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USPS.com print shipping label is broken

Posted by james on Aug. 9, 2011

I've been using the USPS.com Print Shipping Label feature for a while, and it's great. I can pay for and print postage from home. I wish they did first class mail, but still being able to do priority is nice to have.

However, the USPS just did a whole website refresh. It looks a little nicer, as their old site was a bit dated. I just went through the site, and now the print shipping label part is broken. Thanks a lot USPS.

-I can't pay with one of my cards because I need to enter a "Valid Security Code". It's the same I've been using here for a while, it has not expired or changed, and I can use it on other sites. USPS may be choking on the fact that AMEX uses a different security code format than Visa.

-Speaking of card info, their form for credit card info conveniently omits the autocomplete="off" attribute, so my card's security code is cached by my browser, as it should be for any form that doesn't include this attribute. Huge security risk there. Lots of sites do this, and shouldn't. Looks like the USPS is one of them (and has been for a long time).

-UPDATE: This part might be due to Chrome taking over PDF printing with a neat but awkward and very poorly designed print preview window. Not sure if there is still a USPS bug here, since it did print out the wrong thing:
They changed the part where it prints. It used to pop up a normal windows print dialog, so you can choose the printer, the # of copies, print preferences, etc. Now it's a window that shows you a preview, but does not allow you to change print preferences. So now I can't print to the rear tray of my printer, so the prints happen on the wrong paper.

-For the above problem, you can choose "Advanced printing". What does that do? It shows the old print dialog. Ironic. Even worse, when you go ahead and print using this old method, it PRINTS THE WRONG PAGE! How in the world could they screw up the *old* site?? That's special.

-For all the above, I actually can't print my shipping label right now... I've tried a couple times. And the kicker - they have a new "Live Chat technical support" button right on that page. I click on it, enter my name/email/reason for chatting, and then... blank window. They chat window is broken.

Ok, I get that they wanted to update their site. Bravo. But seriously - couldn't an organization as large as the USPS hire a competent set of web programmers? Or just spend a little more and test their site prior to deployment? I guess not. It's too bad I can't leave them these comments via their live chat.

The Great Headset Shootout #1

Posted by james on July 15, 2011

10/11/11 - updated to include the TheBoom v4 bluetooth mod, see below.

I've been on the hunt *forever* to find a good cell phone headset. Outgoing sound quality (ie. rejection of background noise) is my #1 priority. Then comfort, incoming sound clarity, comfort, convenience, and last cost. I've amassed a collection recently (since a good headset has become a necessity for work), and I finally put together a head-to-head comparison with sound clips.

Here's the mess I have today:

Why don't more sites provide sound clips?

Why don't professional online sites ever have sound clips from the headsets they review? Without that, it's impossible to compare headset outgoing sound quality. It's just lazy.

How to record sound clips

This was incredibly easy thanks to google voice. Get a google voice account. Then leave yourself messages. You'll have to turn out automatic voicemail login if you're calling from a number associated with your account. Then you can log into http://www.google.com/voice/ and click on the "More" link next to a recording, and "embed". That's how the following clips were embedded. Very easy.

Sound Clips

Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant - built-in mic

The Vibrant's built-in mic is very good - picks up voice well, does an ok job rejecting background noise. It's very silent when you're not talking, but when you talk the background bleeds through. Kinda like a noise gate.

Panasonic KX-TCA60

This was highly rated and very cheap (<$10), so I got this on a whim. Very good quiet-room voice quality. Background noise rejection less than the etycom wired headset, but still acceptable.

Etymotic ety.com ER22C wired headset

This was my favorite wired headset. Very light, it's an in-ear-monitor (so it blocks out noise), comfortable when you get used to it, and very simple (ie. not bulky). It's also very picky about mic placement, and you do need the windsock for outside use. Attenuates background noise a decent amount. Tends to be a bit quieter than other mics.

theBoom v4 wired headset

The supposed "holy grail" of wired headsets. I can say - it does the best job out of any headset I've ever used of rejecting background noise. Outgoing voice is always very loud compared to the background, with little distortion. But it's very bulky, the incoming speaker has poor fit & sound, the cable is long & has many "boxes" (mic, switch, adapter, second adapter, etc). Outgoing sound is has a bit of "walkie talkie" sound to it, but still very understandable. This is the bar to shoot for (sound wise), and a lot of lessons how not to build a headset (build/design wise).

Special test: The v4 ends in a 2.5mm female jack (really??). I tried using a cheap aftermarket 2.5mm male to 3.5mm male cord, but it causes echos & very bad background noise (probably due to the number of pins on the adapter cord). I had to use the bundled 2.5mm male to 2.5mm male cord + the headset buddy 2.5mm jack to 3.5mm male adapter. Very bulky, but at least it sounds right.

Altec Lansing BackBeat Plus UHS206 wired stereo headset

Got these on a whim for $10 on sale. The incoming sound is bassy & muffled, but acceptable. They block out sound, but have very poor fit (use mushroom style silicone buds, but the earphones themselves have too big a diameter and hit the ear). They fall out. Outgoing sound is ok in quiet room, incredibly bad w/ background noise. Holding the mic up to my mouth improves outgoing sound, but overall a poor headset. Last; music quality is as expected; bass heavy, muddy, thick, not much high-end/clarity.

Etymotic etyBLU2 bluetooth headset

Very excited about this; the quality of the etycom in a bluetooth form. However, noise rejection had some artifacts from the active noise cancellation. Overall a very good headset (sound wise), a bit bulky (non collapsable), and really bad ear hook. Would be perfect for a custom in-ear mold. May try that later.

Samsung HM1000 bluetooth headset

Cheap (<$20) test mule to use later to convert a wired headset to bluetooth. Very echoey in quiet room, and little to no noise cancellation. Incoming sound is also tinny/echoey. Not sure if this will also happen when a wired mic is grafted on, will have to see.

(New 10/11/11)

TheBoom v4 + Samsung HM1000 bluetooth headset mod

This test is a bit special. I hacked the HM1000 apart and removed the mic & speaker. Then I soldered a 2.5mm male plug where they used to be. Finally, I plugged TheBoom v4 into the jack, creating a hybrid wired-v4 + bluetooth mod. The audio is clearly clipping, likely the HM1000 is not used to the high-output of TheBoom's mic. An inline resistor might fix that. It's not clear if the scratchiness is due to this clipping, or some other side effect of hacking the bluetooth.

The mod was a huge pain in the butt. The concept is simple - take off the mic & speaker, solder in a jack. But the wires involved were very fine gauge magnet wire (ie. enamel coated), which makes it fragile & a pain to solder. Also, it was a huge paint to figure out the wiring for the speaker & mic. There were four wires from the plug, and four wires from the bluetooth. Yet two of those wires are a shared ground, and it was not fun figuring out which was which. It's hard to do trial & error with many different combinations while holding incredibly fine wires w/ other pieces of equipment. It finally worked, but it's very possible I have some wires reversed (which may result in the echoey results of the v4 with the aftermarket cable above).

Neat trivia - the v4 ends in a female 2.5mm plug. They then include a cable with a 4-ring 2.5mm plug for the v4 side, and a 3-ring 2.5mm plug on the phone side. The "bottom" two rings on the 4-ring plug are both ground, and are connected together. However, the top two rings are swapped between the v4 plug & the phone plug. So the tip on the v4 must be speaker, while on the phone side the middle ring is the speaker. Strange.

And why couldn't they just terminate in an industry standard 2.5mm plug? The world will never know...

More Pics

Fixing "Error: script stack space quota is exhausted" in Firefox 3.x

Posted by james on Feb. 1, 2011

I've gotten the "Error: script stack space quota is exhausted" problem before. It usually happens when I'm doing an unreasonable amount of data manipulation in Javascript, but it's still a problem.

I recently found a fix for a specific circumstance. I narrowed down the culprit to this line:

var elem = $('' + html + '');

The problem here is that the "html" var is a 500k string containing html markup. jQuery seems to be inefficient for this purpose, as running it through the $('') should create a jQuery node containing a new HTML DOM element with the contents of "html".

Using this instead fixed problem:

var elem = $('');
elem.innerHTML = html;

I suspected that innerHTML would be more efficient than jQuery's HTML parsing, and I was right. So in this specific circumstance, I found a way to avoid the issue. The bigger problem is still there: why the heck am I parsing 500k worth of HTML text through Javascript? No good reason, unfortunately.

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