Fatherhood

In case you haven’t heard, I am now a proud daddy! Our adorable little girl, Catherine Jane Cottrell, arrived last month. Mom and baby are both doing well.

   
     
Needless to say, I’ve been busy ever since. It’s so worth it.

Stack Overflow Moderator Elections, Part III

As I posted here and again here, I stood for election as a moderator on Stack Overflow this year. While I was not elected, I made it much further than I expected and finished in sixth place out of 32 nominees, 30 primary candidates, and 10 general-election candidates.

Stack Overflow is an amazing site, and the moderators have a tremendous responsibility. The candidates elected are all excellent choices who I know are already making the site even better. That said, I greatly appreciate the thousands of people who cast a vote for me, and I am deeply humbled that so many people thought of me as a good choice for the role. Thank you.

Stack Overflow Moderator Elections, Part II

In case you missed my first post on this topic, I am a candidate in the 2015 Stack Overflow moderator elections. I made it through the nomination phase (32 candidates) and primary (30 candidates), and now I’m in the general election with only 10 candidates for 3 spots remaining! I am extremely honored and humbled to have received so many votes in the primary phase, especially with so many amazing candidates. Thank you to all who supported me!

I would really appreciate your vote in the general election! I would also urge you to vote for Martijn Pieters and meager, though I don’t think you can go wrong with anyone in this amazing group.

Larry Niven Programming Quote

Please remember to read all of the remaining candidates’ nomination comments and candidate questionnaire answers.

4 Lessons from Moving

Well, it has been about a month since we moved, so it’s time for me to share a few thoughts about it.

You Need Professionals. Moving is a huge pain. So are the processes of selling and buying houses. You know that. I know that. But there are people out there who refuse to let it get them down. We worked with some amazing people. Our real estate agent and mortgage broker made an awesome team and headed off a potential disaster when one of the other parties involved ran into problems. Our movers were similarly, awesomely efficient and professional. If you are looking to move in the Houston, Texas area, give me a shout; I would love to recommend them to you.

Keys Were Everywhere. One of the biggest surprises for me was just how many unidentified keys we had floating around. When I was a little kid, I thought old keys were awesome. Now, they are just unrecognized but potentially important clutter, the worst kind of tchotchke. My solution: henceforth, every key we own gets cataloged in Evernote, with a photo, a description of what it does, and, if we have multiple copies, both the number of copies and where they are stored.

Paper Was Everywhere. We also have a veritable sea of paper floating around. The solution to this is easy: go paperless. The best way to do this, hands down, is the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Deluxe Bundle Scanner for PC. It includes the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 scanner, which is incredibly fast, accurate, flexible, and user-friendly, as well as a full copy of Adobe Acrobat (Standard). It has already helped us digitize a tremendous amount of paper, with more to follow. Of course, Evernote is indispensable for this task, too.

You Need a Budget. Finally, of course, You Need a Budget (affectionately known as YNAB), about which I’ve written before, was also indispensable for the budgeting and money-management side of things.

Disclaimer: the Evernote, YNAB, and Amazon links in this post are affiliate links. I may receive site credits or a portion of the sale for purchases and registrations made through those links.

How to Make Pretty Blanks in Word

The Problem

If you ever work with Microsoft Word, you have probably needed to insert a blank line or a block of text in a filled-in blank. For example, maybe you want a blank like this:         . Or maybe you want a blank with text in it,      like this     . If you just try turning on underlining and typing a lot of spaces, you don’t get any underlining at all. There’s a right way to work around this that always works, and a wrong way that often results in unprofessional-looking documents. This post will show you the right way.

What many people do is the wrong way around this: they use a combination of underlining and underscore characters, so they end up with something ugly ____like this____, or even worse, ____like this____. The broken line looks unprofessional. The doubling up is just awful.

The Solution

To insert pretty blanks in Word, you can insert a non-breaking space. In Windows, you can do this by pressing Ctrl + Shift + space. For Mac, use Option + space.

An Example

Say you want to type this:   Hello  . The exact key sequence (in Windows) would go like this: Ctrl + U (to start underlining), Ctrl + Shift + spaceCtrl + Shift + space, H, e, l, l, oCtrl + Shift + spaceCtrl + Shift + spaceCtrl + U.

More Uses

 

This is also very valuable for preventing awkward line breaks. For example, in legal writing, you usually want to keep the section symbol (§) with the following text, so you can put a non-breaking space between the symbol and the next character.

Ch-Ch-Changes

As many of my readers know, I have a lot going on right now. We’re expecting our first child, Catherine, in May!

Face 2 Color - fixed

Profile - fixed

Meanwhile, my wife and I are selling our current house in Houston later this week and moving to a Houston suburb (more house, less money, good times). Things are a little busy.

That said, I am going to try to post here a lot more frequently. After all, I started this blog almost 14 years ago, back when “blog” was barely a word, and not one I’d ever heard before. Feel free to hold my feet to the fire! I really want to make more use of this space.

Want to follow what’s going on here? Subscribe by filling in the box on the left, and I’ll keep you posted!

TAMES Search Bookmarklet for Searching Texas Cases

I have created a little bookmarklet for searching for Texas cases in the Courts of Appeals and Supreme Court. A bookmarklet, if you’re not familiar with that term, is a “smart bookmark” that does some action when you use it. It’s actually a little program, so you can do pretty handy things with bookmarklets.

How this Bookmarklet Works

When you select a case number (e.g., “01-02-00345-CV”) and click on the bookmarklet, a new window will open with the TAMES case page for the case number in question. In my example, that would be this page.  So, for example, you can highlight the case number in Westlaw, then click this bookmarklet, and it will open a new window with the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court page (as appropriate) for the case. This makes it easy to check petition/writ history, motions for rehearing, and the like.

Features

  • Works with all Court of Appeals and Supreme Court of Texas cases. It doesn’t work with the Court of Criminal Appeals, which uses a different website structure than the other courts.
  • Understands sloppy highlighting. For example, it’s okay if you highlight “No. 01-02-00345-CV.”  The “No. ” and trailing “.” will be ignored.
  • Understands en-dashes. For example, it automatically converts “01–02–00345–CV” to “01-02-00345-CV”.
  • Automatically fixes “incomplete” numbers.  For example, it automatically converts “1-2-345-CV” into “01-02-00345-CV”.
  • If you haven’t selected anything or if what you have selected isn’t a valid case number, it takes you to the main TAMES search page.

How to Use It

Here is the link to the bookmarklet: TAMES Case Search

For instructions on how to add it to your browser (at least for Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Opera), please see the instructions on this page. In general, you should just be able to drag the link above to your bookmarks toolbar.

Source Code

For those who are interested, here is a formatted version of the bookmarklet’s code.

Terrible Experience with Auslogics

I just had a terrible experience with Auslogics. If you are not familiar with them, they make an excellent tool for defragmenting hard drives (faster and better than the Windows native tools) (edit:) a popular but possibly malware-ridden disk defragmenter.1 They also make a product called BoostSpeed, which cleans up various things on computers that slow them down, such as excessive temporary files, broken registry entries left by programs that installed or uninstalled themselves incorrectly, broken shortcuts, and so on.

In January 2013, my (now dead) laptop was having some serious performance problems, so I decided to try out BoostSpeed. I downloaded the then-current version (5) and tried the free tools. They worked well, so I decided to pay $49.95 for the full version. It worked fairly well over the last year, although I am not entirely convinced how much better it was than the free version. It was hard to tell, because my computer was clearly having some hardware issues at the same time.

Last month, I got an email stating that my annual subscription was about to renew for $49.95. Because my experience so far had been good enough, I decided to let it renew. On January 16, it did. On January 28, my laptop finally bit the dust, or at least I called the time of death after a long struggle against the inevitable. I began installing my daily-use software on a different computer. Naturally, I figured I would download BoostSpeed again, enter my subscription key, and be on my way.

Come to find out, there is now a new version out, BoostSpeed 6. It also sells for $49.95 for a one-year subscription, but my BoostSpeed 5 key, renewed less than 2 weeks earlier, doesn’t work in BoostSpeed 6. In fact, there’s not even a link to download BoostSpeed 5 from the Auslogics website anymore. They did, however, offer to let me upgrade my 12-day old subscription for an additional $9.95.

So, time to contact the company. The Auslogics “Contact Us” page, however, is absurd:

Auslogics Contact Screen
Auslogics Contact Screen — apparently, customers have never needed to contact the company.

The “technical support” link is no help; it’s just a canned set of questions and answers, and clicking any link that implies an opportunity to contact the company just takes you back to the absurd contact form above.

Auslogics Technical Support Page
Auslogics Technical Support Page — do they even know that customers might have real questions?

At this point, I got fairly fed up and filled out the contact form with the following message late on Saturday night:

Less than 2 weeks ago, you charged me full price ($49.95 + tax) for a one-year renewal of my subscription to BoostSpeed 5. A couple of days ago, my computer died, so I am setting up a new computer. I downloaded BoostSpeed 6, only to realize that my license key doesn’t work with BoostSpeed 6.

Now, you want me to pay you $9.95 to upgrade to version 6, when the non-upgrade price for the new version is exactly the same as what you just charged me for an outdated version. That’s absurd and, frankly, offensive. Why did you charge me for an outdated version if there is a new version available for the same price?

On top of that, I cannot find a link anywhere on your site that lets me contact you with either sales or technical questions; I just get a database of canned questions and answers.

I am currently extremely frustrated with your company and your product. My hope is that you will make this right by upgrading my subscription to version 6 without charge. If not, I will be cancelling my subscription and warning others to avoid doing business with your company, as I consider my experience thus far to be unacceptably bad.

I received this response this morning (February 4):

Dear Ed,
Thank you for your email.

On Jan 18, 2013 16:54 you purchased Auslogics BoostSpeed and during the purchase you subscribed for an automatic annual subscription renewal. That’s why now, one year after your purchase, you were charged automatically for a license for one more year.

If you don’t want to renew the license, we can provide you an immediate refund of the automatic renewal.

Thank you!

Obviously, no one read my message; this was either a canned, automatic response by a computer (likely) or a canned, automatic response by an incompetent individual who couldn’t be bothered to read even a couple of sentences (also, sadly, pretty likely).

I loathe doing business with companies that are incompetent and treat customers as an inconvenience, when they bother to acknowledge customers at all. I absolutely refuse to do business with companies that charge customers for obsolete products, refuse to make even the obsolete product available to their paying customers, and demand a ransom payment if the customer wants to avoid being ripped off.

I have cancelled my subscription and demanded a refund.  We’ll see how long the “immediate refund” takes. They have a little bit of a grace period simply because they are based in Australia; after that I’m challenging the charge with my credit card company.

Update: This morning (February 5), I received this message:

Dear Ed,

I am really sorry for the confusion. This message is to confirm that we have received your refund request and the refund process has been initiated. Please allow some time for the money to reach your account, which usually happens within 1 to 5 business days. You will be receiving a separate confirmation message from our authorized vendor Avangate, who actually processes the transaction.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I could be of more assistance.

Thank you!

Get our brand new PC speed up eBook «Turbo Windows – The Ultimate PC Speed Up Guide» for free now!
http://www.auslogics.com/turbo-windows/

This offer is a “thank you” for being an Auslogics customer. “Turbo Windows” is also available as a paperback on Amazon.com: http://www.auslogics.com/turbo-windows/amazon/

Best regards,
Alexandra Pokhylko

So, that’s promising.

1 Edit 4/15/2015: I used to recommend this tool, but I cannot anymore. Chrome and a number of antivirus and firewall programs seem to detect a Trojan in it. I personally cannot say whether it does or does not contain malware, but I no longer feel comfortable recommending it and have uninstalled it from my machines.

Ebooks Community on Stack Exchange

Stack Exchange has launched (in beta) a wonderful new community at ebooks.stackexchange.com. It’s a fantastic and free resource for all questions related to ebooks – reading, writing, publishing, buying, selling, and lending. Anyone can ask a question, anyone can answer, and the best questions and answers get voted to the top. I encourage you to come check it out and get involved!

Site Move

This site has found a new home, on a VPS (Virtual Private Server). My prior host had let me down far too often by failing to install current technology and by repeatedly installing spam filters that silently blocked (and in some cases, permanently deleted) only about half of my spam, along with hundreds of good emails over the last few months. This, even though I asked them repeatedly to disable all spam filters on my site permanently, which they swore they had done. Very disappointing.

Fortunately, the move went smoothly. The result: the site is about 2000% faster than it was 24 hours ago. If you run into any problems, let me know!