Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Jabra BT800: just keeps on getting better

Jabra BT800 headsetSo far I'm very pleased with my Jabra BT800... makes life a lot more comfortable with the cellphone.

It's good to see that Jabra continue to support users with the new v0032 firmware update which adds a few improvements;

  • Faster audio transfer for Sony Ericsson phones
  • Faster speech channel handling – the call is transferred to the headset faster
  • Faster reaction on Key-presses during incoming call
  • The missing international prefix "+" is displayed in your caller list thus allowing you to dial out from your Jabra BT800

The upgrade is very simple - I wish other firmware fixes where as easy to apply, and makes use of the charging USB cable (but make sure you don't loose the little stylus or pushing the rest button can be a bit tricky!)

Still no caller-id from my SE T610 ... but then again, that's running firmware that's over 2 years old (but unlike the headset isn't a user upgrade and not worth the pain and cost of a Sony service fee)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Spring Clean the Laptop - Part II

The saga that began with a need to reinstall my laptop has progressed quite nicely, and I'm very happy with the results.

My backups didn't fail me, and my ability to track down old software CDs and serial numbers hasn't been compromised by the house move between getting the current machine and now.

One thing I did forget to backup was a lot of the samed passwords in IE for various websites. Luckily most of the really important ones I manage through eWise so as long as I don't loose the USB key with the important data on I'm okay!

One of the nicer aspects of the rebuild is that the machine is running really well again. No demo versions of anything or partly uninstalled trialware to slow things down. I did celebrate with an upgrade to Macromedia Studio 8 which negated the need for a couple of little utilities I used to have lying around.

On the whole it's gone well. So far I've not come across any problems with lost data or apps, and it has made me think about what I actually need as a bare-bones install and what I like to add for a comfort fit.

Now I've just got to decide if I want to repeat the process on the PowerBook and the Desktop machine....

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Big Brother 2006 - Applications

Once again the Big Brother roadshow is underway. Similar process to 2005... there will be a roadshow and then the process of whittling the applicants down to the housemates we get to know.

The site is back and ticking over nicely. The front end is showing it's initial simple face at the moment, but all the cool applications stuff is sitting there waiting to spring into life.

As usual the core is Classic ASP (with a big shiny SQL database lurking in the background)... but I have sneaked in some beginnings of a migration to ASP.NET. Means there is some duplication of common include files but no great shakes.

Now on to planning the main site....

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Beltane Trinity Craftings

Finally I've got around to fixing up the site for Beltane Trinity Craftings. It's very early stages... a lot of content needs adding and some tweaking of the design (first website this designer has done) and page templates but it was a fun ASP.NET build.

The whole thing took a day from getting the assets to launch (hosted as usual with HostingShop who do a great job).

Behind the scenes is a simple content management system (CMS) which allows the publisher to edit the copy for the pages, upload and tag images and manage classifications. It made good use of the ASP.NET Image Upload and Resizer code that I already had and a great Captcha sample but the rest was pretty much built from scratch - it's theraputic !

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Worried about the SonyBMG rootkit ?

If you're worried about the impact of the SonyBMG rootkit exposing you to trojans on your PC check out AnyDVD from Slysoft - allows you to not install the rootkit and still play the CD ;)

Also check out Rootkit Revealer to see if you're already 'infected'.

OSX users are also affected by SonyBMGs actions

SonyBMG are already under legal attack thanks to their actions. Meantime why don't we just vote with our dollars....

Remember... turn off AutoPlay on your PC unless you trust every disk you're putting into your machine...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Blue(tooth) in the face

I've mentioned in the past how I wish Bluetooth was better supported. Today I went searching for a way to make good use of my Jabra BT800 headset and my SE T610 phone. It was a search in vain.

Specifically my goal was to be able to use my T610 as a webcam (with MSN Messenger) and the headset with Skype, MSN Messenger or any of the other SIP clients.

I'm usually pretty good at finding things on Google (after all, people do pay me to go find stuff for them!) so I was quite surprised to draw a blank after messing around for an afternoon trying to find a solution.

There are some webcam apps for Nokia S60 phones with a bluetooth connection - but even they don't appear to create a windows driver that can shift the camera output to a messenger product, it just lets you record as an AVI.

There are plenty of apps that let you use the mobile phone to view a webcam, but given that camera phones are pretty much standard fare these days and most PCs (with the exception of the now discontinued Viao PictureBooks, the Asus W5 and the new iMac) don't come with a webcam built in it would seem like a smart move.

Which brings me on to the on-going problem of getting the bluetooth headset working with Windows XP sp2 Bluetooth drivers. Most dongles ship with third party drivers (from Widcomm) that allow a wide range of Bluetooth profiles to be established - including the fairly obvious audio (headset) profile. For some reason Microsoft have decided to deny users of the hardware (like my Vaio T27GP) that comes with hardware supported by sp2 the joys of anything other than basic file transfer and serial (modem) connections.

I thought using the 3G LG 8120 was frustrating earlier this year as I even had to lug around a cable to use it as a modem. Having devices with really good Bluetooth support that I can't make use of is even more frustrating.

Oh, and out of the box OSX supports the headset profile so my BT800 works fine with Skype on my Powerbook. At least I can't find a way to use my T610 as a webcam with the Powerbook as well, or I'd end up having to take that on my travels so I can phone home without having to lug around a headset and a webcam along with everything else.

Update 9 Nov: Turns out I'm not the only one who thinks it's sad that there isn't yet an iPod with Bluetooth support

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) - it doesn't have to be expensive

The important thing to remember with website ranking on search engines is that nothing is going to change overnight. It’s a long, slow process of refinement and improvement as the web crawlers re-visit your site and gain a better understanding of it and how it relates to other sites. Unlike a TV or magazine campaign that can have a response within minutes or days a SEO campaign (like a brand awareness campaign) can take weeks or months to become really effective. Anyone who tells you different is just after a nice (usually fat) fee.


These are very important as they allow you to provide a description for the site and a selection of keywords to help the various engines categorise you. Ideally the title, description and keywords would be relevant to the purpose page itself (ie not generic across the site) – so people get what they’re expecting when they click on a link – and match the actual text on the content of the page (if you have keywords that are not in the body text on the page then their value is reduced from a search perspective).

The keywords (and body copy) on pages should match the search terms / criteria that you expect your target audience to come looking on. It doesn’t do any harm to examine competitors tags (and remember, they’ll do the same to you) to see what makes them successful! Asking people in the target market what they’d expect to search on to find the site and make sure that their feedback is integrated into the copy and keyword development process also avoids taking too narrow a view.

(1) Title should not exceed 64 characters (including spaces) and the description and keywords should be less than 250 characters.
(2) Don’t ‘spam’ your own pages with hidden keywords that are visible to a search engine but not a human viewer. It’s a bad (discredited) technique.
(3) the different search engines use different criteria to rank (eg Google and Yahoo!) so make sure you use a balance of techniques.

Descriptive text for images.
If you have an image on the site with a meaningless filename and no alt tag it effectively makes it useless to search engines. Not having an alt tag also means that users viewing the site with images turned off are unable to interact fully (both for navigation for sighted users or screen readers for sight impaired)

Internal linking.
The easier it is for a human to get from one part of the site to another, the easier it is for a search engine (and the more inter-connected the site appears to be).

Any content that is three or more clicks from the homepage (or hard to navigate back out of to the homepage or other content) has a reduced perceived value for the site.

Don’t always link just to the page itself, use anchor tags (on destination pages, and within the current page itself) to make for an apparently more complex site.
External linking.
In conjunction with the in-coming links (described below) where other sites add to your value by directing visitors to you, you can also influence that by linking to popular / valuable sites (much as a textbook cites references).

How interconnected a site is counts as a metric that search engines can employ when ranking. Isolated, insular sites with no external links (in or out-bound) tend to rate lower than sites where the boundaries are less obvious.
Don’t hide your content (why Frames, JavaScript and Flash are not a search engines friend).
While dynamic displays using javascript to load content onto a page if it’s not there and visible (in some form) in the raw page that the engine sees then it can’t index it.

If you use frames make sure there is a <noframes>…</noframes> version containing important content.

If you make use of javascript to load navigation or content, make sure there is a <noscript>…</noscript> version that makes the links and content visible.

Acrobat documents, Flash and copy in graphics are, to a large extent, less visible to a search engine than pure HTML text. Most of the search engines can handle PDF and Word documents but hide vital copy in a SWF or GIF then don’t expect it to get indexed.
Validate the HTML and CSS.
While it’s not going to hurt much, having invalid HTML or CSS on your site may impact the ability of a search engine to extract meaningful content. Test your pages with the W3C Validator to make sure they're good.
This is a file stored on the server which tells search engines where they can, and can’t go. The simplest form provides explicit permission to go everywhere (if no file is present that is the implicit assumption). If there are pages you don’t want appearing in search engine results then they should be explicitly excluded using a robots.txt file.
Note: Secured pages (eg hidden behind a password pop-up or logon screen) won’t be indexed as the search engine has no way of entering a username/password.

There is only so much that you can do on the site itself to get it ready and optimised for search engines. There are also some things you should avoid (multiple entry pages filled with keywords that simply redirect to the homepage, pages that appear differently to search engines than human visitors, ‘welcome’ pages with a flash intro that don’t give engines anything to find etc)

Most of your work takes place ‘off-site’, and these activities will have more of a long term effect than any in-house changes (although unless they are also optimised the off-site work will be, to an extent, wasted):

Register your site with search engines.
This is best done manually. Initially just pick the ‘big’ engines and directories (Google, MSN, Yahoo, A9 etc) to focus your efforts on – while the smaller engines may generate traffic it will be at a much lower return for your effort.

If there are specific engines that serve the target market don’t forget them – if you use a search engine on a daily basis chances are so do your prospects.
Some search engines provide free listing inclusion, and some also offer a premium ‘quick turnaround’ – this may or may not be of value to you and should be viewed as part of a long-tail advertising activity rather than having a tactical quick ROI.
Ensure your site is registered with Alexa.
Alexa.com (part of Amazon and the A9 search engine) ranks sites according to reach and traffic for people with the Alexa/Amazon/A9 toolbars installed. It provides site information and a matrix of where people visit it from and where they go (and related, possibly competitor, sites). You should ensure that the site contact details are up-to-date, and consider getting a customer to write a site reference.
Check your site reputation with anti-phishing tools.
A concern that many web-surfers have today is that sites cannot be trusted. Check your rating with the anti-phishing capabilities in toolbars such as Netcraft (IE and Firefox) and the MSN add-in for their toolbar (IE only).
This is probably the single most important thing you can get. It does not matter how good your site is, how well crafted your keywords and copy are – you live and die by your page rank. A great site with no incoming links is an undiscovered country. While it may make a great holiday destination there are no major airlines serving it so the only visitors will be people who already know about it.

You need to get other sites (ideally high-traffic, popular sites) to include links to you. Getting people to mention the site (with a link) in forum posts, blog entries and travel journal sites also helps add to the credibility.

Adding your site to free-for-all link exchanges and other ballot-box stuffing measures will hurt your site in the long term as most of these schemes rapidly become discredited and sites using them correspondingly ‘marked down’.

Links from a high traffic, highly popular, highly ranked site helps to mark your site up – if they consider your site to have value then part of their reputation ‘rubs off’ onto you by association.
Build a Google Sitemap.
This helps Google to navigate your site and find relevant content.
Buy Adwords or advertising on third party sites.
Some may view it as cheating, and it’s only effective as long as you keep paying money (although it can be a good stop-gap until you reach the tipping point and attain a good, sustained, page rank on the search engines) but purchasing adwords (for Google. Yahoo and MSN have their own equivalents), advertising with specific sites or through a trafficking agency will (hopefully, depending on selection of keywords and choice of creative) drive some traffic to the site.

Even if nothing above makes sense… have a read of Googles SEO advice for webmasters - it helps to dispel a lot of the myths about SEO and the miracles that some people may claim to offer. While some things that are relevant to Google the rules can be different for MSN or Yahoo! Common sense, a long term plan, and a willingness to tweak the text content (including things like Alt tags on images) and actively pursue links from relevant sites to help the search engines find relevant content will pay off.

Remember the different search engines use different criteria to rank (eg Google and Yahoo!) so make sure you use a balance of techniques and keep up-to-date on what they are recommending, a well as reputable third parties.

Good luck, and if you'd like a cost effective personal review of your site feel free to contact us,

If this information has saved you time, effort and making an expensive mistake, maybe you'd like to

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Spring Clean the laptop

You know, I thought they had it tough in the Six Million Dollar Man. They had to take a wreck of a man and make it all high-tech and shiny (and nuclear powered!)

They probably never had to content with rebuilding my laptop! There's a day of my life I'll never get back - but in the long run it's worth it, and I'd suggest everyone should put aside a little time each 6 months or so to go through the pain... it's as good as new again !

There are a few very important things to do before you start....
  • Make sure you know where all your vital files and data is (so you can back it up) - don't forget things like Outlook PSTs or Outlook Express folders
  • Make a list of all the handy utilities and programs you've grabbed off the web
  • Make sure you know where all the install CDs are
  • and don't forget the serial numbers
  • Oh, and did I mention back up all your data!

Then it's off on, what may at times, a big adventure !

Backup for me is fairly simple. I'm quite strict about where files live - My Documents is pretty much the root for anything I need to move. Dragging that across to the Maxtor was an easy (but time consuming) process.

Next step with the Vaio is a fairly simple task - run the system recovery disc and reformat everything (moments of cold sweat - had I backed up the latest draft of my masterpiece?!) and then go through the Windows XP setup. Luckily the machine was a post service pack2 so the Windows build included all of that. Also as it's a supplier provided recovery disk (as opposed to a raw OEM or commercial install) it knows what drivers it needs to get everything working - my contribution to the process was to name the machine, provide some passwords and give it a timezone (and for this I'm a technical wizard!)

Then the fun really begins..... re-installing everything that makes the laptop a tool rather than a paper-weight and making sure my data is still usable....

More on that later.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

First impressions (be careful with those domain names)

Be very careful when you choose a domain name.... what exactly are you saying ?

Some examples of what not to do !there are probably many other examples, but I'm scared to keep looking !

Friday, October 28, 2005

diagnosing WiFi problems over the phone !

I like a challenge. It's a bit of a character flaw but it's just how I'm wired.

Setting up a wireless router when you have a PDF of the manual in front of you but the actual hardware is in another state - and of course at this point not set up so remote admin access is via phone using a human as an interface - is an interesting way to work. Luckily sometimes the remote interface is smart !

Cat very bravely decided she needed to cut the cord and put her iMac the other end of the building to the cable connection. WiFi is an excellent technology... I wonder how many fatal Cat5 related falls have been avoided since adoption became widespread....

At first everything seemed to be going swimmingly. The iMac could connect to the Linksys WRT54G via a wired or unwired connection... however moving it more than a few feet caused a very rapid drop-off in signal strength....

We tried all sorts of things... different placements of the iMac and the router, changing channel for the WiFi link, adjusting WiFi settings to try and improve the connection, turning off microwaves, cordless phones and tearing out hair.... all without any luck. The router even went back to the nice folks at HT for them to test - and all was fine.

Luckily there was a solution to hand. Sometimes thinking inside the box helps more than outside it...

In this case the problem was one of snugness of fit. When installing an Airport card inside an iMac you have to make sure that the card is firmly in place and, even more importantly, the antenna flylead is firmly pushed home.

Alls well that ends well. And if you're planning on rummaging around inside an iMac here are some very handy documents.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Follow the Flock !

Combine an open source Browser, with Web 2.0 and some Venture Capitalists, throw in the Browser Wars, simmer and pull out.... Flock.

Flock takes a slightly-behind-the-bleeding-edge version of Firefox and integrates into it the idea of a socially interconnected web - your Favourites feed straight from you del.icio.us account and it integrates from the browser with your Blogger (or other preferred) blog spoting site and Flickr photo library (helping along the way to add an extra level of integration to these sites).

Flock is, without a doubt, very neat (by which I mean too funky for it's own good and not quite ready for the prime-time !) and the fact that it's available on Windows, OSX and Linux is a real point in it's favour. I think as long as it doesn't loose direction and really does try to push the integration to become more and more seamless (and hey, I'd love it if they could find a way to support IE rendering as well as Mozilla on Windows if they detect a page needs it) I suspect that unlike Opera they have a clear differentiator in the browser feature wars (at least on traditional computer platforms as opposed to PDA and cellphone devices)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Web 2.0 - a whole new meme

Web 2.0 Meme Map
web 2.0 meme map
Originally uploaded by rufan-redi.
Riding in on a tsunami of blog posts, inaccurate wikipedia entries in Klingon and Flickr photosets of the latest del.icio.us meme to make the front pages of the Fourth Estate comes Web 2.0.

A marketeers dream of what venture capitalists want now that they've recovered from the '00 crash where the masses do all the work and then the mailing list gets bought by Google|Yahoo!|Microsoft|Murdock and the perpetual beta (which I can only hope means that old chestnut of continual improvement that old skool developers like me where brought up to believe in) suddenly stops being driven by a caffeine fuelled bright social engineers and falls instead under the remit of the iced-strawberry-mochaccino-latte drinking folks with deck shoes and no socks.

Apparently the use of an immersive Ajax experience driven collaborative interface gives the sensation of deep and meaningful interaction with the underlying paradigm of the communications metaphor. Or something like that.

Sure, it's neat and finally it's about using the technology to actually reach out and communicate, connect and empower people but it's an evolution that's reached a tipping point, and we shouldn't be suckered into thinking it's a revolution.
Don't get me wrong. I think Flickr, del.icio.us, Flock and GMail are all huge steps in the right direction for making the web a much more friendly and user-accesible place but even within the Google properties there's still a lot to be done to bring it even to the level of a Windows or OSX desktop application (with the collaberative aspects of the best groupware apps). Then the bragging rights can really begin.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Jabra BT800: whisper sweet nothings in my ear

I got a new Bluetooth toy today (I love the idea of a world without wires) - a Jabra BT800 headset. It's very shiny !

Even though it looks a little strange it's surprisingly comfortable and easy to use on the ear, and the built-in LCD which can show callerID or be used to configure the earpiece is very cool (in fact goes a long way to answering my critisisms of most BT headsets that you don't actually know what's going on !)

Even though I hate wires I've resisted the whole headset idea, not because I hate the thought of looking like a cyberman (I'm a geek after all !) because most of the previous headsets I've tried have had very avarage quality (the same applied to most of the wired ones as well, leaving aside the fact that I usually managed to snag and break the cable within weeks of getting it )

As well as a mains charger the BT800 comes with a USB connector for charging (as, we still dream of SplashPower). Of course because it's yet another variant on the mini-USB connector it means yet another cable to carry. According to the manual the BT800 is capable of firmware upgrades so hopefully the cable supports that as well (even though Bluetooth would be the logical connection !)... we'll see if a firmware upgrade ever eventuates (mine is currently V0021). The very fact that the firmware is apparently upgradable and the device doesn't require an expensive custom cable does fill me with hope though. Update (Dev 2005): New firmware available - they're as goods as their word

The BT800 pairs just fine with my aging SE T610 although the phone itself needs a firmware upgrade (something SE seem to make hard, but maybe TOTAL MultiServer can resolve for me) - although, like the Nokia bluetooth headset I had before this one the phone tends to drop the connection and isn't always clever about transfering incoming calls to the headset.

The BT800 pairs like a charm to my Powerbook (running OSX 10.4) and I was able to use the headphone both with Skype flawlessly as well as listen to iTunes (admittedly in only one ear) as I wandered about.

Under WinXP on my Vaio it's however a different matter. The WinXP SP2 Bluetooth drivers while nice and stable are not exactly feature rich. They let you connect a to a cellphone to use it as a modem but don't seem to support any audio/headset profiles. I can only hope that will be improved before Vista rolls around.

All in all, first impressions of the BT800 are very positive. Hopefully it's a sign of a new breed of slicker Bluetooth products starting to come to market. Who knows, maybe one day an interoperable wireless world may be a reality.

But I still think implanting the things so you don't look like a Blade Runner renegade is the way of the future !

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Hailstone holes in the veranda roof

I was sitting out in the garden today. Lovely weather. A good WiFi connection. Minding my own business and checking a few emails.

The sky darkened (unusual for the Gold Coast in October) and about 10 minutes later golf ball sized hailstones punched throught the veranda roof landing where I had been sitting.

For some reason the power supply at home was a bit average for a while, and there was not a cellphone connection to be had !

Nature still beats Technology without really trying ;)

Of course, what's so amazing in this modern connected world is that my first thought was to grab some digital shots, upload them to my Flickr library and IM my friends to tell them about it !

Be safe out there

The internet is a scary place (especially for Windows users), and there's lots of folks out there who want to mess with your machine - either because that's how they get their kicks, or because they've worked out a way to make a dollar at someones expense (usually yours).

There are three things you need to worry about when you connect to the internet. It doesn't matter if you're on dial-up, DSL or a corporate network either you, or you systems admin, need to take care of it.

Those things are Anti-Virus, Anti-Spyware and a Firewall.

Anti Virus... If you have an antivirus package installed make sure it's up-to-date. If it's not then you're at risk to all the new good infections. If it's out of date, or you don't have one at all then the first thing to do is run an online check to see what state your machine is in. It's a good first port of call to see if you have a problem. Another really good place to start looking for trouble is DoxDesk Parasite Detector - a very quick test to see if your browser is infected (note: a clean result here means that just a subset of malware has been checked for, you should still visit Housecall for a more in-depth investigation.

If you do have a problem (or even if you don't but you've not installed an up-to-date Anti Virus package yet) then I'd suggest you go and download either a trial of PC-cillin, CAs eTrust Suite or NOD32 (my favourite anti virus programs) they're all very effective and, unlike some others, don't use too much of your system resources while doing a very good job of keeping you safe) and use that to keep your system clean.

These products are not free, and you do have to pay for it after the trial ends but for the peace of mind it's well worth it (if you get a virus infection it can cost you thousands of dollars to recover your machine, and some data may be irretrievably lost). If paying for anti-virus isn't your thing GRIsoft have a free version of their reasonably good AVG package - but it's not quite as "out of sight, out of mind" as either of the others, and simply based on the adage "you get what you pay for" I'm not sure I'd trust critical data to it.

The next problem you need to counter is Spyware also often refered to as Malware. This encompassed programs that spy on what you do, deliver ads or otherwise subvert your machine (for instance using it to deliver spam).

Just as annoying as a virus and can cost you just as much in terms of hijacked resources and unwanted pop-ups. Trend Micros PC-cillin Internet Security Suite or CAs eTrust Suite both include anti-spyware and anti-virus protection in one easy-to-use package.

A second alternative is Spybot - Search and Destroy, apply any available updates and let that scan your machine for nasty programs and remove them. You can also set it to Immunize Internet Explorer against some of the most common mechanisms used to infect your machine.

A third, equally good, anti Spyware solution is Ad-Aware. You can use one, or both of these, to keep your machine free of Spyware.

One word of caution about Spyware. Some 'free' applications you can download from the web or get from PC Magazine cover discs often are supported by the adverts they deliver (or the demographic data they on-sell) - be careful when installing anything that it doesn't slip one of these in without you knowing as using a tool to remove the advertising component may well disable the application.

Keeping it clean
On a shared machine (or a work machine you use at home) you don't always want people to know where you've been on the net or what you've been doing (you wouldn't leave your bank PIN in plain site, so why risk leaving it on your machine). There are a number of 'cleaner' products such as Xblock which encompass spyware protection with tools to erase any records which could be used by Malware/Spyware programs as part of an Identity Theft attack.

Firewalls help to keep your machine safe from prying eyes and invaders who try to take advantage of trojan horses (either installed via a virus infection or a spyware install) or flaws in Windows itself. Current versions of Windows XP come with a built-in, pretty good firewall. It's easy to set up and very easy to use. If you've not got it turned on.... do so now.

There are a number of third party firewalls that can provide additional levels of security for your machine. Again PC-cillin or CAs eTrust Suite include a robust personal firewall (for wired networks and WiFi connections) that complements the built-in WinXP firewall while adding extra levels of protection. A third well respected personal firewall solution is from Zone Labs. With a long history and a very good reputation it is another tool that you can trust to keep your machine safe and secure.

Being wary

Outside these services you should subscribe to anti-phishing alerts, and also add smart, safe search tools to your arsenal of tools.

These things can help keep your machine safe. It's important not to blindly trust everything you see on the web or every email attachment you receive. Agreeing to install something on your machine can have very serious consequences - so be careful what you agree to.

Equally important is to make sure that your machine has the latest patches to help prevent attack. Go to the Microsoft Update site and make sure that both your Windows System and MS Office programs are updated to the latest versions. You should also allow Windows to run it's update on a regular basis to make sure critical fixes get delivered. Thanks to some clever folks you can now connect to Windows Update using browsers other than Internet Explorer.

If you're using an operating system older than Windows XP (with service pack 2) and your computer can run it ... you should consider upgrading as some security updates / fixes are only available for newer machines.

It's important not to trust everything you read on the internet about spyware/malware and virus protection... especially when people try to sell you stuff. I trust all the products I mention above but for a second opinion on ones to avoid check out the Spyware Warror: Rouge Anti-Spyware sites.

For Mac users... OSX is pretty robust and free from most of these issues, although a firewall (again, the internal operating system provided option is a good choice) is essential. Just because it's not been compromised yet as it becomes more popular the incentive for it to become a target grows...

Friday, September 16, 2005

iTunes.... an exercise in frustration

I've got an iPod. So logically I use iTunes to manage my music. And it's mostly pretty fine (apart from sometimes losing the star ratings or going off into its own little world for a few minutes ignoring all keyboard input, and the minimised toolbar interface isn't very good at aligning itself next to the systray) - in fact it's replaced WMP as my default audio player simply because it behaves so well on the whole.

Recently however I've wanted to have some tracks in my Party Shuffle that don't copy to my iPod (or tracks that will copy to my iPod but don't appear in the party shuffle). I'd also love to be able to exclude certain playlists from random play.

It's become especially important using when using something like Pzizz... it can be a little, um, surprising when a generated nap track suddenly appears in the middle of an Elvis medley !

iTunes 5.0 brought a new version number, a slightly different interface but, at the end of the day, nothing really useful. Ah well, maybe 5.1.....

In the meantime, it's possible to use playlists to solve the problem but it's not an intuative or elegant solution.

What I’ve now done is this;

  • in iTunes I have a Pzizz Energizer and Pzizz Sleep playlist where the two types of Naps get moved when I generate them
  • I also have a Smart Playlist called “No Napping” which takes all songs from the library that are *not* in the Pzizz playlists
  • In Party Shuffle in iTunes I have it configured to shuffle from the “No Napping” playlist, not the library
  • On my iPod I’m careful to select the “No Napping” playlist before hitting Shuffle

Windows Update without IE

A common complaint amongst the alternate browser set is that they still need to use IE to keep their computer up to date.

Well, it's not actually true any more.... Simply visit WindizUpdate and all the Windows Update goodness (and for my machine at least a couple of extra device drivers that I'd not been offered via the more usual IE version). It's also open for third party hardware and software vendors to include their updates in this service (something Microsoft seems hesitant to address)

I wonder if this will become part of a standard ReactOS build ?!

I like stats, but I hate having to wade through reports to get them !

 View My Public Stats on MyBlogLog.com
Like everyone I'm curious about how popular my idle thoughts are, where people come from and where they go afterwards....

If I hosted the blog myself on my server using MT or similar I could wade through my own logs to find this out, but let's face it.... it's just too much like hard work !

Luckily for every need, there's usually an answer on the net, and My Blog Log seems to be pretty much it !

With no changes to your site, apart from adding their small JavaScript fragment (incredibly easy for the Blogger template), you can have a detailed day-by-day breakdown of the number of visitors, where they came from and what links they clicked on to leave.

The basic (free) service gives you a weeks worth of stats, or you can upgrade to Pro and get real-time reporting and a longer history.

Although targeted primarily at Bloggers, the service can be used to produce stats on any page where you can edit the source - much nicer than those simple webcounters that grace so many sites for no reason.

You may also notice small tooltips which appear over some of the links on these pages... they're from another service from the folks at My Blog Log that expands on the basic stats to provide some active feedback on how popular links are.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Thanks for the Memory !

One lesson I've learnt over the years is that no matter how much RAM you put in a Windows machine.... a few months later you realise that it's about 50% of what you actually need to have in there.

My old Vaio C1MT got an upgrade when it was 6 months old, my PowerBook has a similar experience (with both of those it turned out that you could put in twice as much memory as the manufacturer said), the clunky old desktop machine just got maxed out (WinXP actually works a bit better now !), and... surprise, surprise my Vaio VGN-T27GP just got an extra 512MB thanks to the nice folks at the very aptly named Cheap Memory Australia.

Despite both of us being fairly careful to make sure we where ordering the right part for the machine, on the first attempt it didn't fit (my fault, I should have taken the laptop with me).... getting the problem rectified was (unlike some other returns I've had in the past) really easy (and I did take the laptop with me so we could test it) !

Great prices, great service, really flexible delivery (or pickup if you're on the Gold Coast) and a good choice of payment methods. Definitely one to bookmark (and they've got some interesting product).

Biggest improvement is just the general smoothness. On a typical day I have iTunes, IE, Outlook, SQL Server, IIS and various editors running away, as well as the various sundry helpful utilities and apps... and I've been noticing moments of thrashing while it sorts out the pagefile and physical RAM to display or refresh a window - since dumping in the extra it's behaved like a charm. Certainly the most cost effective way to turbo charge a machine when you notice it's slowing down a little.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Making a perfect Media Centre....

Aside from the basic hardware that you need to run a Windows Media Centre machine there's a big of a hardware and software learning curve to get the setup working sweetly. For different people the list will differ but I'll share some things I've found....

The biggest thing that I'd change with my initial setup is the fans ! The one on the video card is pretty noisy - and initial attempts to fit a Zalman VGA Cooler to it created a monster about 5mm too tall to close the case ! Knowing what I know now, I'd probably have put in a slightly faster processor (not that this one is a problem, just thinking ahead) and maybe gone for an even larger hard drive....

The biggest area however that you can tweak and personalise the solution is...

Allows you to connect to your machine and schedule recordings from the other side of the world

SlySoft AnyDVD

If, like me, you often get DVDs from friends overseas this allows you to play them without region protecting getting in the way.

DVD Shrink
Sometimes you just want to backup your DVDs to the hard drive. It makes for easy access and stops the kids using them as a coaster. This app lets you make a personal use backup (with and without various levels of compression) of any DVD you own.


The ultimate way to manage DVD and Videos within your MCE. Browse your movie collection by titles, actors, directors or genres - all with covers and images. You can also password restrict certain movies by MPAA rating, build a multizone movie index and much more!
BladeRunner Pro
Here in Australia we don't yet have a working EPG (Boo Hiss to the networks who copyright the data) so there are some work-arounds. BRP is pretty much the easiest and most comprehensive free solution.

If you have a VFD or LCD display on your case, why not make it earn its keep when MCE is running

Sometimes it's nice to get a bit more information than just looking out of the window. This utility grabs data from The Weather Channel to give you up to a weeks forecast


If you have an X10 installation, this allows you to control it from your MCE

Without a doubt a community forum such as XPMediaCentre (AU) is going to be your best source for support, advice and handy applications....

Trusted Computing....

I'd love to trust my computer.
Trust it to be reliable.
Trust it to be virus free.
Trust it to reject malware.
The Trusted Computing Platform Alliance (TCPA) promise us all that....
Or do they ?
Find out what Trusted Computing is really about, and then read some more about it at www.AgainstTCPA.com.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Pzizz - software to send you to sleep ;)

It's not often I discover a bit of software that, quite literally, is a life changer. Pzizz however seems to be just that.

Using a combination of soothing sound-scapes and hypnotic speech (with NLP - Neuro Linguistic Programming - overtones) Pzizz helps lull the user into a sleep state and can be used to either encourage deep restful sleep, or guide them through an energizing powernap.

While not a miracle cure for insomnia (mileage will vary, especially depending on how open the user is to hypnotic techniques) it's a great, non medicating, therapy for poor sleep patterns, or people just wanting a bit of a tonic in the afternoon (finally... I have a reason for falling asleep in meetings !)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I want more Bluetooth !

Actually, what I want is a decent Bluetooth headset (ideally mono but can convert to stereo with a clip on or second 'dumb' earpiece wired the first) that I can use intelligently (and that's the optimal word) with my cellphone (currently SE T610), my iPod (I'll even put up with a small dongle until Apple pull their finger out and build it in) and my PC (for Skype or just listening without wires).

It can't be too much to ask for can it ?

There are already BT iPod dongles with dedicated headsets, BT cellphone headsets with MP3 players and BT Skype headsets for the PC.... it can't be too much of leap for someone to combine these in an intelligent way.

Okay, so there probably isn't a decent remote control standard for MP3 players yet (including the iPod in that as it's just a music player), and all the cellphones have their own quirks, and the WinXP SP2 BT stack isn't that clever yet (heck I can use my very average Nokia HDW-2 headset with my Powerbook just by turning them on !)

Even devices that would make sense to have bluetooth - for wireless headsets or synchronisation - don't always get them. I had great hopes for the new iPod Nano, but I'm out of luck there I fear.

Where is the world without wires ? Somewhere behind the paperless office I fear !

Upload and resize an image with ASP.NET (VB.NET)

A while ago I needed to create a function to allow a user to upload an image and have the system resize it to a thumbnail - preserving the aspect ratio, while at the same time ensuring that neither of the maximum constraints of the thumbnail width or height where breached - and then save it to the server.

The function had to be written for an ASP.NET server and ideally in VBScript to fit in with the rest of the project. To further complicate matters it was a hybrid project... a halfway house in a migration from Classic ASP to dot Net.

I did the usual trawl around Google looking for code fragments to base the function on and to my surprise almost every one of them ended up producing either terrible quality thumbnails (relying on the .net GetThumbnailImage function) or huge filesizes. It was only as a result of a lot more diligent searching that I was able to solve the latter problem and so I thought I'd share it.

You can either click to go to a working sample, with source online and in a zip file or just grab the source from here and play....

If you think this has saved you time, effort and storage space, maybe you'd like to

  1: <%@ Page Trace="False" Language="vb" aspcompat="false" debug="true" validateRequest="false"%>
<%@ Import Namespace=System.Drawing %>
<%@ Import Namespace=System.Drawing.Imaging %>
<%@ Import Namespace=System %>
<%@ Import Namespace=System.Web %>
6: <SCRIPT LANGUAGE="VBScript" runat="server">
7: const Lx = 200 ' max width for thumbnails
8: const Ly = 240 ' max height for thumbnails
9: const upload_dir = "/upload_resize_test/" ' directory to upload file
10: const upload_original = "sample" ' filename to save original as (suffix added by script)
11: const upload_thumb = "thumb" ' filename to save thumbnail as (suffix added by script)
12: const upload_max_size = 25 ' max size of the upload (KB) note: this doesn't override any server upload limits
13: dim fileExt ' used to store the file extension (saves finding it mulitple times)
14: dim newWidth, newHeight as integer ' new width/height for the thumbnail
15: dim l2 ' temp variable used when calculating new size
16: dim fileFld as HTTPPostedFile ' used to grab the file upload from the form
17: Dim originalimg As System.Drawing.Image ' used to hold the original image
18: dim msg ' display results
19: dim upload_ok as boolean ' did the upload work ?
20: </script>
22: randomize() ' used to help the cache-busting on the preview images
upload_ok = false
24: if lcase(Request.ServerVariables("REQUEST_METHOD"))="post" then
25: fileFld = request.files(0) ' get the first file uploaded from the form (note:- you can use this to itterate through more than one image)
if fileFld.ContentLength > upload_max_size * 1024 then
27: msg = "Sorry, the image must be less than " & upload_max_size & "Kb"
28: else
29: try
30: originalImg = System.Drawing.Image.FromStream(fileFld.InputStream)
31: ' work out the width/height for the thumbnail. Preserve aspect ratio and honour max width/height
' Note: if the original is smaller than the thumbnail size it will be scaled up
If (originalImg.Width/Lx) > (originalImg.Width/Ly) Then
34: L2 = originalImg.Width
35: newWidth = Lx
36: newHeight = originalImg.Height * (Lx / L2)
37: if newHeight > Ly then
38: newWidth = newWidth * (Ly / newHeight)
39: newHeight = Ly
40: end if
41: Else
42: L2 = originalImg.Height
43: newHeight = Ly
44: newWidth = originalImg.Width * (Ly / L2)
45: if newWidth > Lx then
46: newHeight = newHeight * (Lx / newWidth)
47: newWidth = Lx
48: end if
49: End If
51: Dim thumb As New Bitmap(newWidth, newHeight)
53: 'Create a graphics object
Dim gr_dest As Graphics = Graphics.FromImage(thumb)
56: ' just in case it's a transparent GIF force the bg to white
dim sb = new SolidBrush(System.Drawing.Color.White)
58: gr_dest.FillRectangle(sb, 0, 0, thumb.Width, thumb.Height)
60: 'Re-draw the image to the specified height and width
gr_dest.DrawImage(originalImg, 0, 0, thumb.Width, thumb.Height)
63: try
64: fileExt = System.IO.Path.GetExtension(fileFld.FileName).ToLower()
65: originalImg.save(Server.MapPath(upload_dir & upload_original & fileExt), originalImg.rawformat)
66: thumb.save(Server.MapPath(upload_dir & upload_thumb & fileExt), originalImg.rawformat)
67: msg = "Uploaded " & fileFld.FileName & " to " & Server.MapPath(upload_dir & upload_original & fileExt)
68: upload_ok = true
69: catch
70: msg = "Sorry, there was a problem saving the image."
71: end try
72: ' Housekeeping for the generated thumbnail
if not thumb is nothing then
74: thumb.Dispose()
75: thumb = nothing
76: end if
77: catch
78: msg = "Sorry, that was not an image we could process."
79: end try
80: end if
82: ' House Keeping !
if not originalImg is nothing then
84: originalImg.Dispose()
85: originalImg = nothing
86: end if
88: end if
89: %>
90: <html>
91: <head>
92: <title>ASP.NET File Upload and Resize Sample</title>
93: <META NAME="Description" CONTENT="ASP.NET File Upload and Resize Sample (Hybrid VB.NET)">
94: <META NAME="Keywords" CONTENT="ASP.NET, ASP, NET, VB, VBScript, Image, Upload, Resize, Thumbnail, Constrain, Filesize, File, Size, Free">
95: <META NAME="Copyright" CONTENT="Rufan-Redi Pty Ltd 2005">
96: <META NAME="Author" CONTENT="System developed by Jeremy at http://www.Rufan-Redi.com">
97: </head>
98: <body>
100: <p><b>Hybrid ASP.NET File Upload and Resize Sample (VB.NET)</b>
101: <br>Upload and resize a GIP/JPG/PNG images, ensuring filesizes are optimum.</p>
103: <form enctype="multipart/form-data" method="post" runat="server">
104: <table>
105: <tr><td>Select the file to upload:</td><td><input type="file" name="upload_file"></td></tr>
106: <tr><td colspan=2>Max upload size
<%=upload_max_size%>Kb, gif/jpg/png only</td></tr>
107: <tr><td colspan=2><input type="submit" value="Upload"></td></tr>
108: </table>
109: </form>
112: if upload_ok then
113: %>
114: <table>
115: <tr>
116: <td valign=top><img src="
<%=upload_dir & upload_original & fileExt & "?" & rnd()%>"></td>
117: <td valign=top><img src="
<%=upload_dir & upload_thumb & fileExt & "?" & rnd()%>"></td>
118: </tr>
119: </table>
121: else
122: response.write(msg)
123: end if
124: %>
125: </body>
126: </html>

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Someone at Google needs to look at consistent implementations....

There are some great features in the Blogger posting interface. And there are some great features in the GMail interface (especially they way it handles spelling checks !). While it's great to see them rushing to roll out new and innovative technologies (GMail has really shaken up the webmail market, and some clients as well !) and Gtalk has the potential for a shake-up in the IM world... but rushing ahead has the potential to let existing products lag behind.

Oh, and while I'm griping about Blogger why has it not got categories / tags or whatever you want to call them yet, or the ability to (easily) post colour coded code fragments or other BB style text ?!

Cat and I have recently added Moveable Type to a couple of sites and she suggested I add it to Rufan-Redi and it's tempting... apart from the rekeying ;)

After a year here with Blogger who knows.....

I guess what I'm looking at is one combined service.. including Blog functionality, Flickr, Del.icio.us and IM and VoIP (and maybe even spam free email) all that I can use (in sync) from my PC, cellphone, PDA and internet cafe... and know it will support new services as they appear in an open way..... Of all the providers I think that while Microsoft have the resources and infrastrucutre Google are possibly the best placed (and certainly keen) to provide that (apart from the fact that MSN will be very reluctant to open MSN up to Google tools)

Update (12 Oct 2005) - looks like it might not be that far-fetched.... MSN and Yahoo! are apparently planning to open up their IM tools to talk to each other... is this the beginning of the opening... or just a short term attempt to create critical mass on non-Google platforms....

My MCE Remote died today....

.... but luckily there was a solution....

it's been a little erratic over the last couple of days... sometimes not lighting up on the first press of a button and so I suspected the batteries, but a quick checked showed they where still at 80%+ (I love these batteries with the new-fangled touch meter on the side... it's a little thing but a great example or technology actually being helpful !)

but today when I went to watch a DVD nothing.... no lights, no activity, nada :(

luckily you can reset the remote by taking out the batteries and leaving it a while. These guys recommend 30 mins, but about a minute pressing all the buttons did the trick for me.

Who'd have thunk it... even the Microsoft remotes need rebooting every now and then :)

How long since Windows last fell over ?

Thanks to the folks at Uptime Project it's a question I'll never wonder about the answer to again.....

UPTIME: offbeatmammal - http://www.uptime-project.net
My Vaio
UPTIME: offbeatmammal-MCE - http://www.uptime-project.net
My MCE machine

it's only a shame that you can't create multiple machines under once account (would make it easier to manage a profile) but I guess if I wanted to track the laptop, the MediaCentre and the office machine together I could set up three accounts and put them together in their own league.
Shame they don't have an OSX client yet (they only have Windows and Linux options) - would help answer the question of which platform is most stable ;)

Of course, the real shame is that WinXP and OSX even after all these years of tweaking and architecting still require reboots after patching/upgrading and (even worse) installing/uninstalling programs. I can't remember the last time I rebooted for the fun of it, but a couple of times in a day because of an installation and a WindowsUpdate session is just frustrating.