No sign of foxes

Sadly there seems to be no sign of our regular foxes this year. For a good few years now we’ve had cubs playing in our back garden by now, but we’ve not seen or heard any yet, so we fear the worst.

Earlier this year when I was chatting to a friend who lost their dog to having eaten something poisoned, which was thought to have been put down for foxes. That’s pretty unpleasant on both counts – somebodies pet was killed, and there seems little justification for killing foxes to me, but there’s no accounting for some people.

The first fox in our garden goes back a good few years now, and sadly we dubbed him Basil. There was a bit more to the name than simply being a fox though. When he first appeared I was doing some painting in the garden and he crept up and nicked my paintbrush!

There’s some shots that should convince most that foxes are loveable creatures in our family photo gallery.

01 Jul 2008

Firefox 3 first thoughts

Well I’ve only been using Firefox 3 for a very, very short while, but thought I’d make a few notes on my initial thoughts. I’ve not tried the beta or release candidate versions at all, so this is a real first impression.

To start with it is worth noting that I’ve only installed the Windows version, since I’m suffering using Microsoft on the desktop for a while. This is partly due to a couple of hardware failures, partly office reorganisations that are as yet unfinished, and partly forcing myself to keep my hand in – unfortunately I have to.

The first thing I noticed was that it was much faster and more responsive. Firefox 2 has, particularly in the past few weeks, been pausing for periods for no apparent reason. The second observation was that the memory footprint was much, much smaller, so this may well be linked. I tend to use a reasonable number of tabs when browsing and have been keeping an eye on the memory usage recently. I’ve been trimming things down to around 12 open tabs at a time and was amazed that Firefox was using between 200M and 260M, with no sign of reducing when tabs were closed. After installing Firefox 3 I checked and found that it was running at pretty much exactly half that, around 100M to 130M with the same 12 tabs as before the upgrade!

Part of this reduced footprint may be down to the few extensions that are now disabled due to incompatibility. With a major upgrade it is probably time to take a look through the extensions I’m using to see if any are no longer relevant. A few quick highlights of my extension usage are…

Bookmark Sync and Sort – sadly this is no longer compatible, and from a quick investigation it hasn’t been updated for a good while now, and the referenced home page has gone. Time to look for an alternative it seems. All this was doing was backing up my bookmarks to a WebDav folder on my intranet server, and at first glance there seems to be no obvious alternative. With a bit more digging I’ve found two, or perhaps just the one, options:

  • Foxmarks – I ignored this first time round since it was linked to a service, but further investigation shows that you can use it with either WebDav or FTP, as well as install a server component. The original Foxmarks was based on the OSAF Cosmo server, but it looks as though this has been replaced by the Chandler project, so a little more investigation is required.
  • Sitebar – another one I passed over when finding Bookmark Sync and Sort. Again it is linked to a service, but it seems that you can download the server component if you want to. Sadly, according the the Mozilla Addons site it doesn’t currently support Firefox 3, but it does have the advantage of being open source which Foxmarks doesn’t seem to be. Again, more investigation is required.

Firebug, IE Tab (remember this is on Windows!), It’s All Text!, Speed Dial and Web Developer are all available for Firefox 3, so that just leaves…

Tab Mix Plus – not having this one is a bit painful, although partly because I’m not sure what features I’m missing that were part of it and what may now be officially available that I haven’t found yet! That said, I’ve just noted that there is a newer version, just not listed on the Mozilla Addons site. I’ll have to give it a try and then work out what options I’m using that it provides – the session manager, the new tab button and undo closed tabs spring to mind.

There are a couple of other incompatible ones listed on my install. Google Photos Screensaver I think I had disabled anyway and RealPlayer Browser Plugin I hadn’t noticed before – although is probably responsible for blindingly easy downloads from YouTube etc. 🙂

That’s what leaps out at me, bar the slight interface changes. No doubt more differences will become obvious over time.

18 Jun 2008

Bizarre Windows bug of the day

Windows is weird. I know any software can have the odd bug and behave in an unexpected fashion, but Windows really does do bugs and glitches better than anyone else. It is exceptionally good at doing something strange that you can’t quite fathom, and after the traditional helpdesk fix of rebooting you’ll possibly never see it again – in spite of the fact that the error in the code is still there. From my personal experience with the other operating systems I’ve used, when you find a bug situation it is generally repeatable and a reboot doesn’t fix it, but I’m rashly generalising there!!

Anyway, the oddment for today went something like this:

I’ve been in Windows XP doing some work for most of the day without problems. Well, other than the horribly cumbersome and unfriendly user interface that is, but that’s another issue! I then locked the screen and headed of to pick up my son from school. On returning I unlocked the screen with a view to carrying on with some work, but all was not well…

I run a dual screen setup, and the left screen seemed fine. The right screen was not so happy though. The icons along the left hand side of the screen had moved across about a quarter of the width and any windows that were maximised only used the right three quarters of the screen. Oddly the Start menu came up in the correct place at the bottom right of the screen, and any windows moved between screens still used the left quarter of the screen.

I’m afraid I couldn’t be bothered to investigate further and simply rebooted. I’ve long since given up on trying to solve Windows problems that don’t survive a reboot or repeat easily. It just isn’t worth the hassle. Conversely if I get a bug in Linux I want to know why. I guess I’ve just grown to expect Windows to crash and present bugs on a semi regular basis. Has Microsoft created a culture of accepting sub standard products? Thought for another post perhaps!

03 Apr 2008

Damn the spam

Don’t you just hate spam. It is bad enough having to filter out spam that is being sent to you, but last night I was the unfortunate recipient of another wholly more annoying form of spam. That’s the sort when your email address has been used by a spam bot somewhere as the sending address for a batch of junk mail. Now sadly there is absolutely nothing you can do to prevent this. You could not tell anyone your address and never use it, then, so long as it isn’t one that may be tried at random, it probably won’t be used by anyone sending spam. That sort of defeats the object though. If your email address ends up in somebody’s address book (and we are pretty much talking Windows and Outlook here), or is referenced on a public website, then there is a risk of it being harvested.

So last night I received just over 1000 bounce messages in one of a variety of formats and languages – from mailbox full, through notifications that the person has left the company, to requests to validate the message manually, and others. With my current ‘in limbo’ mail setup I also ended up with another 1000 or so frozen messages in my mail queue. I really must sort that out. I guess it would be worth looking into the spam filtering too, since surely if the message is included in the return then it should be possible to filter it out automatically – another thing for my mail revamp to consider!

28 Mar 2008

Broadband smoke and mirrors

I’ve just been reading an article titled Broadband Britain cheaper and faster than ever on the Silicon website. Whilst it is true that prices have fallen and speeds have increased it started me thinking about how far things had progressed since I first got an internet connection.

I was quite a late starter for home internet, I didn’t get my first dial-up account until 1996. I had been using it at work since around 1990, but the urge to get it at home didn’t hit until later. By this time there was already talk about ‘broadband’, and I signed up with Demon Internet with the hope that the promised cable modems would be available quite soon – well, that’s what Nynex were promising. Sometime in the next 6 months they said. Nynex were taken over by Cable & Wireless and the 6 months promise was kept going through until 2001, so that’s about 5 years later! During that time I survived on 56k dial-up. In 2001 my employer paid for an ISDN line to be installed and things got a little better, although primarily due to the extra line and no online charges rather than the speed.

In late 2001 my employer decided to cease trading (a whole different story!), so I had the prospect of returning to dial-up. Thankfully this was about the same time as the ‘wires only’ trials started, so I switched from Demon to Nildram and went ADSL. This was at the beginning of 2002, so finally, 6 years later, I had a speed boost to 512k. The key thing about being ‘wires only’ was that I didn’t have the hassle of the nasty USB ‘frog’ that came with ADSL up until then, so it was an altogether more pleasant experience with Linux.

At that time the cost was a little over £30 a month, not cheap, but orders of magnitude cheaper than an equivalent ISDN package, and only a little more than dial-up with a flat charge instead of paying per minute – and with the added advantage of not tying up your phone line. If we fast forward now to 2007, about 5 years on, I was still with Nildram, I was still paying £30 a month and the speed was still 512k. Checks with BT indicated that the line, which runs for 2.89km from my local exchange, can only handle 512k. I was warned that if I switched to the new ADSL services that offered ‘up to 8Mb’ the line might ‘rate adapt’ to a lower speed than the 512k. Now in 2008 things haven’t changed on that line. My how far we have come with broadband speeds in the past 6 years!

To be fair you can get broadband cheaper now. This has been done in two ways as far as I can see. Firstly there’s the reduced specification packages – most people don’t want fixed IP addresses, etc.. Secondly there’s the bundled packages that are pretty much ‘lost leaders’ or ‘sweeteners’ for other services. I have also abandoned Nildram and moved to another supplier making a significant saving and getting 8 IP addresses instead of just the one (although I’ve not yet revamped my network to take full advantage of that).

Speed wise things have only really changed a little, and then only if you are pretty close to the exchange. Annoyingly, whilst I am 2.89km from my ‘local’ exchange, only a couple of hundred yards up the road people are 1.79km away from their ‘local’ exchange – a different one! My speed has improved though, by virtue of taking advantage of the old ISDN wiring for a second, business line. For some strange reason this is rated at 3.5Mb instead of the 512k of the line next to it on the wall. I know the cable from the telegraph pole is identical since it was replaced when the ISDN line was installed. Presumably there is something drastically different in the cable quality or route to the green box just down the road!

My home line has switched to a bundled service. I’m a little concerned that this may be ‘unbundled’ at some point, since I’ve read that it can be very difficult to re-bundle it if you need to. Unbundling would appear to have no real value to the end user, since it is the quality and length of the BT cable from the exchange that dictates the speed, and this is still the same, bundled or unbundled. I’ve noted that Newnet, a local company, are doing some unbundling and offering up to 24Mb, but having spoken to them I don’t see any likelihood that my 512k line will be any faster. Until BT upgrade their cabling things won’t improve. Ironically, nipping back to 2002 again briefly, I got a phone call from NTL offering me cable broadband a matter of weeks after going live with ADSL. As soon as they were honest enough to drop the ‘6 months’ promise they finally delivered – a bit late though. Cable would seem to be the best option for faster speeds, but sadly in my area we are on Nynex cabling, which apparently is of poor quality, and NTL had no plans to upgrade it. It remains to be seen what Virgin Media will do with it.

04 Feb 2008

Polydrama

Isn’t Facebook a wonderful thing? When I first signed up I wasn’t entirely convinced it was really worth the effort, after all I’m not really that into the ‘social networking’ thing. After a few visits the site code behind it showed itself to be a bit on the unpredictable side with some very strange actions when navigating around it, which left me less than enthusiastic. That said, I get some very odd behaviour on eBay too. Both sites will insist that I download the php or cgi instead of actually executing it every now and then.

Still, Facebook is proving that it isn’t the quality of the code that is important, but that it’s all about who uses the site. Back in late November I, for some reason, got the urge to set up a few groups on Facebook to see who dropped by. One in particular has taken off, and that is the Polydrama one. For those that read this and don’t know, Polydrama was the drama group from the days when it was Portsmouth Polytechnic and not a University. Yes, this geek has other leanings too 🙂

So the main purpose of this post is to try and get a decent placing in Google for Polydrama, with a reference to Facebook and see who else can be found from the dim, distant and no doubt embarrassing past! If you don’t want to join Facebook, drop me a line directly to find out what’s happening.

As an aside, it is interesting to see that Facebook has managed something that Friends Reunited failed to do. I assume that there are those keen to track down old friends and willing to invest in doing so, who found Friends Reunited a good vehicle, whereas others find the free nature of Facebook suites the initial idle curiosity that then snowballs… or maybe it’s just a matter of timing 😉

Now what I need to do is dig through the boxes of old photos and get to work with the scanner. I think I’ve got a video somewhere too, so more stuff to try transferring onto DVD!

17 Jan 2008

Windows multi-user multitasking?

I have to be honest and state up front that I haven’t yet given Windows Vista a serious workout, so Microsoft may have actually produced a system that properly manages multiple users and multitasks sensibly. As of Windows XP patched up to date they haven’t managed it though. Let’s look at a few of examples of things that still niggle me on a daily basis when using XP.

  1. First off let’s start with something simple. Whatever a window on the screen is doing you should be able to move it around so you can get it out of the way if necessary. Well sadly Windows XP still cannot manage this properly. You will frequently find that when a Windows pops up another window for a sub task of the parent window will be locked in place, unable to move until the task has finished. Perhaps the most annoying example of locking a window in place is the Winzip self extractor. If you happen to be unzipping a large file using this and click on it to drag it somewhere out of the way it asks you if you want to ‘Abort unzip operation?’.
  2. Next let’s look at drivers, specifically a wireless networking driver from USR. Now unfortunately the driver in question, and other wireless networking drivers I’ve tried on Windows, run under a user account and not as a service. Presumably this is to allow the security information to be secured, but in practice it can cause problems in a multi user system. In this case the problem is if a non-privileged user logs on the networking will not work, so you are forced to give at least some administrative privileges to the user, thereby reducing the security of the system. Either that or you have to log on as an administrator to start the networking each time the system is used
  3. Lastly a quick look at internal messaging. I have a wireless print server from 3Com that has one of my printers attached to it. When it there is a problem with it things can get a bit confusing, and the first few times I had problems it took me a while to work out what was going on. Basically if there is a message to pop up to tell you about an error, usually the fact that the server is not responding for some reason (often I’ve forgotten to switch it on!), you don’t always see it. The reason for this, I’ve found out, is that the pop up message will appear on whichever user desktop logged onto the machine first, and not necessarily the one that sent the print job. I spent a good while trying to debug why a print job wasn’t printing before I stumbled across the reason by switching to the user account that had the message popped up on the desktop!

Now clearly there will be those that consider that these problems are down to the individual applications or drivers and nothing to do with Windows itself. The fact remains, though, that there are many such badly written applications, so at least some of the blame has to lay at the feet of Microsoft. I’ve not covered applications that don’t seem to be able to decide which screen to use
when using multiple monitors, or the nightmare of windows sitting underneath the taskbar if you dare to put it at the top of the screen! There must be something inherent in Windows programming that encourages these errors. Some of it is probably the way it has grown up from DOS and is based on a system that had no concept of networks, users or even a GUI. There is a lot of Windows legacy holding it back. That said, Linux, BSD, Unix, etc. have managed to evolve better, to my mind anyway, all be it they had a much more solid foundation on which to build.

16 Jan 2008

Catch 98

OK, so that should be catch 22, but this is a Windows 98 problem so…

So the starting point is that I have a machine that I am reinstalling Windows 98 onto. That’s a bad start already, even if you ignore the fact that it is Windows 😉 Anyway, the machine is not currently networked, it’s safer that way, so anything I need to get onto the machine in terms of drivers is heading across from my Linux box on a USB key. So far so good. Until we get to the graphics driver that is. The card in question is an old ATI Rage 128, and I tracked down the driver and transferred it onto the machine ready to install. Unfortunately the install required DirectX. I don’t since the machine is only an office machine to do a bit of word processing on and run some old DOS and Windows accounting software on.

(more…)

11 Jan 2008

Here goes nothing

Right, all has been thoroughly tested and bedded in on my test server. All content has been migrated from my old Blosxom installation to my new WordPress one. I’ve even had the chance to take it through an upgrade before going live 🙂

I’ve spent quite a bit of time mapping out the links in the old Blosxom setup to put together a set of Apache mod_rewrite rules to map the content across. Partly this will manage any Google search matches into the correct place following the migration, but since I don’t see this as a high traffic site attracting tons of interest it was mainly an exercise how closely I could match the content across in as few rules as possible. It’s amazing what some people will do for fun!

So far I’ve been very impressed with WordPress, well, so much so that I’ve put a good chunk of work into migrating across and will probably be looking to migrate another site across. The other site is not a blog as such, so this will be another interesting exercise. This time testing the flexibility of WordPress

So now it is time to upload the database and web directory to my main web server, and as the post title says, here goes nothing…

06 Jan 2008

Good old Protext

Protext served me well back in the days when I was using my Amstrad CPC464, CPC6128 or Commodore Amiga 1500, so I have a bit of a soft spot for this old word processor. I’ve also picked up a few copies over the years. I still have the ROM version in my Rombo ROM box for my Amstrad, along with the Promerge Plus and Prospell and my Amiga version, with Prodata (I’m sure I had that on my Amstrad too, but it is a long while ago now!). I’ve added to this the PC version and the Atari ST version, so just the Acorn Archimedes and Amstrad PCW / CP/M versions to go!

Anyway, a while ago I exchanged a couple of emails with Mark Tilley, ex Arnor, and found that the old BT Internet site that is found by Google was replaced quite some time ago. Then today on an Amiga mailing list I’m subscribed to the subject of Protext came up again. On checking Google again I found the BT Internet site still listed, but now the pages that were there have gone, and they never linked the new site anyway. Checking further down the search results I found the fourth entry on the second page (as of that search anyway) was an old blog post on this site!

So the main point of this post is to provide a link to the correct site, and with a little luck people will pop in here and find the right place 🙂 Not that I have, or ever have had, any link with Arnor, I’m just a very satisfied user (or I guess ex-user, since I’ve not used Protext for some years now) of their software. I guess my use of Protext stood me in good stead for editors like Vim 😉

Oh, I’d better actually put the link in… here you go…

http://www.glinton.prodigynet.co.uk/protext/

07 Dec 2007