Trackmania: Nice View!

While waiting for my Thanksgiving goodies to be ready for the oven, I played a few rounds of Trackmania.  Surprisingly, it offered an update.  The Star Edition update offers a new series of tracks, the Star Tracks, which were created and submitted by other Trackmania players.  (Descent once had such a user-created level pack.)

This is Star Island A4.  Trackmania is known for its glittering and often overly pretty scenery (especially in the Bay, Coast and Island enviroments) and this screenshot doesn’t do it justice.  The taillight trails are part of the game.

I must have been one of the first players to get this update:  There were but 17 people in the world listed in the standings and I was the only US player!  (I’m ranked #1 FWIW.)


I Has An Office!

To translate from LOLSpeak, I have an office!  Last time I posted, the engineering room was being split off so my servers would be in a place of their own, cutting down on the noise level for staffers who have to check out and maintain equipment in the space.


My cable snake can be seen along the left.  The cart is relatively empty because:


I’ve found space for nearly everything:  cables, software disks, small parts.

To the left is the existing network rack—I still have to dress the cables—and the new snake underneath it.  The door is a compromise.  We had always thought of a pocket door for this space.  Unfortunately, the lock options for these doors are limited.  I and Sal had wanted something like a Simplex lock, widely used in IT (the city had one like it when I temped for them 20 years ago.)   Deadbolts don’t work in a pocket door.  Leo found a privacy lock which is very nice—the lock bolt has a small handle that you use to shut it.  This is behind a deadbolted door, anyway (the entrance to Engineering which is behind the photographer.)  We will probably get a few IP cams in here and around the building;  it’s inevitable.

My co-worker could not resist this portrait to finish it off!

Don’t Change My Resolution!

Raymond Chen (The Old New Thing) posted recently about how people arrange their workplace, or in this case, their kitchen, but are confused by well-meaning people that want to fix their place the “right” way:

:: Wendy :: told me a story some time ago about something that happened while her parents were visiting. When she returned from work, her mother said, "Oh, Wendy, darling, I reorganized your kitchen for you. You had everything in the wrong place."

Wendy’s mother was trying to be helpful, but of course it was a net loss for poor Wendy, who couldn’t find anything in her kitchen for weeks. Yes, there was the whole Oh great where did my mother put my food processor? problem, but even after she found it, the "improved" location was far worse than its original location. In fact, in many cases, it was in the exact opposite location from where it should be.

You see, Wendy is left-handed, and her mother is right-handed.

Someone in the comments made a great point:

re: I reorganized your kitchen for you, sweetie

Tuesday, November 10, 2009 9:19 AM by DWalker59

Her mom said everything was in the "wrong place"?  How arrogant!

I have a friend who had a large monitor on his computer, set to his preferred resolution of about 1024×768.  While he was out, a young, brash programmer used the computer for a day.  

When my friend returned, the young guy said "I reset the video to a better resolution; you know, that large monitor can support <some large numbers go here>.  I’ll bet you didn’t know that, ha ha, you silly guy; here’s how you change the monitor’s resolution…"

My friend chewed out the young guy, read him up one side and down the other, and said "I had the resolution set exactly where I wanted it.  Don’t assume that I don’t know the maximum resolution of the video card or monitor!  I’m perfectly aware of that, but you may not be aware that I have vision problems and I like it set exactly where it was set.  Don’t presume to know what is "better" for me!"

I think the young guy learned a lesson.

I. WOULD. BE.  LIVID! if that were my computer.

At home, I have a 23” Dell display that can do 2048×1152.   I cannot use that resolution at all.  I can do 1920×1080 but it is very uncomfortable to read. 

It’s set to 1440×900, and my DPI is 125%.  That’s the best compromise I could come up with.

I’m aware that Windows 7 can support higher DPI.  When I first installed Windows 7 I did some experimentation.  I could have gone with 1920×1080;  it is a reasonable minimum for this size display.   I tested that resolution at 150% DPI

But I had trouble with third-party apps.  In the screen clip above, there are two Windows gadgets.  One is native to Windows, the clock.  The other is a third party weather application.  The clock scales correctly at high DPI.  The weather application does not.  

At 125% you can see the difference, but at 150% it is much more pronounced.  I calculated that for me to use the native display resolution (2048×1152), I might have needed 175%.  That would break quite a few apps and make that weather app unusable (I prefer it to the Microsoft weather gadget for its radar display and severe weather notifications.) 

(I’ve found, too, that I get odd-looking results when I use “odd” DPI values.  Internet Explorer will let you have a custom DPI, but it has regular values, 125%, 150%, that it will prefer to use.  So my IE is set to 125% or 150% depending on the machine I’m using.)

Aren’t higher resolutions technically better?

Not necessarily.

Most modern mid-range displays have a very good scan converter built in.  I’ve only used one monitor that was really bad at that, and that was a cheap monitor I picked for a server room that I don’t use every day.  It’s nasty, but not bad enough for the use I give it to warrant replacing it.

More to the point, I don’t notice it.  It might not even be possible for most users to determine the difference.  There are physical limitations on the resolution that someone with normal vision can perceive, and they mean that for the small displays most of us are using, we will never be able to notice the difference between, say, 720p or 1080p on HDTV. 

With the current state of the art, this is probably the best I can do.  Will it change?  Absolutely!  Is it annoying to run at a lower resolution?  Certainly, sometimes.

But for me and others with vision problems this is the best we can do.

Don’t change my resolution!

Missing Search Provider Icons in Internet Explorer

I saw this problem recently:  I, like most IE 8 users, use multiple search providers in IE, all of them with their icons that appear when selected.

The search provider icons for several providers, including Bing, my default, were missing and showed only the generic magnifying glass icon.  Restarting IE didn’t help nor did rebooting.

I found a simple workaround to fix this but I first want to explain search provider internals in some detail.

In Internet Explorer, a search provider is an XML document with a a specially-coded URL based on the OpenSearch specification.  IE comes with Bing as its default search provider; users can add more providers.  In the screenshot, you can see I have Bing, which is defaulted, Google, Wikipedia and WolframAlpha as my providers.

Providers are stored in the user’s registry under HKU:\<user SID>\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer.

Each Search Provider is listed under a GUID;  DefaultScope is a string value with the default provider listed.  It points to Bing’s entry in this case:

Most of the values are self-explanatory.  Of particular interest in my problem is the FaviconPath and FaviconURL string values.  Let’s say the Bing icon is missing.  Its path is C:\Users\davidmoisan\AppData\LocalLow\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Services\search_{533B8DE4-C0F4-4C0F-ABA8-79A79086865C}.ico.

Here are all my search icons.  They are in c:\users\<userprofile>\AppData\LocalLow\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Services\:

Note the filenames are of the form search_{GUID}.ico.  With that in mind, I fixed my problem the hard way:  I found an Bing icon elsewhere on my system, copied it to this directory, renamed it to match the filename in FaviconPath and restarted IE.

It worked!

(This explains why there are multiple instances of a few icons in the screenshot above.  You will normally have just one icon per each provider, but the extra icons aren’t hurting anything.)

However, a much easier solution that I recommend for regular users: 

  1. If you have more than one provider, and the provider with the missing icon is not your default provider, click on the search bar drop down and select Manage Your Providers.  Right-click on that provider and select Delete.  Close the window and try to re-add that provider.  Its icon should reappear and you are done.
  2. If you only have one provider, or if the provider with the missing icon is your default provider, click on the search bar drop-down button and select Find More Providers.  Add a search provider from the screen that comes up (any provider will do.)
  3. Click the search bar drop-down and select Manage Search Providers.
  4. Right-click on your new provider and select Set As Default.
  5. Select your old provider, right-click it and select Delete.
  6. Close that window and click on the search bar to select Find More Providers. 
  7. Find and re-add your old provider.  Its icon should re-appear.
  8. If desired, go back into Manage Search Providers and re-select your old provider as the default.

This problem may also be caused by a recent security update, KB974455, and its later update KB976749, which was released to Microsoft Update last week.  I first noticed this problem after applying the latter update, but I can’t confirm that either update caused this.  If you do install the updates, install 974455 first before installing 976749;  installing 976749 without the former update may cause IE to stop working.

In my case both updates were already on the machine in the correct order.  I might never know how the icons disappeared but now we know how to make them reappear.  Happy searching!