Monday, December 20, 2004

What more can I squeeze into my PowerBook

Well, it must be Christmas - for my PowerBook at least !

Thanks to the nice folks at the best Aussie Apple supplier - Streetwise - I got some new toys today... an extra 1GB of RAM to stick into the PowerBook.. so after prising the old 512MB stick out I've now got 1.12GB or usable RAM. Which was very handy because in the same packages I got a copy of Office:mac 2004 Professional (apart from the neat black case it comes in, it includes VirtualPC 7 with WinXP Pro)

The good news is that with over 1GB or RAM even an old 867MHz Rev.A 12" Powerbook is pretty nippy. For OSX apps it flies along, and a combination of the RAM and performance improvements in VirtualPC make even that quite usable.

I also got a licence for skEdit - a really excellent editor for OSX, optimised to HTML, CSS, ASP, PHP and JavaScript ... but copes with just about any text editing I've needed to throw at it. Check out the site for a full list of features and the latest updates.

And of course, to help pay for this I need to actually do some work... so I'd better get back to it ;)

Friday, October 15, 2004

I think I might be switching !

After having my trusty PowerBook for 18 months, and using it mainly to test web pages in Safari I decided to set myself a little challenge.... As an ASP/SQL developer could I actually make a Mac my primary machine.

well.... it was kinda painful, but... the struggle seems to have paid off.

First of all, obviously, you need a way to run IIS and SQL... that has to be VirtualPC. Currently running on my machine is Windows 2000 Professional as a Guest OS within VPC6.1 (planning an update to VPC7 in a few days - more on that later)

Once you've got that set up you need to do some tweaking....

For performance reasons in the Windows OS turn off everything that you don't need. Remember, every CPU cycle is being emulated so every one you can free up is a bonus. No themes, no fax service, no remote registry updates... you know the drill.

Then get IIS and SQL running ... if you've done it on a Wintel set up.... it's easy. I found it was easier if I plugged in a proper two-button mouse (but I'm getting used to only having one button !) or make sure you set up the VPC key mappings to suit your needs.

Now comes the tricky bit... are you using Ethernet or Airport (Extreme) to connect to the world? If you answered Ethernet... you're fine. If you don't have a network setup or are wireless you have a small problem... because WiFi adapters are not promiscuous OSX won't be able to 'see' into the VPC network unless you get into some clever tricker... and that involves an ethernet loopback adapter slotted into the right hole. It's only a 5 minute job to make one (assuming you have a connector, some wire and a crimping tool... oh, and a wiring diagram... if you don't, most friendly PC stores can make you one for next to nothing). Set VPC to use Ethernet for networking and fire everything up....

Use Safari to connect to the IP address that DHCP has allocated to your guest OS (in Windows 2000 in a command prompt type "ipconfig" and see what it gives you... it'll be something like 169.???.???.??? if you've got a loopback in, or a more useful address if you're on ethernet.

Are you editing your source in OSX or Windows ? If Windows... you're ready to go. If in OSX (I want to use skEdit to replace my Windows favourite Notetab Pro) there are a couple more things to do.... First turn on Windows sharing (in Preferences, under Sharing) so the guest OS can see the OSX drive(s). One thing I found here was that if your OSX and Windows users match (name and password) then the connection works a whole lot better. Back in Windows you should now be able to see the host Mac in the 'computers near me' in Network Neighbourhood... so in IIS go and set the home directory to that network path (note: Do not use the VPC 'shared folders' for this... although I was able to see .htm pages, I had no luck getting .asp pages to work.). Oh, and if you find that IIS is showing old versions of ASP pages make sure you turn off ISAPI Caching and restart IIS to always get the latest version

So, the next challenge is to order a 1GB Ram upgrade for my PowerBook (as VPC is a memory monster... after all, you are running an entire Windows OS in there as well as the host OS) - sadly this means I'll have to find a good home for the 512Mb that's currently in there as (for some reason known to Apple) the base 128Mb isn't upgradable :(

Then, when the machine is all Ram'd-up it'll be time for VPC7 (as part of a migration of Office 2004 Professional) ... it's rumoured to be 10-15% quicker which will be good, and I like the idea of migrating to WinXP Pro sp2 (although I'm not sure if that will negate the speed improvements of version 7)... stay tuned !

Monday, September 27, 2004

Vaio - state of the art, or brain dead

Looking around for a new laptop to replace the aging Vaio C1MT (mainly because although VirtualPC works okay on the PowerBook it's just too s-l-o-w to use as a primary development machine (and there's no 30 day trial on VPC7 unlike the rest of Mac Office 2004, so we'll never know).

Anyway, back to the wonderful world of Vaio and the strange mindset that is Sony (at least in Australia)

First up... they make some of the best built and designed laptops. No argument. However... they're also priced at a premium so you'd expect that, and I don't mind paying a little extra for quality (that said, the Powerbook was very good value).

What I don't get is the lack of Bluetooth support in any of the current model line up (or for that matter any historical models sold here in Aus). I find this a little strange seeing as it's standard in the UK or US and, of course, Japan.

So does this mean Bluetooth is dead, Australia is not ready for personal area networks or just Sony doesn't get it ? Sadly I suspect it may be the latter.

Bluetooth is now a mature standard (heck, with WinXP SP2 Microsoft have even included a native stack)

Almost every other PC company selling equipment in Australia includes Bluetooth - either as an option, or antenna included and mini-PCI option or as standard. Add that to the number of PDAs and cellphones (even those from Sony Ericsson) so it's not like it's a new cutting edge technology.

Which leaves us the third option. Hmmm, shame really as it's got me looking at alternatives such as Toshiba M200 tablet (impossible to find one to demo though), or a BenQ Joybook (shame it's only 802.11b) rather than just popping into my friends at AVCentral and picking up a shiny new Vaio !

Whatever happens, I just know I'm going to end up with yet another redundant power-brick (and have to get another powertip for my Targus adaptor).

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Gmail - how much spam to fill 1GB !

Got an invite to join GMail today. Looks a bit slicker than Hotmail and Yahoo mail.... and I like the extent to which it makes use of DHTML and JavaScript to make the interface almost PC like.
It's not exactly Safari optimised but they've done a darn good job.
Only negative I can see.... you can't use a hyphen in email addresses, the only punctuation allowed is a full stop (period).
I've not got any invites available yet (they hand them out randomly to accounts apparently) so don't ask (sorry !)

Thursday, September 23, 2004


What is it about hibernation in computers that seems to cause so much grief ?
For years each release of Windows has offered a promise of instant-on, suspend-and-resume, safe hibernation... but while its improved with time I've still got machines here which for no apparent reason just hang when you ask them to suspend or hibernate - and no-one seems to have an answer :( I guess I'll have to keep trying different things until I find an answer.
I've also got a PowerBook (yup, I'm an Apple fan) which has a great sleep mode, but.... sadly no true hibernation, so the pretty light continues to pulse, the USB ports retain power and slowly but surely the battery goes flat.... maybe OSX 10.4 will have the answer to that.....

[edit 28 Jan 2005: looks like I'm not alone in this wish list... there's quite a few posts turning up on the Apple discussions forums - both 'official' and also MacNN etc. Sadly no confirmation or mention of it in the Tiger updates, so I guess it will remain a pipe-dream !]

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Do tuning utilities really help ?

Had a PC that was getting very ordinary recently. Was slow to start up, slow to shut down and tended to wander off and think about stuff when I didn't want it to.

Did the usual... Defrags and deleting old stuff, but... Didn't really help.

So... Decided to try one of the various tuning utilities and see how well they actually worked... But just to make sure I Ghosted the machine first (so I could restore it if it went horribly wrong) and then tried a couple of utilities to see how they behaved.

First couple where disappointing... Made a couple of recommendations, or where very focused on what they targeted, or didn't like the machine setup, but one made enough of a difference without requiring too much manual intervention to be worth a mention.... Tune-Up managed a very comprehensive set of recommendations and tuning, and more importantly didn't break anything. Not too fussed with all the options to customise the interface... I turn themes off most of the time and stick with the old-school Win2K look (gives me more screen real estate on the C1MT). Oh, and it works on VirtualPC 6 on the Mac as well (but that still crawls).

One disappointing thing with all the tuning tools I found was the lack of active monitoring / tuning. AutoPilot claims to provide that, but I've not seen it produce any demonstrable or consistent results on a machine (and I can't even make it work on my Vaio at the moment).

On with the search ;)

Clients are so varied

I was thinking about updating the website today, and trying to say what it is we actually do. It's surprisingly hard to come up with a simple answer.

Clients include a couple of TV production companies (we build and manage websites for them), a very large advertising agency (where we do technical reviews and optimise code and databases), a PR firm (where we help them with physical marketing and displays) and a number of smaller consulting gigs (security, network design, supplier vetting) or development projects (small websites, static or CMS driven)

Sadly there's never enough work to not need to look any more, hence the need to re-visit the site which (embarrasingly) hasn't been updated in almost two years and actually make it look like we're active and vibrant (instead of us actually being active and vibrant but our own shingle appearing tired and worn out !).

As some of the good designers I work with (for instance over at Zzarg and dragtotrash) often point out - design is something that I'm best steered away from, so we'll have to see what (if anything) eventuates....

Green Light for Big Brother 2005

After much speculation Endemol Southern Star and Network TEN have announced there will be another season of Big Brother.
And so it begins again... first the application process, then we scope the changes to the website and start building. Wonder what the plans for the house at Dreamworld will be this year...
There are a whole bunches of little changes I'd like to make behind the scenes on the website this year... ASP.NET and RSS/Atom news feeds for a couple, as well as making the content management system a bit slicker....

blogging from the garden

A wireless network, a laptop and a lovely day on the Gold Coast (I know it's spring and the latent English me can't still get used to the weather here)... it's funny sitting here writing this entry thinking just how we start to take all this for granted.

We moved recently and I had to go a whole couple of weeks without DSL... I was distraught. If it hadn't been for the Three phone I had on loan from my day job at the time I would have been out of touch... and I realised what an addiction email is !

And now here I am sitting in the garden, checking mail and writing this.

Of course, all is not rosy in the garden... the dog keeps trying to help me type and, more importantly, I am still tethered via a power lead because the battery on my Vaio, which has done sterling service for 3 years, is now useless... and I can't quite justify the price for a new Sony one (I could get a desktop PC for what they want for an official battery) so I think it's off to BatteryMall later to see what they have....

To celebrate the virtual freedom, today I'm trying a new way of posting.... from an Outlook plug-in (the NewsGator plug in running via intraVnews) and it seems to work well, apart from the fact I can't set the target on hyperlinks via the Outlook interface (it's not really an HTML editing tool after all !) ... still, you
can't have everything (and if you had it where would the incentive be to improve for the software developers)

Small Update: A combination of Outlook, the Plugin and everything else conspired to mangle this post... think I'll go back to the web interface for a while

Monday, September 20, 2004

Enforced security

It's Monday, so it must be time for another round of spyware, spam and virus attacks in my inbox.
Ah, but what's this.... up-to-date anti-virus, a firewall, intrusion protection and even WinXP Service Pack 2.... curses, no luck here malware, just move along now....

I take as much personal responsibility for the integrity of my computers as I can. A defence in depth strategy means I probably waste CPU cycles warding off an evil eye that will never get as far as that level of protection, but it sure makes me feel better.

So, what do I consider adequate;

  • All incoming mail is pre-screened for Spam and viruses via (and yup, I report spammers to their ISP as part of my daily routine) ... cuts out a lot of the chaff, and acts as a first-line against virus infection
  • My PC runs a firewall. For choice, Kerio Personal Firewall, or Outpost (although ZoneAlarm is pretty good as well and very approachable). Having the Internet Firewall on by default in WinXP sp2 is a good step in the right direction, but as it has no outbound management it's a false sense of security if you are compromised.
  • Spyware, Trojans, Diallers, Adware, Hijackers... all these are risks you take when you venture onto the electric internet... The most well known defences against these are Adaware and Spybot Search & Destroy... both of which are good, but I'm very impressed with a new utility by the name of PrevX Home which is much more reactive because unlike the others (and most anti-virus software) it does not rely on pre-defined pattern or signature files, but more by observing behaviour.
  • Virus infection can be fatal for a machine. Too many people install the anti-virus that comes with their PC and when the free period expire never update it.... so each day they become less use, until the day a newer infection that their latest signature file was installed. Even a day out of date can be a day too long. Personally I swear by NOD32. Mcafee have had some recent issues (both PC and Mac) but both they and Symantec have good, reliable protection - provided users make sure they keep it up to date.
  • DSL connection is via a hardware router which includes basic firewall and address translation to make sure no machine is directly visible unless it initiates the outbound connection.

so, why does this all matter.... I have to take these measures, and wade through pages of spam every day because the vast majority of users out there don't know how to take these precautions, and / or despite reading about it every few days in the paper they still assume it's nothing to do with them... well, they need a wake up call... running an unpatched, unprotected Win98 is like trying to travel a freeway on a high power motorcycle with no protective gear.... it's going to go horribly wrong one day.

so, a radical suggestion.... WinXP service pack 2 adds a neat(ish) new feature that allows the OS to monitor firewall and antivirus status... what if that info was available to an ISP and they had the ability to block you from going anywhere by Windows Update, anti virus sites and firewall sites..... at least that way users are forced to consider what they're doing, or not doing, to help keep the internet safe

A9 - redefining search, or invasion of privacy

I'm just waiting for the hordes of privacy nerds to go up in arms about A9 - the latest attempt by Amazon/Alexa to be taken seriously in the search market.
It actually seems to be a darn good engine, quick and relevant search results and some quite neat twists on the usual Google (still my staple) or Yahoo! results listing.
The nervous minority might get twitchy about the extension to 'the web you built' feature that it's borrowed from Alexa .... it tracks what searches you make, and what sites you visit from it and uses that (along with information from your Amazon account if you sign in, and presumably Alexa as well) to make appropriate recommendations.
Now, call me reactionary but.... I don't care what they make of my searching habits.... if it provides a quicker way to navigate through the morass of information that the web contains then I, for one, am happy. Heck, I'd like to see it go a little farther and integrate the Alexa and A9 toolbars and let me rate how appropriate the site was in terms of the search so if can learn what works (and what didn't)
Will it be enough to replace Google (or get me hunting for a patch for Safari) ? Only time will tell, but... I'll probably pay it a visit the next few times I need to find something and see how it performs....