Posts filed under 'Technical'

Silverlight – Microsoft smacks me with the happy stick

I’ve been following what was WPF/E for a while now, and I have been expecting some kind of CLR implementation to be added to it. But holy shit, Microsoft didn’t just put in some half-hearted brains-kicked-out CLR for basic programmability, they put in the entire bloody thing – and threw in most of the .net framework API with it – and have called it Silverlight.

A lot of people are creaming their jeans over this, out there in blog land (I refuse to use the word ‘blogosphere’, because, frankly, it makes me want to hurt people in interesting ways), and I can understand why – Microsoft have got it right on the money.

Of course, Adobe (nee Macromedia) got there first with Flash, and by more than a few months. Flash has been synonymous with web-based interactivity for years now, and it does it very well, is ubiquitous and has a large developer network behind it – and yet, even though I’m currently writing a heavily interactive web application, I don’t want to learn it.

Call me a lazy programmer (and I am) but I just don’t want to leave the happy confines of Visual Studio when I’m coding, and I don’t want to learn yet another language. In the brief forays into playing with Flash to fix something, I was dropped into an unfamiliar world of timelines and Actionscript that I really didn’t want to be in.

But with Silverlight, Microsoft will let me write everything within Visual Studio (with journeys into Blend to work on the UI side of things, but that is what designers are for), code everything in good ol’ C# and do all the debugging in VS too.

Don’t underestimate the power of being able to work in Visual Studio, it is by far the most productive coding environment I have ever used, the framework helps rather than hinders (they learned from the mish-mash that is the Java library, and the OO abortion that is MFC), and in the ‘Orcas’ release they’re adding language features like Linq that aren’t just syntactic sugar, but real productivity boosts (I’m lazy, remember, I don’t want to spend my time writing crufty code to do all the boring things).

So, is Silverlight a flash killer, and have Microsoft ‘rebooted the web‘? Well, no and no. Flash is pretty much entrenched and I’m sure Adobe will have something up its sleeve, plus all those Mac-heads in designerland won’t be moving to Windows-only developer tools any time soon.

But I’ll soon be able to write lovely interactive websites, that I don’t have to sell my soul to the JavaScript devil to do, in a language and with tools I’m already familiar with – and that, in itself, makes it worth the price of admission.


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May 5th, 2007

Yet another ip to put into the firewall has been hammering the blog posting comments, all caught by Akismet, naturally.

So now they're a new addition to the firewall.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Will post something new soon, I'm just up to my proverbial eyeballs in it at the moment.

[Edit 30th April 2007]

Added to the ever-growing list. I'll probably update this post with the most obnoxious and persistent spam-sewers. 

Technorati tags: comment spam, akismet

March 1st, 2007

A pox on Netcathost!

I blogged earlier about blocking some ip ranges to prevent comment spam, but the Russian-owned, Italian-spam-spewing range expanded to get past the two ranges I had originally blocked.

So, Netcathost,  your whole range is now a welcome and permanent fixture to my firewall deny table, all packets from are forever banished into the ether.

Up yours spammer.


Technorati tags: ,

October 31st, 2006

nVidia drivers can bite hard

I’m a big fan of nVidia graphics cards, unlike my past experience of ATI, nVidia cards have never given me problems.

Recently, my PC would have issues with processes consuming 100% CPU and making Windows grind to a halt. I have a dual CPU machine so the process would only get 100% of one of them, but the process that would suffer the most was explorer. Now when explorer being over-demanding the rest of Windows tends to go with it – programs continue to run but actually interacting with them is a bit of a hit and miss affair. Manually killing explorer would move the problem to another process, and eventually a slow spiral of death from a thousand cuts occurred, in most cases hitting the big red switch was the only solution as shutting down turned into an avalanche of hitting ‘this process has stopped responding’ dialogues.

I was quite prepared to believe that it was just XP suffering from a bad case of bit rot and is in dire need of a re-install, however I don’t like to let things be when they’re bothering me on my own PC so I broke out the heavy tools and started debugging.

The heavy tool of choice in this case was the terrific Process Explorer from SysInternals, it allowed me to dump the stack of the locked up explorer process and at the bottom, sucking all the CPU was the nVidia nView dll, which is part of the nVidia drivers.

I had enabled nView months ago for something and completely forgotten about it, until my debugging session.

One quick trip to control panel and nView was disabled, and I’ve not experienced any process lockups since. If I was a betting man I’d think it was a race condition exacerbated by having dual processors, but in these days of dual-core CPU’s this problem could become more prevalent.


October 23rd, 2006

Blog comment spam – the firewall is your friend

My blog was getting hammered by comment spammers, none of them were getting through thanks to Akismet, but still I found it annoying to say the least.

Fortunately, the spamming morons were always coming from two address ranges, so I just dropped their /24 blocks into iptables and now they don't even know that this blog exists any more, as their packets simply disappear into the ether.

So, for peace of mind, drop these two ranges into your server firewall and live a slightly happier, less spamful life.

If you don't know how to do this, ask a responsible adult and / or your server admin.

Naturally, the really scummy comment spammers will use trojaned pcs so this won't help for those purveyors of junk.

[Edited: Blocked comment posting, because, amazingly enough, this entry is the one the spammers like the most]

Technorati tags: comment spam, akismet, iptables

2 comments October 20th, 2006

Orwell would enjoy this Vista

I do so enjoy PR-speak, in a recent release about the anti-piracy features of Windows Vista Cori Hartje came out with this corker:

Reduced functionality mode has been a part of the initial Windows XP product activation process for retail and OEM (original equipment manufacturer) installations since its launch, and, similarly, Windows Vista will have a reduced functionality mode but one that is enhanced.

(emphasis mine)

Enhanced reduced functionality? Double plus ungood!

It wouldn’t really be an issue if WGA in XP had been a rousing success, but I’ve seen at least three machines that were perfectly legit fail the WGA check, including my own, and one of those wouldn’t even get past the login screen and had to be re-installed (ironically using the same ‘invalid’ key). In the case of Vista, reduced functionality includes logging the user off after an hour, no matter what they’re doing at the time.

Naturally, this wouldn’t be a problem if Microsoft had a history of not utterly screwing up their anti-piracy schemes, alas this is not so. If Vista thinks that you’ve been tinkering with the anti-piracy measures, it’ll immediately have a hissy fit and demand reinstallation.

I’m probably not going to be first in line to install Vista in any case – my experience of the betas has been less than stellar – but I feel that MS have gone just a little too far in this case, because, naturally, the pirates will crack SPP within hours and it’ll be the legitimate customers, once again, being inconvenienced by this.

I, for one, don’t like being presumed guilty and constantly being forced to prove my innocence.


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October 5th, 2006

Why I won’t be buying Blue Ray or HD-DVD

I was an early adopter of DVD, I’ve had a DVD player for over eight years, many hundreds of DVDs from several different regions, and enjoy the format immensely.

I won’t be getting either a Blue Ray or HD-DVD player for the foreseeable future.

Why? I don’t want to be buying into another Betamax, and at the moment there isn’t a clear winner in the format war and I’m not going to be on the losing side. Plus there are some fairly onerous DRM restrictions built into both platforms that, frankly, give me the willies. Case in point, I recently blogged that I love my Media Centre pc, well one of the things I occasionally do is copy a DVD onto the hard drive so I can have it available more conveniently. This, naturally, won’t be possible with the next-gen disk formats as they’re all about control, and the control is given to the content producers, not the consumers. This is also why I don’t use services like iTunes or Napster, if I can’t do what I like wit the media I purchase, then I’m not interested.

Case in point, I’m a huge Mike Oldfield fan, and a few years ago he released a re-recording of Tubular Bells, and the cd was copy-protected (or as we say in these here parts, broken). I couldn’t play it on my PC and copying it to play in my in-car cd changer was similarly difficult (I never use original cds in the car). So, facing this dilemma I decided to do what all true geeks would, I googled and I found out how to break through these silly copy protection systems and rip a copy of the cd. It took some time and effort, with some tracks requiring multiple passes to get a decent copy, but I eventually managed it.

The net result –  I had a copy of the cd for my car, an mp3 for my pc, and a slew of new knowledge on how to bypass copy protection schemes.

I’ve had similar problems with copy protection schemes with games, when I couldn’t play No-one Lives Forever because the brain-damaged DRM system wouldn’t work with my DVD drive, I had to resort to finding a no-cd crack to actually play the game I had purchased. None of the pirates had this problem, naturally; I was being penalised for being a paying customer.

DRM should be renamed to Consumer Rights Limitation, because that is exactly what they aim to do, prevent us, as the consumers, from using our purchased products as we wish. Imagine a washing machine that only allowed certain type of detergent, not because it couldn’t use more types, but because the manufacturers wouldn’t allow it. Or as in the case of iTunes / Napster et al, once you had washed your clothes in it they were not able to be washed in any other washing machine, even if you had to change it because it had broken!

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October 3rd, 2006

Windows Media Centre – How I love thee

I’ve been using Windows XP Media Centre (sorry, center) edition for a month now, and I have to say it’s the single most impressive bit of software I’ve used from Microsoft in a long time.

Instead of buying a pre-configured media PC I saved a bunch of money by building it myself, allowing me to get some decent kit on a budget.

The hardware consists of:

  • Shuttle XPC
  • NVidia 7600 passively cooled, linked to Panasonic LCD tv via a DVI – HDMI cable
  • Liteon DVD burner
  • MCE remote and keyboard
  • 250Gb SATA hard drive
  • SPDIF connected to my home cinema amp

I chose not to buy a capture card, as I really don’t need to record TV as I already have that facility, however I do like to download episodes of shows like House and Family Guy (I know, I’m a very bad man) as they’re shown in the US way before they’re available in the UK, and the media PC is ideal for viewing those.

Unfortunately, the DVD drive and MCE are both configured to be Region 2 out of the box, which is useless for me as I’m a DVD early adopter, and have lots (and I do mean lots) of region 1 dvds so this had to be solved.

I didn’t select the liteon drive just because they’re cheap, I also chose it because there are a plethora of de-regioning options available for it. A quick download of LtnRPC and the drive was ready. Windows was even easier to re-region, I just installed DVD Region Killer and away I went.

As this wasn’t a pre-built system, there was no built-in DVD display software, so I bought NVidia Purevideo Decoder Bronze edition, I don’t need the higher versions of the software as I’m passing the audio to my AV Amp, which can handle Dolby and DTS streams, so the base version suffices. I do have to say this, with the 7600 upscaling the dvd output to the native resolution of my LCD TV (720p) the images it produces are nothing short of stunning. It’s far better than my ‘normal’ dvd player, a mid-range Panasonic RA61 (not a cheap £30 player by any stretch of the imagination), fed with a high-quality disk like The Incredibles I’d swear it was an HD source, not a normal DVD.

Additional software I’ve added are the G-Force audio visualisation software, the MCE Power Toys, and Album Art Fixer.

All in all, I heartily recommend MCE, there are a few issues with it, like it’s lack of support for satellite and cable systems (it only officially supports DVB-T in the UK) but those, from my perspective, are minor niggles.

October 2nd, 2006

The solution to malware isn’t getting a Mac

Sophos are advising people to switch to Macs to avoid getting malware on their pcs. Their logic being that since the top ten bits of malware of last year were for Windows, switching to the Mac platform will save you.

I have no major problems with the Mac, it’s quite pretty, beloved by many in the media and photographic realms (mainly for historic reasons, Macs don’t do anything that PCs don’t any more, in fact quite the opposite in most instances) and ‘cool’.

But saying that ‘Macs will save you from Malware because they’re not PCs’ is correct only because malware authors don’t give a crap about the Mac, it simply isn’t on their radar. Why? Because Macs make up at most 3% of the desktop PC marketplace. As a software author myself, unless I had a very specific reason to do so, I wouldn’t bother writing something that the remaining 97% of the market couldn’t use. Now, if I could release simultaneous versions for both Mac and Windows, then it’s another issue, and Adobe, for instance, do this mainly because of the aforementioned media and photographic demographic.

If, for example, Macs had 50% market share, I can guarantee that OSX would be crawling with malware just as much as Windows, the phishers, porn, pills and pandemonium brotherhood of morons wouldn’t ignore that amount of wetware.

Which comes to the crux of the problem – it’s not the platform, it’s the people. Since Microsoft woke up and smelled the firefox coffee, they have made great strides to make IE less of an insecure mess designed to maximally propagate crapware just because the user was looking for free screensavers. But, even with the enhanced security feedback, making it hard to install ActiveX controls without positive confirmation, people will still do it. Why? Because people want their free screensavers, dancing kittens and what not, and no attempt to dissuade them is going to work.

Mac users are no more or less stupid than PC users, they’re just using a minority platform that the scumware people don’t care about, if (and in my opinion, not when) Macs become ubiquitous then they, too, can enjoy flying penis popups and having their bank details sent to Romania for ‘processing’. Until then, just practising some common sense will prevent the overwhelming majority of infections:

  • Don’t use IE, get Firefox and enjoy using a safer, better browser.
  • Have anti-virus software, and keep it up to date. In my experience, using the big boys like Norton or McAfee leave you open to new junkware for longer than the smaller players, like BitDefender (which I currently use), Kaspersky, Panda, NOD32 et al.
  • Think! If some website is saying ‘you need to say yes at the following prompt to view this site’ then ask yourself why. The warnings are there for a reason.

I’ve never had a spyware, virus or trojan infestation even though I don’t exactly match the profile of a safe web-surfer, I often to go less savoury sites out there, and it’s not because I use a Mac, it’s because I don’t use IE, keep the defences up to date and use common sense.

July 5th, 2006

WinFS has ceased to be

Looks like Microsoft have finally admitted defeat and killed WinFS. Paint me unsurprised, I'm old enough to remember Cairo, and watched as the object file system has moved over time to be put into the Next Big Release of the operating system. In the meantime, however, things like Google Desktop and MS's own MSN Desktop Search have utterly eroded the space in which WinFS was going to reign. I'm sure that MS wanted WinFS to be much more than the current crop of desktop searches, but as far as users are concerned, desktop search is just good enough for them.

I used to use Google Desktop Search, but I found it to be annoying in enough ways to remove it, and I've not moved over to any other system to replace it. I guess I just know how to find things in other ways, the built-in XP file search is slow but effective enough for me and my email client (TheBat) has another built-in search facility that hasn't let me down yet, so I don't miss unified desktop search.

One more feature of Vista down, my experience with it so far is that it's a prettier, more annoying (UAC anyone?) version of XP that won't install on my main system. There are few compelling reasons to upgrade for me so far, since all the interesting features (WinFX for example) are being back ported to XP. I won't be queuing up to buy my copy at midnight, that's for sure.

[update: looks like WordPress had a special moment and deleted most of the text, I've added as much back as I could from memory. Note to self, back up entries]

June 25th, 2006

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