Sunday, March 22, 2009

Internet Explorer 8

Internet Explorer 8 was released three days ago on March 19, 2009. I installed it on my work machine as soon as it came out. Because I am a windows developer I feel a certain obligation to use Internet Explorer, although at home I have been using Google Chrome.

Overall the browser is way ahead of its predecessor. The search functionality is vastly improved. The search is now integrated, it can highlight results on the page, and it is much easier to step through the results. I also like the tab color coding feature. When opening a new tab from an existing tab, it will color code the two tabs to help with organization. Another nice usability improvement is that you can now paste a multi-line URL into the address bar, and it won't truncate the URL. Multi-line URLs happen all the time when trying to e-mail or IM long links.

However, there are several features that are still lacking and one that is seriously broken. I cannot believe that there is still not an integrated spell checker in IE8. This has been in FireFox for a long time, and made it into version 1 of Chrome. Also, I wish you could drag a tab out of the browser to make a new window. This is an incredibly important feature for users with multiple monitors, and something that Chrome supports. Finally, one of the main reasons that I use Internet Explorer is that in previous versions, it displayed web pages much better on a high resolution monitor.

At work I have a 24" Monitor with a resolution of 1920x1200. I run Windows at 120 DPI so that the text is readable. FireFox at that resolution will render the text much too small, and increasing the text size will make certain web pages ugly. Internet Explorer on the other hand takes the system DPI into account and renders the text at an appropriate size, without breaking the look of webpages. However, there is one major consequence, at 120 DPI by default Internet Explorer will scale images, which introduces blur and fugliness to web pages. Fortunately in Internet Explorer 6 and 7, there was a registry key 'UseHR' that would turn off the image scaling when set to 0, yet left the text rendering intact. Unfortunately, the 'UseHR' registry key no longer works in Internet Explorer 8. For this reason alone, unless I soon discover a workaround, I will probably have to go back to IE7.

The 'UseHR' Registry Key has been well documented by Microsoft. I can't believe that Microsoft would cripple this functionality because the world is moving to high resolution displays. Check out this Sony laptop. At an astounding 220 pixels per inch, Windows would be unusable at the default 96 DPI, one would need a microscope to read the text.

I have posted in the Microsoft discussion group about this, unfortunately there has yet to be a response.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Authenticode and Vista

This week at work our Authenticode signing certificate expired. The renewal process involves the Certificate Authority issuing us brand new keys. We had done this before, so I figured that it would not be a big deal. However, over the past year we have upgraded our entire development environment to Windows Vista.

Before I discuss the Vista situation, let me elaborate a little on what exactly Authenticode signing is. Basically, it is digitally signing software so that when an end user downloads and does an install, the software will appear to come from a reliable source. The Authenticode certificate is purchased from a 3rd party Certifcate Authority that has been blessed by Microsoft. Verisign is one such authority.

The digital signing technology uses public/private key pairs. Basically the software company signs the code with a special private key, and in doing so will embed the public key into the software. Only the public key is needed to perform verification. When the user installs the software the verification takes place and if everything checks out, a dialog will show that windows trusts the software.

The Certificate Authority delivers the keys to the software company as two separate files, a .pvk (Private Key) file, and an .spc (Public Key) file. To actually sign the software Microsoft provides a tool aptly named signtool.exe. However, this tool works best with .pfx files (Which contain both the public and private keys). Microsoft provides a difficult to find tool called pvk2pfx.exe that will merge the .pvk and .spc files into the required .pfx file.

Anyway, back to the Vista issue. These Certificate Authorities don't allow private keys to be downloaded normally. They instead rely on certificate enrollment functionality that is built into Windows and Internet Explorer. The process can't be done in Firefox. And Vista has changed the way that the Certificate Enrollment works. In Windows XP, it was very simple, the user could just select a file location where the .pvk file would be generated. In Vista, they instead install it into a special Certificate Store for pending Certificates. The .pvk data therefore is buried in the windows registry instead of sitting on the file system. Furthermore, the key is placed in the Certificate Store in such a way that exporting the private key is disabled, which essentially traps the key in the Certificate Store on that particular computer.

After some research, I contacted technical support at the Certificate Authority, and they immediately understood our issue (It must come up all the time). The only recommendation that they could provide was to redo the whole over again process in Windows XP. Thankfully we still have XP environments to be able to do this. It seems like Microsoft implemented this new behavior as a security "feature" without considering the implications for developers. I wonder if this will behave the same way in Windows 7?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Overpriced Pasadena Condo

On my way to work I often pass by this particular condominium complex that should be the poster child for our housing bubble. The complex has 19 units, and about 6 months ago at least 5 of those units were for sale all at the same time. I am not sure if any of those sold. However, at least one of those units is still on the market and is the subject of this blog post.

Unit #2 has been on the market for quite a long time. It is a 1200 sf, 2 bedroom, 3 bath condo that is currently listed for 659,900$. Now if that didn't jolt you, the kicker is the 445$ monthly HOA fee. Keep in mind that there are no amenities other than perhaps the landscaping.

Assuming a 30 year, 5% interest rate mortgage and a 10% down payment, the mortgage would be 3200$ per month, but add in property tax and that crazy HOA fee and suddenly it is 4300$. According to the flyer, they would also be willing to lease this unit for 2500$ per month, which includes utilities. The monthly rent price is therefore roughly half the total monthly price of ownership, because insurance and utilities would have to be added to that 4300$ figure.

According to Zillow (which I know is not always the most reliable resource), the current value of the unit is 485,000$. This figure is in my opinion still overpriced, but is at least somewhat in the range of the rental price. To truly match the rent I figure a 340,000$ sale price, which is basically half of the current price of 659,000$.

However, even if the condo was priced at 200,000$, I would still be hesitant to make a purchase because of that HOA fee. Either the association is very poorly managed, or there is something very wrong with the building. I cannot figure out why on earth the fees are so high. For a condo in the area, the fees are typically around 200$ with no amenities.

Zillow also states that the last sale was in 2004 for 525,000$. It also looks like a fair amount of upgrades were put in place, because they are advertising travertine tile and stainless steel appliances (note in the flyer that they don't even know how to spell travertine). Given that purchase price and all of the money that was poured into this condo, I can see why they are holding on to such a delusional price. I wonder if they had unloaded it for much less a year ago that in end they might not have ended up hemorrhaging as much money away.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Pasadena cutting down trees!

Over the past few weeks Pasadena has been cutting down trees along Colorado Blvd between Lake and Los Robles, which is where I work. It seems very odd to me that Pasadena would decide to do something like this, those trees were healthy, well established, and added irreplaceable character to the area. Pasadena decided to cut down the trees at night, which was done in my opinion to prevent protests. Someone wrote with a sharpie on the tree stumps urging people to contact the mayor's office to protest, but the city immediately spray-painted over the message. The next day there were printed signs attached to the stumps. I grabbed a picture with my cell-phone. According to this article in the Pasadena Star News, they hopefully will stop cutting down any more trees. However, the article states that Pasadena violated previous ordinances that prevents removing healthy trees! With luxury condos popping up every other block and now this ridiculous tree removal, Pasadena is deteriorating to an unrecognizable shell of its former self.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Star Wars Legos - AT-AT

Yesterday we went to a baby shower for my Cousin in orange county. I convinced my wife that it would be a good idea to go to Downtown Disney on the way home. Coincidentally my parents were attending a convention in Anaheim so they met us there. We had a nice dinner at the Bakery restaurant at the far end of the strip. However, my main desire for going to Downtown Disney was the Lego store. Fortunately, my wife had never been to Downtown Disney and didn't know about the Lego store. I sort of told a little white lie by acting surprised when we got to the store, but I eventually came clean (she frowns on my Lego addiction). The best part of the store is that they have sets that aren't normally sold in other retail outlets. I have been eying set #10178 (Motorized Walking AT-AT), they had it in stock and I couldn't resist.

This set is probably my favorite Star Wars Lego set of all time, the thing actually walks! I also favor sets from the original three movies, this particular set is from the Empire Strikes Back and is from the scene where Luke blows up the AT-AT. You can see in the picture Luke dangling from the belly of the AT-AT. One particular Lego piece made me laugh pretty hard, the engineers had to have realized that this piece is very phallic, it must be an inside joke in the Worldwide Lego headquarters. Also check out my first YouTube video!