Sunday, November 01, 2009

How to Fix: "Unable to find Adobe PDF resource files" - Adobe PDF Converter.joboptions- Acrobat Pro

Have you found yourself facing an Adobe Distiller (Adobe Acrobat Pro) error message something like this recently, when trying to print / output to a PDF file from a non-Adobe application on Windows?
"Unable to find Adobe PDF resource files" that mentions the directory "C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Documents\Adobe PDF\Settings" and the supposed missing file "Adobe PDF Converter.joboptions"?
Well, I ran into this, and after searching the Internet for fixes, I found a whole lot of people talking in vagueness about how to "fix" this, to say the least, and providing little real information about how to fix the problem at hand (and, the advice produced zero resolution to the problem). Well, I figured it out myself, and I hope this information helps you.

Symptoms / Setup
First, I am using Adobe Acrobat 7.0 Professional (with 7.1 update), as was installed via the Adobe Creative Suite CS2 software, and on my Windows XP Professional desktop machine that has Service Pack 3 (SP3) installed. Producing PDF files was never a problem for me, until at some point (perhaps SP3?) it just stopped working, and every time I tried to produce a PDF from various applications, it would prompt me about "Do you want to run the installer in repair mode? ", to which I (foolishly, hopefully) said "yes" to, which of course does NOT fix anything. [note: I hate software like that!!! What is the point of a "repair mode" that does not repair the issue at hand?]

How to Fix / Resolve
Well, if you are "Unable to find Adobe PDF resource files" because your Acrobat Distiller can not find the file "C:/Documents and Settings/All Users/Documents/Adobe PDF/Settings/Adobe PDF Converter.joboptions", let's get that file to exist!

It seems, from what I can tell, that Adobe Acrobat Distiller (i.e., the program that creates PDF files for you as a print-driver essentially), needs that EXACT NAMED FILE to exist, at that exact location. Never mind that you already have a "Standard.joboptions" file defined, and that logic would dictate SHOULD be used in the absence of the file "Adobe PDF Converter.joboptions"; you have to tell Acrobat 7.0 / 7.1 / 8.0 / etc that you really want that "standard" one to be used for performing conversions from certain non-Adobe applications that you are trying to "print a PDF from".

So, go to the folder mentioned: NOTE... THIS IS A HIDDEN FOLDER. So, to make things easy, presuming you installed on the "C:" drive, just copy and paste this following line to your Windows File-Explorer's address-bar, and you will go right to the folder, hidden or not:

C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Documents\Adobe PDF\Settings
Now, you should see other ".joboptions" files in that directory already, and presumably you do NOT have the "Adobe PDF Converter.joboptions" there, or you would not be getting this error message.

Choose whatever ".joboptions" file makes sense as your "default" for printing PDF files from your various Windows applications, and copy it to a file named,... you guessed it: "Adobe PDF Converter.joboptions" (in this same directory) I chose the "standard.joboptions" file, and copied it.

Now, try to print / generate a PDF from whatever application was otherwise having a bug or problem printing PDF files because of this pesky "Unable to find Adobe PDF resource files" Adobe PDF Converter.joboptions message and "run in repair mode?" not-a-fix option...

With luck, YOU CAN NOW PRINT A PDF from any application! (I sure hope so... it worked well for me!) What finally inspired me to FIX this issue on my desktop was when I was using the new VMware Workstation 7.0 feature called "Virtual Printer" which allows the guest VM's (virtual machines) to print to any installed host-printer (including, you guessed it, Adobe Acrobat / Distiller PDF printing!). Now I can print from ANY of my guest virtual-machines to an Adobe PDF file, using the host machine's installed Acrobat Professional 7.0 / 7.1, via a virtual-printer-passthrough mechanism. Sweeeeeet. But, this is a bit off topic aside from how cool it is!

Optional - Create your default PDF output-settings file first...
If you want to create a custom .joboptions file in this directory, just open up Acrobat Distiller, go to "Edit Adobe PDF Settings", and create a definition for however you want your default-output (when printing a PDF) to be, and "Save As..." whatever file name you desire. Then, copy THAT definition file to "Adobe PDF Converter.joboptions" in the directory I have been talking about here (which is where your new definition, by default, should have been saved during "save as" operation).

Final Thoughts...
From the types of web pages I was seeing when searching for a way to fix this "unable to find adobe pdf resource files" bug / feature, I noticed that it seems to occur with Acrobat Pro 7, Acrobat 7.1, Acrobat 8.0, and perhaps even Acrobat 9 (and Acrobat 6.0 ?).

So, hopefully this helps anyone trying to "solve the problem" on their machine with printing a PDF file and getting that darn message about running repair mode (which does nothing). If it helps, I would not mind a link to this page to promote a solution that really IS a solution (after all the time I wasted searching, and not finding one, I wish someone else would have promoted a real fix). Enjoy!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

VMware Workstation 7 Released : New Features

I have been a long time VMware Workstation user enjoying all the benefits of virtualization to ease my computing requirements on the desktop. I regularly have multiple virtual-machines open running nicely isolated applications for tasks related to software development, database design, office productivity applications, 2D and 3D CAD systems, and sandboxed-web-surfing.

My VMs (virtual machines) guest operating systems range from Windows XP to Windows Server to Linux (typically OpenSUSE, Ubuntu, and Fedora). And, all of this computing activity is occurring simultaneously on my single desktop machine inside virtual-machine-windows thanks to VMware [note: my current "host" operating system is Windows XP Professional]

New in VMware Workstation 7.0
With each release of VMware Workstation, I only further find myself being more productive... VMware keeps adding features to make my life easier when working with multiple virtual machines. And now, with VMware Workstation 7.0, they have done it again with some great new features that are bound to save me further time and/or improve the overall computing experience:
  • Virtual Printing — This is my current favorite new feature just because of how much I detest installing the drivers for the same printer inside each of my virtual machines just to print! Thankfully, Workstation 7.0 now allows you to print from virtual machines without mapping network printers or installing printer drivers in the virtual machine. Woohoo!!!! With virtual printing enabled in the virtual machine setting, all of the printers installed on the host operating system are available in the guest operating system. Can you say, "awesome!... and, about time"
  • TWO GREAT FEATURES LONG OVERDUE: Expand Virtual Disks — Increase the size of the virtual disk from within VMware Workstation. For Windows Vista and Windows 7 guests, the disk partitions can be adjusted without the use of additional software. This should be a HUGE TIMESAVER, as I can not remember how many times I was put through the ringer trying to free up disk space in a VM for doing something like applying yet another super-bloated Microsoft Service Pack that required multi-gigabytes of free space just to expand/install! This should make life a LOT easier! Woohoo! And, Compact Virtual Disks — Reclaim unused space from a virtual disk so that the host or another virtual machine can use it. I have wanted to do this especially for old VM images I was archiving... if I can burn them to a single DVD now, that'd be very nice.
  • 256-bit Encryption — This is another really nice feature in my opinion. It allows you to secure your virtual machines with AES256-bit encryption to prevent unauthorized users from accessing or running the configuration files. I need to explore the extent of the encryption abilities yet, but anything to improve security on the network is a welcome addition!
  • I do not particularly care much about the new support for Windows 7, Aero Glass, and Aero Peek support, but, I am sure quite a few other people will, and this is one of the larger new features of Workstation 7.0; there are other related features for Windows XP Mode Compatibility — Import a Windows XP Mode virtual machine using VMware Workstation 7.0 and run the virtual machine without being prompted to enter a Windows XP license key — that I just do not know how much it matters if you are only using XP anyhow. But, regardless, the support for Windows 7 is here now, and there are all sorts of enhancements related to graphics performance and the like too, including...
  • 3D Graphics Improvements for Windows XP guests — OpenGL 2.1 and Shader Model 3.0 support is now available for Windows XP virtual machines. The XPDM (SVGAII) graphics driver works with Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. However, only Windows XP virtual machines install the XPDM graphics driver by default. What this means to you, who knows... but, it is an "improvement". I was already quite happy with the graphics performance, even for my 3D CAD work, with Workstation 6.5, but any speedup is always a good thing.
  • Now, this feature is cool for us developer types: vSphere 4.0 and ESX Support — [this paragraph copied right from VMware site] Install and run ESX 4.0 as a guest operating system. VMware Certified Professionals (VCPs) and technical professionals can install the latest server virtualization software and experiment with server setup, conduct training, show demos, and test production configurations. Running ESX as a guest eliminates the need to have spare hardware available to run ESX natively and enables ESX to run on systems that are not listed on the ESX hardware compatibility list (HCL).
  • Support for more "beefy hardware" emulation: Four-Way SMP and 32GB Guest Memory — if you just happen to have that much underlying hardware available! WOW, I want 128GB of RAM to use for a few VMs!
  • Cross-Platform License Keys — Now this is something I have wanted for a LONG TIME! It allows you to use the VMware Workstation 7.0 license key on both the Windows and Linux versions. (Make sure you read the EULA for the terms and conditions that must be met when switching platforms.) I previously hated how I had to commit to staying on Windows as my host OS forever, or pay for another Linux VMware Workstation License just to move hosts... now, it appears to be "free" addition!
  • Pause a Virtual Machine — I personally never found myself running low on CPU resources due to VMs I had running, but the ability to free your CPU resources instantaneously without powering off or suspending the virtual machine is certainly a nice one. I guess if I had a "runaway" process (e.g., Internet Explorer sucking 100% CPU in a guest VM), I could easily keep it from interfering with other workloads as I debunked it over time.
  • Drag and Drop Enhancements — This is a nice one! Drag and drop enhancements include support for new file types including images and formatted text and extend the existing ability to drag and drop files to a broader set of guest and host operating systems. Prior to this version, the drag-drop was just "OK"... now it is getting rather useful!
  • And some other misc, including Virtual Network Editor, IPV6 Support, Fuse Mount for Linux and more [the full release notes are here: Workstation 7.0 Release Notes].

Building upon VMware Workstation 6.5
And, all these wonderful features of VMware workstation 7.0 are in addition to all the functionality added back in VMware Workstation version 6.5, which included these new (at the time), or significantly enhanced, items:
  • “Unity” mode enables an Integrated desktop experience, whereby you can rather seamlessly integrate your favorite guest-VM applications with your host operating system's desktop, which allows the guest application windows to look just like host application windows (but with color-coded borders for a visual indicator that an application is really running in a guest-VM).
  • Accelerated 3-D graphics on Windows XP guests: hosts running Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Linux can have guest applications that use DirectX 9 accelerated graphics with shaders up through Shader Model 2.0 on Windows XP guests.
  • Record/replay of VM execution activity - record full system behavior, including all CPU and device activity; this can be quite useful when testing or debugging applications.
  • Virtual machine streaming - enables downloading a virtual machine from a Web server and powering it on without waiting for the download to complete via a command-line startup command (VMware Workstation or Player) with the URL of the virtual machine; you can even pause and restart the download.
Other VMware Complementary Products...
VMware offers other commercial, and some free, products that really help you get the most out of your computing resources. These include the FREE VMware Player (essentially, VMware Workstation without all the bells/whistles for creating VMs from scratch), and ESXi (bare-iron Server Virtualization) and other Virtualization Solutions. Check them out! You may well avoid buying extra computer hardware and saving a fortune through smart use of your existing hardware thanks to software-based computing virtualization!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Guaranteed High Mileage Car Sales Boosting Plan

Forget Tax Incentives...
It should be rather clear by now that the average United States consumer has little concern for vehicle mileage when purchasing a car; at least, that is, until the price of gasoline is absolutely oppressive. And, tax incentives for hybrid vehicles and the like make little difference too. Doing what is "right" for the environment just does not seem to matter either.

So, how do we encourage people to save gasoline and purchase high-MPG cars over larger, more powerful models? Simple...

Mileage Incentives that Consumers
can Understand and Appreciate

I was just thinking about this the other day, and the answer became quite clear to me. The average person needs something TANGIBLE and right "there and now" to remind them why they chose to save gasoline with a high-miles-per-gallon vehicle, and the answer is this:


Sure, going faster will burn a (bit) more gasoline, but not much. I do not believe the hogwash that every 5MPH increase in speed decreases mileage 10 percent, because I have tested this with every car I have owned and have seen negligible impact from even a 10MPH difference in average speed over the same driving course of enough length to test completely. Not to mention, that bit of false information implies that if you doubled your speed, you would essentially get zero gas mileage. Ridiculous! And, regardless, people would be STILL be saving gasoline in a large way on the highway (compared to their current cars), and also consider how the "free pass to speed" is only valid on larger highways... the cars would save a LOT of gasoline everywhere else they are driven too.

So, come on government, incentive smaller, more efficient cars, in a way that the average consumer can quickly understand and embrace. When that consumer walks into the showroom and looks at the tiny little car that can get 50 or 60MPG, and then, with great surprise, again asks the salesperson: "So, you are telling me that if I buy THIS car, I can drive 15MPH (or 20?) over the posted speed limit on all Interstates and 4-lane highways, without getting a ticket for it?...(yes)... you are sure?... (yes)... I WILL TAKE ONE NOW!". Can you imagine how many people with long commutes, or traveling salespersons, etc., would want to suddenly save on gasoline by getting a high-MPG car?

Food for thought people... just thinking out of the box a bit. Though, dreaming is more like it :)

Friday, April 10, 2009

SQL2008 SP1 (Service-Pack) Released

In case you happen to be an enthusiast of Microsoft's newest SQL-Server Database software - SQL Server 2008 - you may be interested in knowing the latest Service Pack 1 for SQL2008 is now available. What you may not care to know is how small the list of new features is with this SP1 package -- it is mainly a cumulative bug-fix release.

Microsoft sums up the new features with three bullet points, that are essentially the following (which, I see potential in at least two items):
  • You can "slipstream" a SQL Server 2008 update and the original installation media so that original media and the update [presumably Service Pack 1 for example] are installed at the same time in future installs. Slipstreaming is an installation method that integrates the base installation files for a program with its service packs and enables them to be installed in a single step. The [SQL-Server 2008] update setup documentation available from the SQL Server Download Center has the most recent description of the slipstream process [including SP1 changes that make slipstreaming SQL2008 SP1 possible]. I plan to try this out soon using SQL-Server 2008 Developer Edition with SP1 as my slipstreamed update of choice. I really hate having to install Microsoft products and then apply all sorts of Service Packs and updates in addition (which of course means, more installation time, more reboots, and correspondingly more system down time), so this is quite welcome!
  • SQL Server 2008 SP1 now introduces the ability to uninstall cumulative updates or service packs via Programs and Features in Control Panel. I have not tried this yet; I will take their word for it, though I can only imagine the horror stories that will appear on blogs in the near future when people attempt to do this :)
  • SQL Server 2008 Service Pack 1 provides a ClickOnce version of Report Builder 2.0. [my only comments: I have no idea what this is or why I even should care... I build databases, not reports, using SQL-Server; when I need reports, I use a "real" report builder that has wide adoption and a longer track record... at least for now]
SQL-Server is my favorite Microsoft software application, as I find it to be an incredibly robust relational database platform that is not only powerful and fast, but one that is easy to fully exploit from a software-developer's standpoint. Although it can handle very large databases (10's and even 100's or more Gigabytes in size), it is still quite manageable without a full time dedicated DBA (presuming your database and procedural code and queries are designed properly).

SQL2008 is yet another solid version of this database platform, and surely deserves a look if you have not upgraded from SQL2000 or SQL2008 (if you are using a version older than either of those, well, you are simply insane).

Now, I will look forward to SQL-Server 2008 SP2, or perhaps SQL-Server 2008 SP3 to introduces some nifty new features that may be more enticing to me as a database designer and database software developer. I expect the SQL-Server 2008 SP2 Release Date will be long ways off yet, and I suspect it will not even come until 2010. So, for now, off to play with SQL2008 SP1 I go...

Monday, April 06, 2009

Mortgage / Refinance Rates - Home Equity, Conventional, etc

With mortgage interest rates being at super-low, rock-bottom, and certainly historically low levels, I have recently been thinking about how these rates really filter down to the consumer. I see home equity loan interest rates advertised as low as under 4 percent, though I am having a hard time determining if those are fixed-rate home equity loans (since they are quoted as Prime plus 3.25% or so), or whether, after taking out the loan, those rates are variable rate loans or somehow "float" over time.

I have seen 30-year fixed rate mortgage interest rates advertised at under 5% recently, though most often only if points and the like are paid (no-point loan rates seem to be just above 5% still regardless of all this talk I hear on TV of sub-5-percent loans).

Well, fact of the matter is that anything down in this range is quite reasonable considering the history of mortgage rates in the United States over the past decades. I remember the rates being quite high in the late 1970's and even through the late 1980's and early 1990's (my first home loan rate was something like 10.5% back then!!!), and it really is just amazing how people complain about "high interest rates" being anything over 5% (yes, I have heard people complain about this) even as I had to pay on a loan at twice that rate.

I calculated the other day how, if I purchased the same house now as compared to 20 years ago, I could have a payment that is literally just over HALF the amount of payment I had to make back then, and this is not even inflation-adjusted. If you throw inflation adjustment into the mix, the current-day mortgage payment would be essentially 1/4 to 1/3 of the payment. As such, I am just amazed that the housing market is still completely terrible. Sure, jobs are a major consideration, but wow... how much lower can rates go?!

I can not help thinking that it only makes sense to perhaps "step up" to a larger home or bigger yard or whatever while these lowest mortgage rates, lowest refinance rates, and lowest home equity rates in *forever* are available. I like my current house and yard, but I sure am feeling the "itch" to make a step-up now if I can.

The job market is bound to remain shaky, unemployment is sure to stay elevated for a while, but there is also one HUGE amount of fiscal stimulus in play (think: the Federal Reserve printing tons of money - TRILLIONS), that should get things flowing eventually. The only question is how long it will take for the Fed's, and Treasury's, massive injection of stimulus to start causing inflation. IF one would know that inflation is inevitable (especially re-inflation of some intensely-depressed home prices), then it would only make financial sense to purchase a property now, while interest rates are low, and hope for perhaps just a modest rise in interest rates coupled with a more substantial rise in home prices... that way, in theory, you can pay off the mortgage with post-inflated dollars.

But, who knows. Theory just does not seem to be panning out, since if it was, all this dollar-printing would drive interest rates higher (instead of lower) and also cause the US Dollar to devalue (versus getting "stronger" as everyone does the whole "flight to safety" thing). Macroeconomics, per what we were taught in College, is simply out the window lately, and this makes it tough to know whether these lowest mortgage rates, refinance rates, home equity rates, etc are all worth pursuing. arhghghgh. I need a crystal ball!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Software Bloat: Acrobat Reader Executable Size Growth over the years

Does this image say it all? Since I develop various software applications that, among other things, create reports in Adobe's Acrobat / PDF format, I tend to keep quite a few versions of Acrobat reader around for testing my program output with. And, I just could not help laughing when I looked at my file-server's Acrobat Reader executable programs directory, where, since 1997, I have accumulated versions of Acrobat Reader 3.2, 4.0, 5.0, 6.01, 7.05, 8.12, 9.0, and now the newest addition of Acrobat Reader 9.1

Check out the Software Bloat factor in Acrobat Reader over the years:

What started as a simple utility to display PDF files (Portable Document Format files from Adobe), has grown from an under 4Megabyte (MB) installation program to a whopping 42MB installation for Adobe Acrobat Reader 9.1 - which now includes things like Adobe Air and and all sorts of other ridiculous crap.

I find this all crazy... how a PDF-Reader application can grown 10-TIMES in size (for the installer executable download) in a period of 12 years. Sure, it is no worse than Microsoft Windows or most other major applications that also seem to grow by orders of magnitude over the years, but why?

Is there really that much more functionality in the applications these days to justify this explosive file-size increase, or is it lazy software develoment, a lack of tuning, a lack of focus on clean and efficient code and re-use, or a combination of all the above? It is just hard to accept (for me) why a program designed to allow me to view PDF files on any computer must require a 40MB Download (I will not even get into how insanely large the post-installation size-requirements for this application are!).

I remember the days when I had an entire operating system (on a TRS-80) running in a mere 32K of RAM with simple word-processing programs, games, and the like. Sure, those programs were much simpler, and did not have modern GUI desktops and flash, but the entire OS AND PROGRAMS ran in 1/1000th the memory that this latest Acrobat Reader intallation program download is. Unreal.

This begs the question: what will Acrobat Reader 10 be like, or Acrobat Reader 11, or Acrobat Reader 12, or Acrobat Reader 13, or Acrobat Reader 14, etc... will we hit a ONE GIGABYTE download for their future PDF reader eventually? Given the history, file sizes have gone up to nearly 11-times their size in about the same number of years, and the version numbers at about 1 for every 2 years... so, in a decade, expect a 1/2-GB install of Acrobat Reader 14! It is coming! And, you will be using it (note: I use Acrobat Reader nearly daily; many people do)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mark-to-Market Solution : Mark-to-Moving-Average

I am of the opinion that, although mark-to-market (M2M) valuation principles make sense in some accounting situations where asset and financial-instrument market prices are readily obtained (on open exchanges - like commodity exchanges, ForEx, etc), this M2M accounting methodology does not make much sense for assets like homes and property, where the prices of those assets at any given time is hard to accurately value. I'd go as far as to place that *value* reference I made (in prior sentence) in quotation marks; i.e., they are assets which are hard to determine a "value" for at any point in time, because there is not always a willing seller and/or buyer for the assets, or an agreement on the value-point at which a buyer and seller would "value" the asset at the same price.

Mark-to-Market accounting is in the news a lot these days due to the SEC, and other regulatory body, requirements for banks and other financial institututions and the like to "value" their assets on a mark-to-market (M2M) basis. Well, this is creating a LOT of problems for Banks, Insurance Companies, and many other firms, as it is not just difficult to ascertain the current "value" of all assets held in a portfolio (be it loans, property, or even bonds for which there is no *current* market).

How does one determine the value for assets (like Sub-Prime mortgages or such) that there is no current buyer for? Is a financial firm simply to be forced to "value" all their loans at what is essentially fire-sale (or lesser) values of barely pennies on the dollar because there is no *current* buyer for those instruments? Many of these loans have some physical property behind them (i.e., homes), and most of those homes are NOT worth just a few cents on the dollar. Sure, there has been a huge decline in the underlying home prices and value of other assets subject to M2M accounting, but there were also nearly equally inflated prices in these assets over the past few years (which helped encourage the "Bubble" and ensuing financial crisis).

So, let's address the pitfalls of mark-to-market accounting now, with a solution that considers the fact that quickly-rising asset prices (that can lead to financial "bubbles") are as bad (or certainly precipitators) of bubbles that result in quickly-falling asset prices.

I see an EASY solution to all of this mess: simply value assets using a MOVING-AVERAGE, and perform a "mark to moving average" accounting strategy to "smooth" values over time. Why do assets need to always be valued as of "right now", when such a strategy encourages panic as rapid oscillations occur when there is an imbalance between the supply-side and demand-side (i.e., sellers and buyers) of assets that lead to excessively inflated or deflated "values" when looking at "value" as a point-in-time evaluation.

Recently, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke has suggested that regulators need to examine mark-to-market accounting during financial crises like the one we are currently experience, but he also rejected calls for immediate suspension of mark-to-market practices. He discussed how, when markets for certain financial-vehicles/assets "dry up", that mark-to-market can be misleading (note to Ben: during upward bubbles, mark-to-market can contribute to over-enthusiasm too, as balance sheets start looking exceptionally great as "value" rises extraordinarily fast; see past 7 years for reference).

So, please, someone from the Federal Reserve, SEC, FDIC, GAAP, or other regulatory and accounting-policy-setting players: consider something like a "mark-to-market-moving-average" strategy. The moving-average TERM will certainly need to be debated (e.g., does a 5-year moving-average home sales-price in a region work well, or a 3-year, or a 10-year?), as does the data to be used in calculating such averages (various home-price surveys, sales data, etc.). The longer-term TRENDS and moving-average historical-values are what matters more than anything for determining fair "value" for many assets.

Fact is, right now, average-selling-price is nearly useless as an indicator, because it reflects the sale of a boatload of foreclosed properties at fire-sale prices, and it does not mean most other persons would consider (or need to) sell their homes for similar discounts. Again, this is where a "smoothing" effect of a moving-average-M2M approach would be VERY helpful for everyone involved.

I can not help thinking how, over the years, we have all become so used to ever-faster information and ever more "instant" information, that we have thrown out common-sense in favor of trying to always obtain a "right now" look at everything (be it asset pricing or many other things). Mark-to-market in its current form is a perfect example of where data can be TOO INSTANT or current, and such data is actually misleading (if not outright harmful) compared to longer-term trends.

The entire goal of my proposed mark-to-average accounting is to remove these wild oscillations that are so damaging to our economy and financial system (both during "boom" times upward, and "crash" times downward).

The idea should help prevent situations like people in San Diego bidding 30-percent over asking price (and other such ridiculous behavior as we all witnessed over the past "boom" years), and then having that newly-paid price be representative as the "value" of a home, as well prevent situations where a $100K house (or mortgage on one) is now only "valued" at $2K just because there are no current buyers interested in it. Each of these extremes needs to be avoided. And, mark-to-market has only encouraged each of these scenarios by allowing banks to watch their own balance-sheet "values" explode during boom-times (and, feed further insane lending based on that "value"), and go down the toiled during the bust cycles (and then bring lending to a standstill as well). This can all be fixed.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

JDK 6u12 Windows Installer Error 2203

I ran into a rather weird Windows Installer error while installing the latest Java Developement Kit (JDK or Java SE Development Kit) version 6 Update 12 (otherwise known as JDK6u12). I was installing Java 6u12 dev kit into a Windows 2003 Server VM (Virtual Machine - VMware) and kept running into this whacky Windows Installer Error 2203 (followed by some other installer internal error code information).

I searched the web; tried various things as others suggested (to no avail), and finally decided I would figure out the "problem" on my own.

The Solution - TEMP dir must be default
Well, after repeated attempts, I figured out that this was all due to the fact that I had changed my Windows environment variables for the TEMP / TMP directories from the default ones. I generally dislike having the temporary directory for Windows being the default one located under a location like "C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator\Local Settings\Temp", and instead I go into the Control Panel, System, Advanced, Environment Variables, and set TMP / TEMP to point to something like "C:\TEMP" or "C:\Junk" or such.

Well, turns out the Java JDK installer does not like this, and errors with that Windows Installer 2203 error consistently -- until I blew away my re-mapped TEMP (environment variables) and allowed Windows defaults to kick in again (I assume this issue would exist on both Windows XP Pro and Windows 2003 Server). I was using Windows 2003 Server SP2.

I personally find this jdk6u12 install error 2203 something that should NEVER have happened to begin with. Obviously there is something a bit "off" in the Sun Java JDK 6 installer that causes this issue / problem. And, it cost me more time than I ever wanted to spend debugging it. Who knows, maybe it is a problem with the Windows Installer itself. I do not know.

Hopefully this will save someone else some time.

What I was REALLY trying to do was get the latest Java JDK, Java DB (aka Derby), NetBeans 6.5 and JavaFX 1.1 installed for development purposes, but instead I ended up wasting time debugging an installation routine. The good news is that in the end, I prevailed! :)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

KDE42 Released : Microsoft Beware! Windows is looking outdated.

I just finished looking over the latest KDE42 (K Desktop Environment version 4.2.0 for Linux), and I was so impressed I just found myself repeatedly thinking: this latest FREE KDE42 desktop for Linux looks spectacular, and even more, it is extremely functional (yes, useful outweighs looks - are you listening Microsoft?) Over and over, feature after feature, I kept saying to myself "WOW!"

I am someone that has tried Microsoft Windows Vista, and after trying it, and hating it, has reverted to using Windows XP SP2 (or SP3) for all day-to-day mainstream Windows applications. Sure, Vista has some nice new features, but I overwhelmingly find it to be more eye-candy and bloat than true useful and functional improvements since XP. I can create a minimal Windows XP install in a couple Gigabytes or less, but no such luck with that bloated beast called Vista. I just purchased a new Dell Studio Hybrid recently with Vista on it, and without anything else installed, and I was flabbergasted by how much disk space an "empty" (fresh install) Vista OS took up (if you are lucky, Vista with SP1 may ONLY take up 10GB or so after you clean up unused files - unreal!)

Enough ranting about how lame Vista is... let's look to the future: KDE 42 on Linux! From what I am seeing, this is what Vista *should* have been. Sure, being Linux, it will suffer from a perceived "lack of applications", but most of that "lack" is a lack of mainstream Windows-only applications from major vendors, with the most notable titles being those from guess who: Microsoft. But, for most everyday users, Linux offers more than enough commonly-required functionality, whether Adobe's Flash or Acrobat Reader, Firefox browser, or a host of other applications.

And, unlike Windows, with Linux/KDE you do not need to wipe out your computer's disk drive and spend hundreds of dollars, and countless hours, to *try* the OS before you committing to using it... just try out a "Linux Live CD or Live DVD" with all sorts of common applications installed, and in as little as a few minutes (the time it takes to boot the running OS, with apps installed, from the CD/DVD media -- try THAT Microsloth!) Note: since writing that review, (the LiveCD link) Linux has grown a LOT and distribution options have improved... I currently prefer OpenSuse, Fedora, and Ubuntu/Kubuntu distros). Oh geez... how easy it is to again get a bit off course and rant about how lame Windows is with regards to nightmare day-long installs (especially when including time for "updates" and "Service Packs"). Onward...

KDE42 New Features
Here is a list of some noteworth items from the new KDE 4.2 release:
  • One of the coolest useful features in KDE42 is the desktop-application-quick-find thing (sorry, I don't know what it's code-name is), that lets you start typing the name of the open application, or sub-application-item too I think, and have KDE take you to the appropriate screen and application in as little as a few keystrokes when you have multiple applications and/or desktops open (note to Windows users: KDE allows you to have many virtual desktops that you can move between - perfect for keeping Email on one "screen", software development tasks on another, etc). If this existed on Windows, you could get to Control Panel (if it was open among many Windows) through a hot-key combo, then typing "CO...", and only typing as many characters as needed to uniquely find the "COntrol Panel" window and set focus to it. Nice (and, Linux only)!
  • Very nice integration of folder/file browsing on your machine in such a way that you can drag a view of a folder to your desktop, and have that folder window/panel visible on the desktop (not a shortcut, but a sorta window-panel view of the folder and files). Nice.
  • A slider-control within file-explorer (and other places) for sizing/zooming items within a panel. This is MUCH more useful than a dropdown (ala Microsoft) that you have to choose "details, icons, thumbnails" etc) - KDE has a faster and more useful interface paradigm here.
  • Desktop search is coming along, and in a sensible fashion. I utterly detest Windows desktop search, and de-install it on any of my systems, as I find it useless. KDE looks to have a better implementation even in early stages.
  • Improved power management - speaks for itself.
  • Improved printer configuration - something I don't mind in Windows, so I am always glad when Linux makes printer configuration easier with each release.
  • Smarter archive-file extraction and handling (about time).
  • And, of course, some requisite glitz and eye-candy including window and desktop transitions, etc. I do not care much about these things, though I can appreciate the fact that they look nice. Again, I focus on usefulness, usability, and features over glitz.

If you have not read the KDE42 Release Announcement, you may wish to do so. You can find links from there to pages like the Visual Guide to KDE42 page, which links to other detailed pages of pretty screen shots and videos demonstrating some of the features I have mentioned and much more. You will be awed (I hope) at how splendid KDE, and the Plasma desktop / widgets and overall functionality, is becoming.

To me the bottom line is obvious: Microsoft (Public, NASDAQ:MSFT) is losing whatever edge it had with regards to their Windowing Operating System. Other players are moving fast, and not just meeting, but exceeding, the abilities of Windows Vista (and perhaps Windows 7 - since that is coming soon). Microsoft needs to do something beyond evolutionary if they are to compete in the long term; fact is, the open-source community is getting their game on and working faster than ever to meet and exceed expectations. Perhaps this is one reason why Microsoft stock (MSFT) is taking a bath lately... it is not JUST Windows that is losing its edge, many of their products are becoming less dominant than ever as competition heats up (note: I still LOVE Microsoft SQL-Server, and consider it a fantastic product - no open-source DB even comes close).

Give KDE42 a look, and you will see what I mean.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Allstate, American Funds : Misleading Advertising

Even after all the current financial market and investment related issues that have swept the market, I keep encountering advertising and marketing propaganda from investing, insurance, banks, and related financial companies that are nothing short of misleading - if not plainly incorrect or impossible.

Allstate (Allstate Insurance Company - NYSE:ALL)
The first example of misleading advertising I want to point out is from Allstate Insurance Company / Allstate Life Insurance Company. I was reading the February 2008 issue of National Geographic, and noticed the Allstate advertisement that occupied the entire back cover of the magazine.

This advertisement was about women, and how the average woman spends 11 years out of the workforce taking care of family - and, how this left the average woman without enough retirement money, due to missed earnings and corresponding missed 401K contributions during the same time. I am OK with this argument in concept, but where it fails is the specific numbers that Allstate provides in the advertisement. I challenge them to show me some real statistical proof of this following statement they make:

"Unfortunately, those 11 years out of the workforce put a woman even further behind, costing her an average of $659,139 in earnings."
YEAH, RIGHT! What a ridiculous statement or assertion! So, Allstate, you are trying to tell me, and the rest of the population, that the average working woman is making $60,000 per year!? This is impossible. And this utterly false statement follows a sentence (of your own writing) where you state in the same ad: "Fact is, women are still earning less than me do...". So, by that same logic, Allstate is telling us that the average man obviously earns substantially more than $60,000 per year!? ABSOLUTE FABRICATION.

Let me at least cite a source for my own assertion that Allstate is utterly full of it with this misleading ad of theirs. How about information from the US Census Bureau:
In 2007, the median annual household income rose 1.3% to $50,233.00 according to the Census Bureau. The real median earnings of men who worked full time, year-round climbed between 2006 and 2007, from $43,460 to $45,113. For women, the corresponding increase was from $33,437 to $35,102.
Now, could it be that the primary distortion that Allstate is using to inflate their case for whatever product/services they are selling has to do with the use of AVERAGE vs. MEDIAN. Allstate is asserting that women, on average, make nearly twice as much per year as the MEDIAN earnings for women. But, if that is their game (using Average vs. Median), it is just that - a statistical abuse to mislead.

Fact is, if you throw Oprah's earnings, and those of a few other top 1%+ earners, the AVERAGE earnings are skewed substantially. But, the true likelihood that an "average" woman in America is missing out on making $66,000 per year is statistically incorrect. I guess Allstate did not feel that 11 years of missed earnings, times the median of $35,000 (for a total of $385,000) was shocking enough to sell their product. Sure sounds like a lot of money to me, but I guess that it sounds so much better to throw out a number twice that high instead.

This is quite typical of so many financial service advertisements in America. Abuse statistics, or use statistics misleadingly, all in hopes of selling more of your products. And you wonder why people lose faith in your companies and products, especially as of late, financial industry.

American Funds
Next, I was reading over the latest American Funds Investor magazine from Fall/Winter 2008. American Funds is generally a decent mutual fund company from what I can gather, but I take issue with the fact that they, in their attempts to sell people on their products and services and the concept of long-term investing in general, make rather optimistic assumptions to say the least - especially given the current stock market meltdown.

My particular issue with their latest magazine / pamphlet has to do with their little push for College-Savings plans (i.e., 529 college savings plans) and how to build up funds for your childrens' college education. They show a graph of how, if you contribute $100/month for 18 years during your kid's childhood, that it can grow to an amount between $39,000 and $48,000 by the end of that period (taxable vs. tax-free savings respectively).

OK, that all sounds great, UNTIL you read the bull @#$! below the graph about how "this example assumes an 8% annual rate of return (compounded monthly) for both investments". EIGHT PERCENT AVERAGE RETURN PER YEAR OVER 18 YEARS - GEE, THAT IS JUST A BIT AGGRESSIVE! Wake up American Funds! The stock market is FLAT over the past decade now. Where are you making an average of 8%? If you can GUARANTEE me such returns, I will have you manage all of my money.

This is not an OLD issue of the magazine... it is current... and yet it ignores that simple fact that there will not be such huge returns available anywhere for years to come, barring massive inflation to go with it, and/or devaluation of our currency embedded in such numbers. It just is not going to happen. And, it has not happened (past tense) either looking at the numbers for the past decade or more. Consider the Nasdaq, that was around 5000 points a decade ago, and now sits around 1500. And, you surely are not making 8% in government bonds, notes, T-Bills, or bank accounts.

I am so sick and tired of these ridiculous advertisements that make, via assumptions, the case that you will essentially realize some fantastic pile of cash after a set period of time by using interest-rates and rates-of-return that are essentially unachievable (certainly not realizable as an AVERAGE of any sort). This is not just an issue with Allstate or American Funds, but nearly ALL financial service companies - I see this abuse of statistics and math constantly.

I guess companies just can not sell their products by making the only clear and honest statement they can, which is: SAVE MONEY, AND YOU WILL BE IN BETTER FINANCIAL SHAPE THAN THOSE WHO DO NOT, BUT WE HAVE NO WAY TO TELL YOU HOW MUCH BETTER. That just doesn't sound good enough... people want that chart showing that, if they save, they will be "rich" or have a huge pile of cash in the future.

Forget that stuff people... just start saving, and once you have established a decent record of saving, then you can start focusing on average-returns and projections if you still feel the need. But, projections are nearly meaningless; it is your ability to save that matters most.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Microsoft Wireless Laser Mouse 7000 and Blinking Red LED / Battery Charging Issues

I just purchased a new MS Wireless Laser Mouse 7000 for my desktop computer. I used it for a couple weeks on the initial charge, and everything was fine and working wonderfully, but then it was due for a recharging and it just would not charge, and instead presented me with a blinking red LED while on the charging base after just a minute of green-LED status preceding that.

I was all ready to take the new Microsoft Mouse back to where I purchased it. But, I
went hunting on the Internet to see if other people were complaining about the mouse recharge issues... YES! COMMON.

And the Microsoft Laser Mouse 7000 will not recharge for a RIDICULOUS REASON - which, I have to wonder how many batteries are pitched and/or mouses are returned because of, where MS needs to provide a SIMPLE FIX (due to a simple design flaw)
by way of a new battery and/or workaround.

MS Wireless Mouse 7000 DESIGN FLAW; SIMPLE FIX!
I came across a solution someone figured out, which *appears* to be working now, as my Microsoft mouse, with its small rechargeable Nickel-Metal-Hydride (NiMH) battery, is recharged again finally.

Symptoms / Debugging:
If you try to charge your mouse without a battery inside, you will see a red blinking LED on the top of the mouse [like the symptom you are experiencing during recharging attempts for previously unknown reasons]. If there is a battery in the mouse, and everything is functioning properly, that LED should be slowly blinking GREEN until it is fully charged, and then it should be solid green light.

Why do you get a red blinking LED / Light indicator instead of a green one, even with your NEW Microsoft Laser Mouse 7000, which presumably has a NEW rechargeable and fully functional battery?

Well, it turns out that the mouse has an internal switch/button/sensor positioned under the battery (when battery is installed) that senses the presence of the battery in the battery compartment. Unfortunately, the standard NiMH battery shipped with the Microsoft Wireless Laser Mouse 7000 is too narrow of diameter and does not fully depress the battery-sensor switch, and the mouse acts as though no battery is present, even when it is.

Solution / Fixing Mouse Recharge Issues, Problem
The solution is to: 1) get a thicker battery (which, I have no idea where to find one) or more preferably, 2) wrap some paper and/or tape around the battery that came with the mouse - just enough to make the battery-diameter great enough to depress the switch under the battery.

I have taken the approach of rolling paper around the battery (2 or three turns around battery with normal letter paper I had cut into a strip the width of the battery) and taping the paper together on outside so as to prevent if from uncoiling itself. Then, I placed the battery back in the battery compartment an put the mouse on the base / recharger unit. Voila! It now charges.

Note: do not put so much paper around the battery as to make closing the battery holder compartment door impossible. My battery-cover door was a snug fit when I was done, but it worked.

I still can not help thinking how many of these otherwise-working mice are being thrown away and/or returned when Microsoft (or their designer, manufacturer, battery supplier, etc) made a rather simple design flaw error that has found its way into the market. Talk about LAME QUALITY CONTROL procedures! Simple test: assemble multiple Microsoft Mouse components, use, test, recharge, check for issues... BEFORE manufacturing and distributing a pile of mouse pointer devices that have an error that should be caught!

Well, so long as my Wireless Mouse 7000 Microsoft device is back to working and recharging consistently, I am OK with it. I generally like it otherwise. My ONLY other annoyance with it is the left-side navigation-buttons that are oddly small and positioned in a weird location for simple use (as compared to my older, and nearly perfect Microsoft wired Intellimouse Explorer 4.0 USB 5-button mouse). The ONLY reason I moved to the Laser Mouse 7000 was for the WIRELESS aspect, and if it recharges OK now, I will stick with it.