• The Old New Thing

    Maybe you don't sound like Carl Kasell, but you can have his job


    According to the wonderful Mixed Signals, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is searching for radio hosts. They're calling it "American Idol for public radio".

    I recently stumbled across Mixed Signals and was instantly hooked. Some of my recent favorites:

    The curatorship of Mixed Signals appears to change hands rather frequently. The last few entries I linked above were from Robert Smith, whom I had the pleasure to meet at KUOW studios when he was stationed in Seattle.

  • The Old New Thing

    How to fill in that number grouping member of NUMBERFMT


    If you look at the NUMBERFMT structure, the way groups are expressed by the Grouping member do not match the value returned by LOCALE_SGROUPING:

    Grouping Sample Culture
    3;0 3 1,234,567 United States
    3;2;0 32 12,34,567 India
    3 30 1234,567 (none I know of)

    LOCALE_SGROUPING expresses grouping as a series of semicolon-separated numbers, each expressing the number of digits in each group (least-significant group first). A trailing zero indicates that the last grouping should be repeated indefinitely. For example, "3;2;0" means "Group the three least significant digits, then in twos until you run out of digits." If there is no trailing ";0", then there are no commas past that point. For example, "3" means "Group the three least significant digits, then stop."

    The Grouping member expresses the grouping rules differently. Each significant digit represents a group, with the most significant digit representing the least-significant group, with the units digit repeated indefinitely. For example, "32" means "make a group of three digits, then group by twos thereafter." To suppress the repetition, multiply by ten.

    In other words, the two systems are basically the same, with the Grouping consisting of the LOCALE_SGROUPING string with the semicolons removed. Except that the meaning of the trailing zero is reversed, so if LOCALE_SGROUPING has a trailing zero, you have to remove it to get the Grouping, and if it lacks a trailing zero, then you have to add one to the Grouping.

    It's kind of strange that the two systems differ, considering that they both came from the same NLS team! It's probably a case of parallel evolution, wherein the locale-string folks and the number-formatting folks came up with their respective systems independently.

    Writing code to implement this conversion from LOCALE_SGROUPING to Grouping shouldn't be hard once you understand the algorithm, so I'll leave that as an exercise.

    Fortunately, in real life you rarely have need to perform this conversion, for you can just pass the desired locale as the first parameter to the GetNumberFormat (or even better, LOCALE_USER_DEFAULT), pass a NULL pointer as the lpNumberFormat, and let NLS do all the work.

  • The Old New Thing

    Merchandise your food with pride


    There is a new placard in our cafeteria which reads "Merchandise your food with pride". That's the first time I've seen the word "merchandise" used as a verb.

    Here, I'll translate that last paragraph into management speak for you:

    The cafeteria newly signed a placard whose read is "Merchandise your food with pride". That's my first see of a verbed "merchandise".

    Earlier this year, I was chatting with a Boeing employee who mentioned that he "had to status an action item". I have yet to see the word "status" used as a verb at Microsoft, but it's only a matter of time.

  • The Old New Thing

    Locale-sensitive number grouping


    Most westerners are familiar with the fact that the way numbers are formatted differ between the United States and much of Europe.

    Culture Format
    United States 1,234,567.89
    France 1 234 567,89
    Germany 1.234.567,89
    Switzerland 1'234'567.89

    What people don't realize is that the grouping is not always in threes. In India, the least significant group consists of three digits, but subsequent groups are in pairs.

    India 12,34,567.89

    I've also seen reports that the first group consists of five digits, followed by pairs:

    India 12,34567.89

    Meanwhile, Chinese and Japanese traditionally group in fours.

    China, Japan 123 4567.89

    What does this mean for you? Don't assume that numbers group in threes, and of course you can't assume that the grouping separator is the comma and the decimal character is the period. Just use the GetNumberFormat function and let NLS do the work for you.

    Next time, a little more about that NUMBERFMT structure.

  • The Old New Thing

    Where did start.com get its name?


    I remember some time ago getting a piece of email that basically said, "Hey, is anybody using start.com?"

    I have since learned that that domain was registered by the marketing department, presumably to "synergize" with the "Start Me Up" campaign or something like that, but nothing ever happened with it. Nevertheless the registration kept getting renewed year after year. (Perhaps we should also put marketing in charge of renewing passport.com since they seem to do a better job of keeping on top of expiring registrations than whoever is in charge of Passport.)

    It was probably at about the time I got that email that the start team (except that wasn't their name yet) was looking for a domain name they could use to host their little experiment, and they stumbled across start.com and wondered whether anybody was using it. Nobody was, so they took it and did something interesting.

    The rest is history.

    (Oh wait, this was history, too.)

  • The Old New Thing

    Chain tax preparers do not fare well in undercover investigation


    The Government Accountability Office paid nineteen visits to chain tax preparers, presented information on two hypothetical families, and asked for assistance in preparing the tax return. "Only two returns showed the correct refund amount, but both of those returns included errors." The article goes into specifics of what sorts of mistakes were made. A Marketplace report added that mistakes with tax credits were particularly bad because messing them up can render you ineligible for claiming them in the future.

    Add to that the plans for the IRS to permit tax preparers sell information about their clients to marketers and the fact that major tax preparation firm H&R Block got its own taxes wrong [found a not-yet-404'd link - 2pm], and my decision to do my own taxes by hand doesn't seem so kooky after all, now, does it...

    In other tax-day news, I will be heading to San Francisco on the 15th for a family event. I don't have a precise agenda, but I left time to be a tourist on Monday the 17th. I'll most likely take the War Memorial and Performing Arts Center tour at 10am, then head north to check out the Presidio (which was still a military base when I lived in the Bay Area). If you want to meet up, you can drop me a message today or tomorrow via the contact page. I won't be checking my email much while I'm away (that's why it's called a "vacation", see), but before I leave I'll set up my voicemail to forward to my mobile phone. Call Microsoft Corporate Headquarters, press "2", then say my name. (The voicemail lady will say, "Calling the office". Don't be alarmed.)

    When talking to the voicemail lady, be careful to enunciate clearly, because there are also a Raymond Cheng and a Ray Chen at Microsoft. We get each other's stuff occasionally but it usually gets sorted out without too much trouble since we each work on completely different projects. (Bonus trivia: When Raymond Cheng first arrived at Microsoft, I was his mentor!)

  • The Old New Thing

    Where did the name for Microsoft Access come from?


    We've seen how the names for some Microsoft products had to be changed due to a name conflict. I'm told that the people who had to come up with the name for the database product avoided this pitfall in a clever way: Instead of trying to avoid a name that was already taken, they intentionally used a name that was already taken: By Microsoft itself.

    They discovered that Microsoft had a long-forgotten terminal emulator product called Microsoft Access. "Access" sounded like an appropriate name for a database product, so they blew the dust off it and gave the name a new life.

  • The Old New Thing

    News for dummies in French and English


    In case you didn't get the joke, "News for dummies" is just my nickname for the news designed for non-native speakers. It tends to be spoken more slowly and use less advanced vocabulary. I use the term because I'm the dummy, you see. If I were smart, then I'd use the news for native speakers. (Sometimes I give it a shot and then my head explodes. German tends to explode my head more than Swedish.)

    In response to my links to the Swedish and German news for dummies, commenter David Conrad asked if there was an equivalent service in French. I don't speak French myself, but a little bit of web searching turned up Le journal en français facile which appears to be the news in easy French. They even have a quiz afterwards to see how good a job you did. And like Deutsche Welle, they also have a series of online French lessons.

    I didn't have quite as much luck finding a Japanese version, but this page may help. (And I amused myself by listening to the Japanese news in Swedish.)

    Commenter Peter Chen wonders if there's an English news for dummies. A very quick search at the Voice of America News site reveals News in Special English, a service that provides the news and cultural information about the United States in Special English. Analogous with the Swedish Klartext style, Special English uses a reduced vocabulary, avoids idioms, and keeps to a simple sentence structure.

    Here one way to find the news for dummies in various languages: Choose a likely country for the language you are interested in. Find the national radio broadcast service for that country. Go to their web site and start poking around. (Of course, you have to be able to read the language you're searching for.) Often—two out of three in today's examples—you will find the "news for dummies" on the front page or close to it.

  • The Old New Thing

    Why is the Microsoft Protection Service called "msmpsvc"?


    (This is the first in a series of short posts on where Microsoft products got their names.)

    The original name for the malware protection service was "mpsvc" the "Microsoft Protection Service", but it was discovered later that that filename was already used by malware! As a result, the name of the service had to be changed by sticking an "ms" in front, making it "msmpsvc.exe".

    Therefore, technically, its name is the "Microsoft Microsoft Protection Service". (This is, of course, not to be confused with "mpssvc.exe", which is, I guess, the "Microsoft Protection Service Service".)

    Fortunately, the Marketing folks can attempt to recover by deciding that "msmpsvc" stands for "Microsoft Malware Protection Service". But you and I will know what it really stands for.

  • The Old New Thing

    What's the deal with the house in front of Microsoft's RedWest campus?


    What's the deal with the house in front of Microsoft's RedWest campus?

    Here is my understanding. It may be incomplete or even flat-out wrong.

    The house belongs to a couple who was unwilling to sell their property when Microsoft's real estate people were buying up the land on which to build the RedWest campus. (I'm told it was originally a chicken farm.) Eventually, a deal was struck: The couple would sell the property to Microsoft but retain the right to live there until the end of their natural lives. Furthermore, Microsoft would assume responsibility for maintaining the lawn and landscaping.

    When Microsoft needed to build an underground parking garage beneath their property, the house was put on a truck, carried across the street, where it rested for the duration of the construction, after which it was returned to its original location. I imagine the couple was put up in a very nice hotel for the duration of the construction. (Heck, maybe they got a nice kitchen remodel out of the deal, who knows?)

    And while I'm spreading rumors about the Microsoft RedWest campus, here's another one: If you pay a visit to the campus, you will find a nature trail that leads through the wetlands that adjoin the campus. I was told that the wetlands preservation area was part of the environmental impact mitigation plan that was necessary to obtain approval for the construction. The students at the nearby school will occasionally take field trips there.

    (I'm going to cover lighter issues for a while just to take a break from the network interoperability topic that has raged for over a week now.)

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