Studio 2010 installation.

So one of the features I’ve been eagerly awaiting in Silverlight 4 is the new WebBrowser control. Yeah as strange as it may seem I want to embed some web content in a Silverlight control. Well not a control as such but more a Silverlight application. And I’ve managed to do it since Silverlight 2 by creating iframe elements in the underlying HTML DOM and absolutely positioning them over my Silverlight control, all from within the Silverlight application. This has however one major limitation – you can’t put Silverlight content on top of the HTML iframe unless its in a seperate object element which doesn’t exactly suit my needs.

Silverlight 4 WebBrowser doesn't play niceAnd it turns out that the Silverlight 4 beta WebBrowser control suffers the same horrible fate, as you can see in a screenshot of a quick test application on the left. Except it has another awkwardness to it – it has to be run out of the browser as well. Looks like I’ll be sticking to my iframe approach for in the browser and consider using the WebBrowser control for out of the browser only.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do like the new control, but I would like it to be even better. If anyone on the Silverlight team reads this, please make the WebBrowser control a proper Silverlight control that can have pure Silverlight controls over it.

Battlefield: Bad Company – great game, lousy support

Battlefield: Bad Company As much as I like the new Battlefield: Bad Company, I am getting more annoyed by the lack of support from the publisher Electronic Arts (EA).

The game was released locally on the 27th of June 2008 and it seems that despite having a private beta and a public demo, their systems just can’t handle basic things like linking of a Xbox LIVE Gamertag so you can see your stats online. Well not just see your stats, but get weapon unlocks through the Find all Five promotion.

So what exactly is this issue I’m talking about. Well when you log into the Bad Company web site using your EA.com profile you are supposed to be able to access your My Soldier page and upon doing so get sent an unlock code for a weapon. However when I log in I get the following error message:

We're sorry, but it looks like no Xbox Live Gamertag or PlayStation Network name has been linked with your EA Account.

So I logged a support issue on the 30th of June 2008 with the South African EA support office as my EA profile clearly has my Xbox LIVE Gamertag associated with it. You can see that below:

Current Active Profile

Unfortunately its now over two weeks later and my Bad Company profile still reflects the issue above. I tried to make it easier for the South African support person but to date I haven’t found a working solution to the problem. I have been told a few times that the problem should be fixed, but each time I try logon, I get the same error message.

Apparently the EA site runs off Oracle databases and there have been issues in the backend that have required Oracle engineers to sort out. I just personally wish they’d sort it out so I can enjoy playing my copy of the game with the weapons I’m entitled to.

Oh and if you’re trying to gain Veteran status for owning other Battefield titles, you might be out of luck, as their system reports that the keys are invalid. A friend of mine opened a brand new copy of an older Battlefield game and the site reported it was already registered on their system.

While I’m ranting I’d like to point out how unfair it is that the Find all Five promotion doesn’t recognize South Africans that pre-order through the local retail channel. C’mon make it fair EA!

Great game EA, unfortunately I can’t say the same for your support.

Blend doesn’t support managed type converters

If you are busy trying to develop using Microsoft Silverlight 2 beta 2 and Microsoft Expression Blend 2.5 June Preview you might have encountered errors while working in Blend such as The TypeConverter for "DataGridLength" does not support converting from a string. although Visual Studio doesn’t complain about the XAML and the code runs just fine.

Well its a confirmed issue in Expression Blend according to the feedback I’ve received on my bug report. The official word from Microsoft is as follows:

Thank you for your feedback. For the June Preview Blend does not support type converters from managed code (all the type converters defined in non-runtime assemblies). This is something that we are working on supporting for RTM but unfortunately do not have it working yet.

What this means is that any custom control development, including Microsoft’s own controls can potentially suffer from this issue as TypeConverter implementations that are not part of the Silverlight 2 beta 2 runtime are not supported. If you have encountered this issue in Expression Blend then please rate and validate the bug so it will be fixed.

My thoughts on Xbox LIVE Arcade titles being delisted

Xbox LIVE - Don't remove Arcade titles If you’ve been following the latest news out of Microsoft you may have noticed the article with Marc Whitten where he mentions that certain under performing Xbox LIVE Arcade titles are going to be delisted from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. Chris Paladino was quick to clarify some of the community questions about it in his post over here. reassuring people that they will still be able to download the title from their Account Management->Download History section of their Xbox 360 Dashboard.

I can understand the need to do this. There are 130 Xbox LIVE Arcade titles currently available on Xbox LIVE UK and it can really make it difficult to see which titles are good and which aren’t. But why remove the under performing titles? There is already an Xbox LIVE Marketplace section titled Arcade Hits but it only has 7 titles in it. Why not just create more means by which the content can be categorised?

One great idea is to allow users to see more meta data about the title. Its mentioned that titles with less than 65 on Metacritic and a bunch of other sales criteria are likely to be de-listed. Why not expose that information about the title in the Xbox LIVE Marketplace? I can just see it now, it’d be a wicked mash-up of Xbox LIVE Marketplace content and external ratings. Heck, why not allow respected gaming sites to offer rating services and allow the gamers to choose which ratings providers they’d like to see? And yes, the ratings providers should not be allowed to add free text to the listing, just a range of scores about the graphics, sound, gameplay and overall as most of them currently do anyway.

And while we’re at it, allow me to rate the games I play for all to see and let only my friends and mature users see my comments about the title.

Its awesome to see the growth in Xbox LIVE Marketplace content but I honestly believe its time for simpler and more powerful ways of navigating and finding the content I want out of all the other content. Don’t take the old content away, I might still want to try that out!

[tags]Xbox LIVE Marketplace,XBLA,Xbox LIVE Arcade,rant[/tags]

When Hyper-V on Server Core actually sucks

After seeing a post that the Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V bits are now feature complete in the form of Release Candidate 0 (RC0), I decided its time to get a machine up and running to play with it.

I decided to go with a Server Core installation instead of the usual Full installation and it was great, I ended up at a command prompt after installation, reboot and logging on for the first time. So I proceeded to type in the following commands to configure Hyper-V:

bcdedit /set hypervisorlaunchtype auto
start /w ocsetup Microsoft-Hyper-V

A reboot later and my server is now enabled with the Hyper-V role. One problem, how do I configure a virtual machine? It seems like the only way is from another Windows Server 2008 machine running the Virtual Machine Manager. This kind of sucks big time as I don’t have another one to play with. Apparently Windows Vista will be able to run the Virtual Machine Manager at some point but right now it looks like my lean and mean Hyper-V server is going to have to become a bloated full installation.

[tags]Windows Server 2008,Hyper-V,virtualization,rant[/tags]

Steam no longer Civilized

Sid Meier's Civilization IV CompleteOn the weekend Andre happened to show me Sid Meier’s Civilization IV and in particular the Beyond the Sword expansion pack. I immediately decided I wanted to get a copy for myself, having strangely enough, never played any of the series before even though others peoples I know like Ruari have spent way too many hours engrossed in building civilizations.

So apparently the quickest and easiest way to get a copy of the game is through Valve’s Steam service. But lo and behold it seems that 2K Games no longer supports delivery of content to South Africa and doesn’t even offer the game to South African users or make mention of the fact that we live in an unsupported country. Wonderful.

I happened to notice our country code in the game page‘s URL so I tried changing it to the UK and lo and behold, I can now see pricing for the game.

image

image

Unfortunately clicking on the Purchase button resulted in a “Game unavailable” message box telling me that “This subscription is not available in your country.

image

I ended up waiting until the following day and calling my local BT Games store where I actually picked up a copy of the Sid Meier’s CivilizationIV Complete for less than it was available on Steam. Now I can understand content restrictions but then Valve must not lie to its customers. If you take a look at their Get Steam Now page it clearly states:

Fast access to games: The full Steam library and all future Steam releases are at your fingertips. After you’ve purchased a game, download it immediately and start playing.

So what’s the story Valve, why the misleading advertising?

[tags]Valve,Steam,Civilization IV,South Africa,rant[/tags]

The pain of SQL Server and working with dates

How many times have you tried to design an efficient database table design in SQL Server only to stumped with the problem of storing pure date values. Yes the currently released versions of SQL Server (up to 2005) don’t support a pure date only data type. Note that SQL Server 2008 add the new DATE data type which should make this post semi-redundant. This can prove painful when you wanting to store values for a specific day. So you end up getting creative. My normal solution is to put a check constraint on the column to enforce that the date value represents the start of the day or 00h00. Oh and I generally make sure I store all my date and time values in UTC so I can render to any time-zone that my application desires.

Here is an example of how I’d do a check constraint on column UtcDate. Note how I effectively truncate the floating-point representation of the date and time value and check that it equals the column value. Also I store it as a SMALLDATETIME as I’m not needing more than 1 minute accuracy. Oh and I’ve tried to reformat the examples to be easier to read on the web, I hope it works. 🙂 

CREATE TABLE [dbo].[Foo]
(
 [UtcDate] SMALLDATETIME NOT NULL
            CONSTRAINT [CK_Foo_UtcDate]
             CHECK (FLOOR(CONVERT(FLOAT,[UtcDate]))=CONVERT(FLOAT,[UtcDate]))
) ON [PRIMARY]
GO

This method works great for me but in searching for a way to truncate the minutes of a DATETIME to a specific interval I found another approach that not only looks more elegant but most likely performs a lot better. I haven’t run any proper performance tests so I’d appreciate some feedback from those that have done some testing.

CREATE TABLE [dbo].[Foo]
(
 [UtcDate] SMALLDATETIME NOT NULL
            CONSTRAINT [CK_Foo_UtcDate]
             CHECK (DATEADD(DAY,DATEDIFF(DAY,0,[UtcDate]),0)=[UtcDate])
) ON [PRIMARY]
GO

It looks a lot more efficient than my previous approach, hopefully it is. Oh and take a look here for more very useful tips and tricks when working with dates and times in SQL Server.

[tags]SQL,SQL Server[/tags]

Glow in the Dark?

What is the deal with the South African government? Am I becoming an alarmist by writing this post and expressing my opinion? I honestly don’t know but I just feel the need to write my thoughts down.

Last week the country, who had power, watched Derek Watts and the Carte Blanche team try to get to the bottom of the electricity supply issues currently being experienced by ESKOM. The viewers were polled asking whether they had confidence in ESKOM being able to sort out the problems; the answer was a 99% vote against them. That was over 100,000 people that each incurred a R1.50 charge to tell Carte Blanche how upset they are – I wonder how many people didn’t bother to vote or didn’t have power to watch the show?

So now I’m reading my feeds today and I notice the latest – radioactive vegetables have been discovered. Yes we’re taking about a report on vegetables being 150 times more radioactive than permissible levels. Oh great! What next? Am I eating radioactive fresh produce now? Maybe that Big Mac and Cheese should be my staple diet for the next few weeks until this crap gets sorted out.

Oh and then there is more to put the cherry on the top. Apparently 43% of dams in the country are in dire straits and are needing repairs to the tune of 180 billion Rand. Wow, how did that one slip by? Were the government officials so busy doing something else other than running the bloody country?!

Maybe there is at least a solution to the ESKOM issues – we’re all likely to be glowing in the dark in the near future.

[tags]South Africa,ESKOM,radioactive,food,water,electricity[/tags]

Power to the people

I suppose its to be expected that an emerging country such as South Africa has to face so many challenges on its path forward but the recent power outages which Eskom, the national power utility, calls “load shedding” is actually just plain ridiculous. A while back Eskom implemented a load schedding schedule to reduce the strain on the national power grid as maintenance work needed to be done and there wasn’t enough power to go around. Either the planned summer maintenance was guise or we really are in trouble.

EskomLightEndOfTheTunnel

The power outages have been getting worse and worse and according to recent reports it is estimated that up to R2 billion is being lost on a daily basis due to the unexpected power outages. Most businesses would be able to plan around the supposed schedules but when they hit randomly its just not acceptable. As usual some people have injected a little humour.

 

EskomVsBush1

EskomVsBush2

EskomVsBush3

When will it end? Who knows! But I know that I’m doing my little bit to save on power consumption. I’m switching all my incandescent lighting to the longer lasting and more efficient energy saving globes and keeping lights off at home when not needed. I wonder what difference it would make if companies took the initiative and got rid of CRT monitors in favour of LCD monitors. Possibly government could provide some form of incentive in this regard.

[tags]Eskom,power,electricity,South Africa[/tags]