Results tagged “rant” from kwc blog

I've used BuyDig for many of my photographic needs -- Rebel, 70-200 f/4L, and most recently, a Canon 580EX. Except, I screwed up on the latter because I really wanted the Canon 580EX II. BuyDig has a blanket policy of charging a 10% refund fee -- they offer no store credit -- which really adds up for photography equipment. I was able to haggle them down to 5%, but I'm pretty sour on them now. It's a bit irrational as the mistake was mine not theirs, but after flushing around $50 down the drain for both shipping and the refund fee, I can't bring myself to buy from them again.

My original plan was to return the item and immediately order the more expensive 580EX II from them, but I'm reminded once more that the comfort of an actual storefront can be worth the non-Web markup. I'm fairly certain that the salespeople at Keeble & Shuchat would have warned me of my mistake with the 580EX given that the new version was about to be released (note: it would also be fairly trivial for BuyDig's Web site to have given me a similar warning). I also wouldn't have had to spend for expedited shipping on an item that I couldn't use at the event I needed it for because I had to return it unused.

Computer World and Slashdot pseudo-fame

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The project that I am ~1/300th of made it to the front page of Slashdot. My personal experience with Slashdot is that I generally cringe when I see anything on the front page I am closely familiar with. I cringe with newspapers as well, but its a different sort of cringe. Both have gross generalizations, but Slashdot usually adds in an element of techno-hysteria.

I can't entirely blame Slashdot for the cringe this time around, but they did manage to select this single paragraph in ComputerWorld's five-page article to quote:

"Later in the program, Holland says, PAL will be able to 'automatically watch a conversation between two people and, using natural-language processing, figure out what are the tasks they agreed upon.' At that point, perhaps DARPA's PAL could be renamed HAL, for Hearing Assistant That Learns. The original HAL, in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, tells the astronauts how it knows they're plotting to disconnect it: 'Dave, although you took thorough precautions in the pod against my hearing you, I could see your lips move.'"

A HAL joke? Forty years of evil AI and we're still going back to 2001: Space Odyssey jokes?

Next day thoughts on iPhone

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iphoneYesterday expressed my unbounded enthuisiam for the iPhone. I'm still 90% enthusiastic (great screen, no stupid clickwheel, solves many cellphone gripes), but the iPhone is currently vaporware. There is a big difference between making choices about a technology you would buy today versus one that is six months away. If you are willing to wait six months, then why not 10 months, 12 months? I find this line of thinking especially difficult with the iPhone: it has a two-year contract. Thus begins the paralysis of the never-ending improvements of technology.

My top area of paralysis is the 4 or 8 GB. The pattern on this paralysis is: the big screen and UI are great for __, but I won't be able to use it much with that little bit of storage. For example, video looks great on the larger screen, but a 1-hour TV show is 500MB: how are you going to leave room for other stuff? Or, yeah I'd love to sync my photos onto it, but I can take 4GB of photos in a single weekend. Or one final one: Cover Flow is nice, but how necessary is it if you only have room left for 10 songs?

The fact is, if it were just a cheaper 30GB iPod without the phone and commitment, I'd probably buy it, which is perhaps why TUAW has a post titled, "WIll the iPhone Cannibalize iPod Sales or Vice Versa?". But I really do like the phone.

Then there are the other breakdowns: * If I take it is a device of fantastic convergence, how many of those features could I use with its limited battery life? I charge my phone perhaps every three days, which I find annoying. Do I really want to give myself the choice of, "If I watch this episode of Scrubs, will I have enough battery life to talk to my parents tonight?" * The Internet browser looked great, but I imagine that Jobs was demo-ing using WiFi. Is it going to be even half as great with the relatively slow Cingular EDGE? Note: EDGE isn't even the fastest capability that Cingular has, which means that you can be sure that there will be an upgrade to the iPhone's specs in the near future. Also, how much will that EDGE plan cost?

And I'll finish with meta's sage advice: 1. Never get involved in a land war in Asia. 2. Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line 3. Never buy the first generation of new Apple hardware.

I'll be clear here: I'm still 90% certain I'll buy one, but I have six months to think about it, and six months to debate whether or not waiting another six months will solve all the problems I listed above. None of the problems I listed are inherent to the notion of an iPhone. Do I want to be the person who rushes to buy the first generation, or do I want to be part of the second generation crowd that laughs at the first generation crowd stuck in their 2 year contracts? Apple could put in a hard drive. Apple could release a 16GB flash version. Apple could upgrade from EDGE to the faster UMTS. Apple could release a cheaper iPod-only version. Apple could add video conferencing. Apple could, could, could.

Mac Rant: Keyboard visual design

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I'll talk about my new laptop later, but I found that as I collected my thoughts on the issue, most of my attention was directed at keyboard peeves. Switching keyboard layouts is certainly not going to be easy, and I do like the softer feel of the keys and their big size, but it seemed much of my ire was preventable by a better visual design.

First, there are the basic criticisms. Apple reduced the number of keys on the keyboard, but they still found room for two keys labeled 'enter', and no one can tell me the difference between 'enter' and 'return' -- I've found people who have used Macs for years without noticing the extra 'enter' key. Apple also can't stick two visible buttons on a mouse, but they have four modifier keys (fn, ctrl, option, command), two of those modifier keys have two labels (alt/option, apple/cloverleaf), and most still don't have labels that matches the labels that OS X uses (caret for ctrl, up for shift, indescribable for option). I still don't know the difference between alt/option and apple/squiggly-leaf.

The greatest object of my hatred though is the 'fn' key. First, there is the fact that it is located where the Control key should be, but that's not my main peeve -- I remapped the caps lock key and am much happier now. My main peeve is that many of the keyboard keys are decorated with two labels, one to indicate what happens when you press it, and the other to indicate what happens when you press a modifier key. But they don't tell what that modifier key is, nor are they consistent. For the F1-F12 row, it is the 'fn' key. For numbers, its Shift. For the overlaid keypad, its the 'fn' key once more. So far, not too bad. For the left/right arrow keys, its the apple key, but for some applications the 'fn' key sometimes has a behavior; for the up/down arrow keys its the 'fn' key, but the Apple key has yet another behavior, which happens to be identical to the behavior of 'fn' + left/right. Then there's the missing label(s). At first I thought there was no "Delete" key -- the Mac 'delete' key is actually backspace -- but it turns out that 'fn'+'delete' has the missing behavior, it just doesn't advertise it.

The PC laptops I have use a simple solution to this confusion: colored labels for fn-related keys. Dell even found space to stick in the proper icons for shift, enter, backspace, and tab. Less pretty, but I remain unconfused.

Blogging about work

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Back at Comic-Con I had the motto, A fool and his money should be parted swiftly, not slowly and painfully. I'm reminded of this motto because the soda machines here at work suck.

Ignoring the ever-present post-it notes requesting refunds because sodas tend to get stuck halfway down, they have the very annoying problem that they make it difficult for you to pay. On my floor, we have Soda Machine I and Snack Machine. Soda Machine I seems to not want to take my dollar bills. Crumpled or crisp, it doesn't even bother sucking the bill in. Luckily, Snack Machine will and it will even change it into four quarters, which allows me to get enough change to buy a soda... except when it doesn't have enough quarters to make change. That's when I get to visit Soda Machine II downstairs. Soda Machine II likes bills, but it requires exact change because Soda Machine Guy didn't putting any change in its slots. Exact change might be possible if the sodas were sensibly priced, but every item requires quarters plus a single nickel to purchase: $0.80, $1.30, $1.80. I don't have exact change, I have two f'in dollar bills and the machines only make change in quarters, so I have to go to downstairs to Soda Machine II, make change, and then walk back to Soda Machine I and get my drink.

You may wonder why I've started blogging about work all of a sudden. Well, this is a very roundabout way of welcoming Adam's new work blog, where he will be talking about Sharpcast -- hopefully not about their soda machines. Adam and I worked in the same group at PARC back in the day and I look forward to seeing what he has to say on his blog.

Brrr

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Just so you non-Bay-Area folks are aware. It frickin' cold here. There's snow on the hills around here. Every store on 4th Street in Berkeley has a sign on its front door: "We're open. It's just cold outside." We're not used to having to keep the front door closed to keep out the cold. We don't have Metro stations to hide in. We usually stick up a heat lamp outside a restaurant and redeclare that patch of land "summer." We see frozen little ice balls coming down and have to pause to think of what the right word for it is.

My parents called me from Virginia to tell me how it's 70 degrees outside and perfect for yard work. This arctic cold front must have flipped its compass because I think this ball of hail was meant for you, East Coast.

Cultural Uncanny Valley

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Read on for an semi-complete essay written in the spirit of silliness. It's an old draft I wanted to wrap up now that we are in the final countdown to entry 2000 (three to go).

Google Drive?

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If GDrive (Google's online storage technology) launches, we'll be one step closer to addressing two of my biggest pet peeves about computer technology: data synchronization and data loss. I find it archaic that we still think of data living on a physical computer. Why should I have to take an extra step to make sure that a CD I ripped is on all three of my computers? Why should I risk losing all of the data on a computer when the hard drive fails? Why do I have to make backups of my computer? My ideal solution would be that all my computers talk to each other and provide one unified storage area -- I retain control over my data. Another solution that has it's own benefits is for a company like Google to provide free online storage.

I imagine that personal data storage is a bit of a holy grail for an information company like Google. One of the main criteria I use when evaluating a new startup is whether or not it makes more information accessible as well as the value of the information being provided. FlySpy and Zillow evaluate well by this criteria because both enable users to access valuable information that was previously thought inaccessible. Now imagine if your company could store all of your personal data. Your personal data is the most valuable data a company could present to you. Making your personal data available to me anywhere would also solve data synchronization and backup headaches while also enabling an entire new breed of Web applications that directly interface to your online storage.

The main impediment to controlling this data is the obvious costs associated with storing hundreds of gigabytes of data per user. Google has to index billions of Web pages, but it can share the cost of that index across all of it's users. Personal data must only be shared with one person. Desktop search technologies are a cheaper approach, but they don't offer the same control; I can always install multiple desktop search technologies or switch from one to the other. Desktop search solutions also get the EFF to raise red flags when they try to assert a bit more control over your personal data -- it's better to be explicit about what it is you're trying to do, especially when walking the grey areas of privacy.

GDrive will be entering a crowded space. There are many other competitors and it's not clear that Google will even have the leading product in the field. However, Google is a more interesting player in the space because (a) it is offering to store 100% of your data and (b) the variety of other Google services. GDrive, GMail, and the rumored Google Calendar could interact seamlessly. You could publish to Google Video with a single click. You could save copies of searches and Web pages directly into your online storage. It's these new types of interactions between Web applications that I think will be the major factor in the next generation of Web applications -- they are the ones necessary to facilitate a greater transition to an online mode of interaction with a more diverse ecosystem of devices (personal computers, handheld devices, cellphones, etc...).

Tag clouds are teh suck

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Zeldman discusses several of the problems with tag clouds, but I thought I'd hit on a couple of more from a different viewpoint.

First, as a primer, a tag cloud (as seen on my Flickr account, but also seen on sites like del.icio.us (experimental) and 43things):

 700   animal   ape2005   architecture   armstrong   beach   bike   bird   blue   boulders   bridge   buddha   bunny   cacti   california   castro   cave   chaparral   child   christinethornburg   christmas   cliff   condor   contrail   cute   cycling   deyoung   ekimov   endangered   evil   flight   flower   football   gate   gehry   getty   goldengatepark   green   halloween   herzog   house   incredibles   iris   japanesemaple   japaneseteagarden   lamb   lancearmstrong   landscape   leaves   licenseplate   lights   lizard   losangeles   maple   metaldetector   meuron   momiji   moon   morganhill   mountain   nationalpark   nerd   orange   pagoda   paulmccartney   peligro   pinnacles   pipes   rabbit   race   railing   red   richardmeier   robonexus   rock   sanfrancisco   sanfransciscograndprix   santamonica   sfmoma   sidewalk   sign   silhouette   sonoma   spiderman   spire   spires   stonelantern   stones   sunset   tattoo   teagarden   tmobile   tonybennett   tree 

Tag clouds follow a very basic principle: the font size of the word is scales linearly with the number of times the tag has been used.

At first glance, there appear to be several things right with this sort of display. You can see, for example, that I have a ton of photos tagged "Richard Meier", and that I have a lot more "architecture" photos than "ape2005" photos. IMHO, however, this is all fluff -- it's has the appearance of being a statistical visualization but instead conveys information crudely and inaccurately. For example, for each of these pairs, answer the question, "Which do I have more photos tagged with?"

  • japaneseteagarden or goldengatepark?
  • richardmeier or architecture?
  • sanfranciscograndprix or house?

With close examination you will probably get these right, but my point is that it takes a bit of thought (and you have the chance of getting it wrong). One of the fundamental problems is that the "tag cloud" display is using the size of the word to convey how many tags are associated with it. However, the size of the word is related to (a) the number of characters in the word (sanfranciscograndprix vs. house) and (b) the font size of the word, which grows in two-dimensions. Instead of trying to convey:

size of word ~= (# of tagged items)

we instead have the relation

size of word ~= (# of tagged items * length of word)2

So as a statistical display, it's bunk -- appearing to help you understand relative tag distribution, but not in an accurate manner.

Aesthetically, in order to try and convey this pseudo-statistical information, it completely throws the list out-of-whack: lines grow to arbitrary heights, one's ability to scan quickly across the entire list is lost, large words are constantly drawing your attention from smaller words, etc..., and, to borrow from Zeldman, navigation skews towards popularity rather than findability.

The fact that "richardmeier" is one of my most prominent tags entirely relates to the fact that (a) I took a ton of photos of the Getty one day, and (b) I was testing out my new Flickr Pro upload limits. They are not my "best" category of photos, I don't frequently take "richardmeier" photos, and they are not the photos I most want people to see. But the tag cloud design dictates that visitors will forever feel "richardmeier"'s gravitational force (that is, until I go crazy with another photo upload).

My own tag/category display could use some work, but I offer it here as a comparison (feel free to critique in the comments):

histogram

Backpack: way cool, way too much $$$

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Update: (5/2/05) Backpack has upped it's limits since I originally wrote this entry. Free accounts now get 5 pages (up from 3) and the $5/month account get 20 pages (up from 15). They also increased the storage for the $5/month account from 25MB to 40MB. In the entry below I've indicated some of these changes, but it seems silly to have little "(update: )" or strike notations everywhere, especially when these changes don't really change the way I feel about their pricing. The most important limit to me is "20 pages." How useful would a Wiki that could only store 20 pages be? How useful would a blog with 20 entries be? The feature I like about Backpack is that it makes it easy to create content. Their pricing stands in opposition to these potential uses and only makes sense if they are targetting this at business users that can afford the extra $$$ for higher limits -- but why target business users when you already have Basecamp?

original entry follows...

I've been playing a bit more with Backpack -- it combines much of the free-flow composition of Wiki with the ease-of-use and power of structured data (e.g. todo lists). When they release it to the public it might become a very useful 'application' for me and my friends to plan events together, but...

...we're not going to be able to plan that many events with it because the free account only gives you 3 pages total (update: 5), and the non-free plans are way too friggin' expensive. And by 'way', I mean WAY.

As a pricing reference point, I would compare it to Flickr, which I use constantly and have a two-year Pro account for.

FlickrBackpack
$25/year$60/year*
2GB/month25MB total (now 50MB)
Unlimited photosets15 pages (now 20)

* This pricing is based on Backpack's basic account (cheapest non-free account).

It's just not even in the same ballpark. Even when Flickr cost $40/year (pre-Yahoo), it was still a bargain compared to Backpack.

The 15-page limit is especially egregious. I can begin to understand the 25MB cap on file and photo upload, but limiting me to having 15 pages that hardly take up any space and are the central feature of the service is just plain assinine. IMHO, $60/year is a terrible price to pay for 15 Web pages, even if they are super-snazzy and editable. I could delete an old page to make more room, but why force me to do that? With the advent of Gmail and Flickr I thought we had gotten past that whole notion of having to delete old information.

Got my backpack

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update 2 (5/3/05): I (still) like Backpack -- it's a well designed technology, with a diverse set of potential applications. However, I think their page limit is whack (i.e. it eliminates many of those potential uses by making them unaffordable). My extended gripe is here.


I got my Backpack account today and I'm pretty excited. I've been bastardizing 37signal's project management software, but Backpack should do away with that as it makes it easy to build pages with lists, links, notes, images, files, etc... that you can share with friends. All of it can be edited quickly and directly in the browser.

While I was at PARC I worked on Sparrow Web, which was a technology for making easily-writable Web pages, and I've been missing that technology ever since I left, so it's nice to have what appears to be a good, fast, free, easy-to-use writable Web page system.

I'll write more once I have a chance to really test drive it.

Update: here's our Fred Steak Planning Page that honeyfields and I put together. They're not opening Backpack up to the public until Tuesday, so until then I won't be able to give anyone the ability to edit the page, which makes the Fred Steak page rather pointless right now.

I Hate Microsoft IV

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Update: you may wish to go to this Microsoft support article (thanks Frances) if the comments below don't help you with this issue. Back when I wrote this post the support article did not exist and this post is mostly here to detail my frustrations with how poorly Microsoft dealt with this issue.

I just installed Service Pack 2. Impressively there is no smoke emanating from my laptop, but we shall see. It appears that they have upgraded some useful services, such as Bluetooth and 802.11 management, though I have no Bluetooth device to take advantage of the former, and for the latter I get this wonderful message:

Windows cannot configure this wireless connection. If you have enabled another program to manage this wireless connection, use that software. If you want Windows to configure this connection, start the Wireless Zero Configuration (WZC) service. For information about starting the WZC service, see article 871122 in the Microsoft Knowledge Base on the microsoft.com Web site. (emphasis mine)

Am I the only one that finds this message completely broken?

I felt like testing exactly how broken this message is, so here's my attempt to look this article up: * There's no link to article in the error message, so I open up a browser to microsoft.com * I try typing 871122 into the search box at the top of microsoft.com -- no results. Seeing as Google is smart enough to be able to detect FedEx tracking numbers, numerical equations, street addresses, and so on, you would think Microsoft would be able to tell that I was typing in one of their knowledge base article numbers on their own search page. * I click on the "Search the Knowledge Base" link on the microsoft.com front page * I type 871122 into the search box that's labeled "Search the Knowledge Base." I get back "We Currently Have No Documents That Match Your Search." Apparently not even the Knowledge Base search engine can recognize its own article numbers. * I notice a link further down the page that says "Knowledge Base Article ID Number Search" * Again, I typed in 871122. This time it tells me "The Knowledge Base (KB) Article You Requested Is Currently Not Available"

Oh Microsoft, how I hate thee.

Why the Millbrae station is failing

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I read an article in the Palo Alto Daily News awhile back about how the Millbrae BART/Caltrain station isn't doing as well as planned. Let me elucidate my reasons for why I think it sucks with an example. I have aligned the schedules for the two systems side-by-side for riding into San Francisco in the afternoon/evening. As a reminder, you ride the Caltrain to the Millbrae station, and then switch over to the BART to ride into the city.

BART 5:18 Caltrain 5:20
BART 5:33
BART 5:48 Caltrain 5:50
BART 6:03 Caltrain 6:06
BART 6:18 Caltrain 6:35
BART 6:48 Caltrain 6:45 <- We have a winner!
BART 7:03 Caltrain 7:04

Does anyone else see this as downright malicious?

Updated to my transit511 rant

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After my previous rant about how Transit 511 took over Caltrain's schedule and made it completely unusable, there's finally been some improvements. I claim no causality between my rant and the change, but I would like to believe that a chorus of similarly peeved individuals led to the change.

You can once again select and start and end station and view the schedule for just those two stations, a feature that existed on the Caltrain site before Transit 511 took over.
[Here's an example with Mountain View and San Mateo][sched].

<newrant>From the example, you can see that they are still really stupid and stick the schedule inside of an embedded frame, which makes it really hard to print. Interestingly enough, if you click on "accessible version" or "printable version," it gets rid of this stupid embedded frame. It's not that they don't have a usable version, it's just that you have to request it specially.

They also don't have the old feature that allowed you to select a start/end time so that you don't have to view the schedule for the 5am trains you'll be sleeping during.</newrant> [sched]: http://transit.511.org/schedules/detail.asp?cid=CT&rte=5081&day=1&dir=NO&fst=12%2CCALTRAIN STATION - MOUNTAIN VIEW&mc=stops&tst=23%2CCALTRAIN STATION - SAN MATEO&image1.x=15&image1.y=9

I Hate Microsoft III

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I've really meant to post these more often after I posted kwc blog: I Hate Microsoft I and II, but it's hard to post something everytime I'm confronted with more material. I found this one so stupid it deserves a post:

This item updates the Bookshelf Symbol 7 font included in some Microsoft products. The font has been found to contain unacceptable symbols. After you install this item, you may have to restart your computer.

Any of you with Windows will have probably already seen this, but I just wanted to highlight the relevant portion. Apparently, removing a swatiska from a font (the reason for the update), requires a reboot. I guess you need the cleansing reboot to remove all the remnants Nazi symbols from your system. Actually, the symbol exists in the font set because it represents "good luck" in Hinduism/Buddhism, so really the reboot must be because all the luck that's holding Windows from falling apart disappears.

Nooooo!

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I was really excited today to get my free Caltrain train and parking pass from work. My excitement quickly disappeared when I clicked on my bookmark for the Caltrain schedule and got a 404 not found page from a site called 511 Transit Info. I thought this was odd so I went to the Caltrain site and clicked on their schedule link, only to discover they've transferred all the schedule information to the 511 site, which sucks!

<rant>
Here's what it used to be like to get the Caltrain schedule:
1. Click on interactive schedule
2. Click on Mountain View
3. Click on Menlo Park
Result: a nice listing of the departure and arrival times for the train. It was so nice and succinct that I could have it load in the sidebar of my browser and stay open while I surfed other sites.

Here's what it's like to use the 511 site:
(version 1)
1. Click on Trip Planner
2. Type in address that you are leaving from. If you click on "map" you get a zoomed out map of the entire Bay Area that it expects you to navigate by repeated zooming (which is very slow to load).
3. Repeat step 2 for the address you are going to.
4. Enter in specific time that you are leaving
Result: it tells me the time of the next two Caltrains, nothing more. After all that effort it didn't even tell me anything about the bus route to get to the station.

(version 2)
1. Click on Schedules
2. Select Caltrain
3. Select Northbound/Southbound
4. Click on Weekdays (the only option listed)
Result: table embedded inside of another Web page. You have to click on scrollbars to find the appropriate column. If you are travelling far it is unlikely that you can see the station you are leaving from and the station you are arriving at on the same page. (If you click on printable version you get a Web page that is wider than my 20" LCD monitor).
</rant>

I Hate Microsoft I and II

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I: This bug cost me half an entire afternoon: 318003 - BUG: Visual Studio .NET Setup Fails on AddShareAndPermissions Custom Action. Apparently, you have to setup a fake wwwroot in order to install Visual Studio, a programming environment. Whaaa? I'm sure in 2004 it will complain that my Windows Media Player isn't up-to-date when I try to install C#.

II: The other half of my afternoon was wasted by bad dependency verification in the Visual Studio .NET installer. After I did a Windows Update on the .NET framework (which came with the installer), it finally started working (5 reboots and 2 hours later). I'm not even sure the two were related.

(I) update: My problems with (I) are not over. Among the suggestions I now have to try: (i) copy the entire DVD to my hard drive and try the installation, (ii) create yet another folder on my computer with appropriate permissions and (iii) update my DVD-ROM firmware and disable DMA.

(I) update 2: Finally, I have it installed. Apparently you need to copy all of the files off the DVD into a directory named "mssucks."