Thursday, May 27, 2010

My first week with Windows 7

I finally got a new company laptop and consequently made the leap from XP to Windows 7. After a week, it's hard to overstate how disappointed and dismayed I am. It might be better than Vista--which I never used on my primary machine, but just on one or more of my test and virtual machines--but the main reoccurring thought is: "Really, ten years since XP and this is the best you can come up with?".

Some of the gripes:

  • Windows 7 still does a horrible job dealing with changing environments. For example:
  • When I start a large copy job while on Wi-Fi and then plug in the Ethernet cable, the job will be copied slowly over Wi-Fi instead of Windows 7 figuring out that it would only take 10 minutes over the wired network rather than two hours over wireless.
  • Every time I plug in my trackball and keyboard, Windows 7 reinstalls the drivers.
  • Windows 7 detects that my external monitor has a 1280x1024 native resolution, but still sets it to 1152x768 every time I connect it.
  • Windows 7 got rid of Netmeeting, the replacement is clunky and requires all participants to have Vista or Windows 7. Really a wonderful idea if you have contractors who are on XP.
  • The compressed folder tool is now incapable of compressing files with Asian characters in the file name (REALLY MICROSOFT???? IN 2010??????)
  • The entire user interface experience has slowed down compared to XP (and it's not even close to Mac). Even with a fast CPU and tons of RAM, most actions still show a wait cursor for a while.
  • Even after shutting off most of the Aero candy, most actions have an animation associated with it. Not only is this slowing down things, because Windows don't close until the animation ran its course, it also pulls the eye away from the mouse cursor)
  • Many actions now require more clicks. For example, in Office 2003, creating a new document was a two click process File -> New. In Office 2010 it's

1 - Click File

2 - Reorient yourself on the big new tab

3 - Find New

4 - Choose a template

5 - Find the Create New button all the way on the right

6 - Click new (unless you selected a web template, then the button is download, then you click the downloaded template, then you click Create New)

  • Even worse, there is no way to turn this off.
  • Switching to a program using the task bar is now also a multi-step process

1 - Click program icon

2 - Wait for the preview window list to come up

3 - Try and figure out which one you want

4 - Click it

Newsflash: most people want to go back to the window they last worked on in the app. In other words, the topmost window.

  • Waking up is still a 30 seconds to one minute process with 3 screens and a few animations. On any Mac laptop, it's: (1) Open lid (2) Done
  • In a lot of places, it has become impossible to tell which of multiple buttons the default action is. The best example is locking the computer. After pressing ctrl-alt-del, a green screen with a few links like Lock Computer, Log Out etc. comes up, but there is no indication that Lock Computer is the default action.
  • Windows 7 occasionally asks me to do completely superfluous and weird things. For example, when logging in to a new wireless access point on our company network, it throws up a screen asking me to classify the network as work or home. WTF? Or the Outlook default that it asks you to click a balloon to "reenter your password to send to server" every couple of hours. Since whoever sits in front of the PC doesn't have to know the password, but just click the balloon, how the eff*** is that making things more secure???? Thankfully, that can at least be turned off.
  • When Office 2010 thinks, it usually thinks wrong. For example, the Recent Documents list only contains documents I created or changed. If you just open a file to read it, it will not show up. This is wonderful for someone who works with a lot of technical references which 95% of the time you only need to read, not change.
  • In the same vein, how about adding a “correct all” option to the context menu for misspelled words? Do you really think I want to fix one Wifi, and leave the other 8 as is???? Partially related side note: can someone finally explain the difference between its and it’s to Word’s grammar checker?

I could go on, but the bright side, you can finally hide the ribbon in Office 2010.

P.S. Since the built in full text search still can't hold a candle to Google Desktop, thanks a lot for making sure that Outlook 2010 email looses all formatting in the search results.
P.P.S. /sarcasm/Thanks for removing the Desktop button from the task bar. Right clicking on the task bar and clicking on the 5th entry on the context menu is just so much easier. /end sarcasm/

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Academic data plans

Charles sent me a fake letter to the NSF. Since it doesn't match my 15 years or experience in and with academic IT, I provide this edited version as a free (as in beer) template.

Dear NSF,

I am happy to respond to your request for a 2-page Data Management Plan.

First of all, let me say how enthusiastic I am that you have embraced this new field of "large scale data analysis". I heard about this at a conference in 1999, and even though it is outside my field, it seems like a subject that could generate a lot of publications, so I have been toying with the idea to put some grad students on this and have them publish with me listed as primary investigator since I am only working on the deep questions in CS theory and haven't touched a computer in decades except for buying things for my wife on eBay. I even have my secretary print out all my email and transcribe my answers that I give her on a Dictaphone tape anywhere from 3-6 months after I get the printout.

Since it now looks like I can get funding from the NSF as soon as the English grad I hired to write my grant proposals is done, I'll get right on it.

I probably just need one big hard drive, if we need more, we'll just daisy chain them to the SGI Indy we have here. Alternatively, I would like to suggest that we combine this with a DARPA grant and acquire a StorageTek 9985V.

The files will be named by the date they were created and the name of the grad student creating them. If more than one file gets generated per day, they will be named sequentially. E.g. charles20100501-1. The file descriptions will be sent as an Excel sheet (printed and sent as PDF weekly). Students will mark the files they need for their work on the sheet, and our department assistant will create one or more custom DVD with the requested sets once a week and send them to the students. All results will be converted to PDF and sent to the department assistant who will scan them, and upload them to the disk(s).

The advantage of this is that the data on the server can't be corrupted by students, and the DVDs also serve as a backup. In case of a server disk failure, we will just ask them to return the DVDs and re-upload the data. Thanks to the ingenious naming scheme I invented above, there will be no file collisions and due to the date+sequential numbering, we intrinsically have incremental backups.

If we can't avoid it, for example because of state and federal law, we will make the produced data available to other researchers under the following license:

"You are provided this data for the sole purpose of reproducing our published results. Any attempt to publish your own analyses of this data will be rejected, if necessary during the anonymous review process, by pointing out all of the data cleanup steps you forgot to do correctly in your analysis. If you succeed in publishing, I need to be named as lead investigator."

The license will be faxed to the other department and has to be returned signed via FedEx.

After receiving the signed license, we will upload the data with the name of the requester, file date and sequential number if more than one file is requested. The files will compressed in the industry standard LZW format and encrypted. For data security, the encryption keys will not be stored electronically, but kept in a secure three ring binder in my locked desk drawer. If a key is required, my assistant has permission to open the drawer and fax the key to the requester or tell it over the phone.

After talking to my longest serving graduate assistant, Larry, he suggested ISO 8859-16 as encoding. Since he has been working in my department for 28 years, I trust his experience implicitly.

Note, we won't be using a version control system since they only add overhead. All the code will be in Python, Perl, C or FORTRAN 99 (Fujitsu/Siemens extensions), depending on the whim of the grad student. All code will be names similar to the data sets above and students and faculty will maintain their custom build scripts on their PCs.

Sincerely yours,

Professor of Biophysics and Department Chair