Thursday, November 16, 2006

More anti-corporation ranting. Bring down the machine!

I've just spent the last few hours on and off the phone to Telstra Bigpond, another company I'd recommend never doing business with if it's at all possible.

Bigpond usually supplies its customers with Alcatel "SpeedTouch" ADSL modems. I've no idea why they do this, as the SpeedTouch series are anything but speedy; they're crappy even for ADSL modems (ie. not ADSL2 or 2+). Alcatel also managed to write their web management system software (where you log into the modem over Ethernet via or similar) so inefficient that you frequently have to wait more than a few seconds for it to load over a 100 Mbps connection.

However, recently, a SpeedTouch modem died inexplicably; no matter what was done, we couldn't get the red light to go green (which meant it wouldn't even allocate addresses via DHCP, let alone connect to the Internet). Bigpond's advice was to re-sign with them on another 6-month contract. However, after I left (this occurred at a place of work), they called back saying they offer no such contract, and instead advised us to "just go out and buy a new ADSL modem".

Which we did. However, the modem recommended to us was an ADSL2/2+ modem. It wasn't able to connect to Bigpond despite the fact that the hardware's meant to be backwards-compatible. Bigpond is the only ISP in Australia, to my knowledge, using PPPoA instead of PPPoE. I have no idea what the advantages of PPPoA are, but it sure is a hassle when configuring modems.

Anyway, so we returned the Belkin one, and went out and got a new modem supporting PPPoE. Unfortunately, connection failed yet again, despite the fact that we had all the settings correctly set. The reason? The password given to us earlier that day was incorrect. (We had to get the password reset, as we weren't sure that we had the correct one.) This, of course, was discovered after I suggested it multiple times. The 'technician' on the phone at Bigpond seemed convinced that we needed to get a wireless router so that we could plug the modem in right at the wall socket. Apparently, ADSL has "no chance of working if the telephone cable is longer than 3 metres". I appreciate that this is a potential problem, but the service was working fine for over 2 years before the SpeedTouch modem died.

I won't even mention the other peculiarities of the Bigpond system, like the fact that you need to be an "authorized representative" on the account in order to do anything with their tech support team. I've been listed down as an authorized representative on this particular account probably five or six times, but each time, they say they have no record of me and require to speak to the account holder. I suppose that's fine. But the real pain is that they won't even check the password for me unless I'm the account holder. ("Hi, I suspect that I have an incorrect password and I have no internet access, could you please check to see whether this is the correct password for me?") The only possible reason I can imagine for doing this is that they want to prevent someone from "brute-forcing" a password by repeatedly asking the technician to check it. Surely if you wanted to do so, you'd check it by using your own internet account (since you're trying to steal someone's details), and logging into the "toolbox"?

Also, usernames have random suffices depending on the type of account you have. Dial-up accounts are (I think). "Broadband" accounts are, or sometimes, But.. "Broadband BYO modem" accounts are username@bigpond. (But when you sign into their online toolbox, you have to use Can't they just stick with 'username', like every other ISP? This also presents a problem: "So, if this originally was a Broadband package, but now I'm using my own non-Telstra modem, do I use @bigpond or" "I don't know." (Turns out I have to use @bigpond, even though we didn't change our account details after the SpeedTouch broke.)

Argh. If you need an ISP in Australia (particularly in Western Australia), my recommendation is that you go with iiNet. My experience with them has been great, and they have the widest ADSL2+ coverage available. I've also heard even better things about Internode, although they don't have nearly as much ADSL2+ coverage, so I'm stuck with iiNet until Internode expands their coverage.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Ubuntu Linux v6.10: Edgy Eft - first impressions

I've been using Ubuntu Linux for a little over a week now, and here are my first impressions.

First of all, although I haven't had a chance to use KDE yet (it comes with a separate version of Ubuntu called Kubuntu), I'm really liking GNOME. It's similar enough to Windows to make it easy to use, but it has heaps of features that are the sort of thing that you always wanted in Windows but never had. Things like being able to drag and drop icons anywhere instead of just in the "Quick Launch" section.

I've also come to enjoy having access to a decent text-based shell. apt-get and the Synaptic Package Manager are an interesting way of dealing with software; it seems to work well with the software that is available for Ubuntu but I can't imagine it'd work that well on a system like Windows with so much software available for it. It's also nice to have a shell that's so much more versatile than what Microsoft offers (which doesn't even really have a name). Pretty much any task that you would want to automate can be automated in Linux via bash scripting.

However, I think it's somewhat short-sighted of the developers to cripple access to "non-free" software, or software that isn't correctly licensed to be distributed in the Ubuntu package. You have to go out of your way to enable access to the repositories that store any non-GPL code (at least I think that's what you have to do, you definitely have to specifically enable a repository to access proprietary code like nVidia's drivers, or Opera). There is a lot of software that should be included with the OS but can't for legal reasons (or maybe philosophical ones); my opinion is that a program like Automatix should come pre-installed, inform the user of the difference between the different repositories and get them to pick the ones they want, then offer to install some important software that isn't pre-installed. For example, graphics drivers for nVidia/ATI cards, VLC (the "Totem Movie Player" that comes pre-installed is useless, as it relies on the GStreamer framework to play media, and out-of-the-box can pretty much only play Ogg-based formats), and maybe even Opera.

One thing that does suck a bit about X-based Linuxes is the amount of time you spend editing xorg.conf. To be honest, I shouldn't even have to touch this file. In order to change to 1440x900 screen resolution (for a commonly-available 19" widescreen monitor), I had to edit xorg.conf. This required me using the terminal (as superuser!) to backup the configuration file and then edit it manually, which I think is too much to ask of your average user considering that screwing up this configuration file drops you back to a terminal. If you don't know bash and you don't have an alternate PC to troubleshoot from, you're SOL and need to reformat.

I'm also struggling to edit xorg.conf at the moment in order to fully set up my Logitech G7 (I'm following this tutorial on the Ubuntu forums). It's a great mouse, by the way.. the only wireless mouse I'd ever consider, since you don't have to continually replace batteries, nor do you have to leave it to charge overnight (leaving you without a mouse until it recharges if you ever do run out of batteries). It comes with two 'hot-swappable' Li-ion batteries that can be swapped within a matter of seconds when you do run out of power. Unfortunately, this happens pretty frequently - the battery life is only 5 hours or so - but I suppose that's what you get considering the size of the battery and the fact that it's a high-res laser mouse. There's a battery indicator on the side of the mouse, but it would be nice to set up some sort of battery monitor within Linux. The crappy Windows software has such a feature, but it's a bit of a RAM hog considering the tiny amount of work it has to do. The Windows software is also required to use the side-scroll, which is what I'm trying to set up at the moment. I've run into a dead end though, with X claiming it can't find the "evdev" protocol or something. The mouse did work just fine as a regular three-button mouse with scroll straight out of the box, though.

Opera (my preferred browser) just isn't the same on Linux. Things like middle-click act differently, and to be honest, I like using it better in Windows. It looks a lot better, too. Opera doesn't integrate so well with GNOME.

I haven't yet attempted to share or print over the network. We'll see how it goes. Something that did disappoint me was how difficult it is to print to PDF. I would have thought Ubuntu would have a menu option integrated into the default print dialog.

One strong advantage of Ubuntu is that you can just put in the LiveCD and boot off it (not unusual for a Linux distro). However, you can actually install the full OS onto your hard disk using the LiveCD. It even includes a great GUI partition editor, so that you can dual-boot Windows, and preinstalls GRUB for you. The only complaint I had with the install was that it installed GRUB onto my IDE hard disk, which I don't boot from. This was because the default option was to "Install GRUB onto (hd0)". I could have changed the option, but at the time I didn't know what hd0 even was, let alone know enough to manually type in sda instead (this is my SATA boot disk, but there was no drop-down menu).

I'm also considering removing AdSense from this blog. Really, it's not like it brings in any sort of significant income (I'm yet to receive my first cheque; I think you need to make $100 first) and I'm not sure whether the potential of maybe some day getting a $100 cheque from Google is worth the ugly ads. This blog is more-or-less a place for me to rant, anyway.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

New Blogger themes, DreamHost

So for some reason I was inspired to get back into this whole 'blogging' thing. I don't think it will last long though.

In any case, Blogger seems to have added some new themes. This one's quite nice. They also added support for AdSense since I last checked, as well as allowing you to change the colours in your theme more easily.

The best thing about this theme is that it takes up more than half the screen at a widescreen resolution!

Anyway, since I haven't got anything else to write about at the moment.. I thought I'd just put out yet another recommendation for DreamHost. They're definitely one of the best shared hosting providers out there, IMO. I've been with them for my personal site (, which doesn't really have anything on it - it's more of a file storage thing) for just under a year now - I signed up when they had the Crazy Domain Insane package going for $10 for one year with a special coupon. That's a ridiculously good deal but even without their coupons their hosting packages are still good value for money.

I'd renew for a year, but I managed to get a Code Monster account through work that I don't have to pay for. (I signed us up with DreamHost to transfer out of NetRegistry - an Australian ISP that I'd advise against doing business with after the trouble we've had with them.) DH allow you to host unlimited domains on their system (obviously you still have to pay domain registration) but because Code Monster gives you some ridiculous amount of bandwidth and disk - 4TB/400GB IIRC (details here), I'm just paying the $10 per year for registration and pointing it onto my work account for hosting.

DreamHost are also cool with reselling, so I'm considering reselling the work account to some other businesses for a reasonable fee (since the services provided by DH are way better than what's expected from an Australian ISP, and cheaper too). Of course, I'll be splitting the money with my boss, who actually pays for the DH account ;-)

The only problem with DH is that phone support is a pain in the ass for someone outside the US. However, their email support is excellent (they usually get back to you within hours) so that makes up for it IMO (since that way you get everything on record).

edit: Still having some problems with Blogger's 'compose' (ie. rich text editor) in Firefox under Ubuntu Linux. It didn't put in any <p>s for me, so I had to add them manually..

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Another hilarious tale of Indian tech support

Just had (yet another experience) with an Indian tech support house.

I decided to get the AppleCare Protection Plan for my iPod nano, since I've had to return my old iPod mini once (disk died), return my nano once (screen died), and return my in-ear headphones twice (just died). Also I was getting a little paranoid, since my screen seemed to have a funny tinge to it the other day. I really don't want to risk losing my nano it was a real pain last time I got it replaced, but at least I didn't have to pay for it.

So yeah, despite their nice design, Apple products really are quite fragile in my opinion. Either way, I paid up $100 for what essentially amounts to an extended warranty, which is probably a bit of a ripoff, but hey. I like my iPod.

So today I get one of those 'you missed a delivery' courier cards saying that I missed a delivery from "Apple Computors". I'm kinda used to this procedure, since my parents are both nearly always out of the home, and my sister and I are at school, from 9 - 5 most days. Usually, whenever I order something online, I have to call the courier to reschedule delivery for the next day (leaving a card with my signature on it to 'authorize them to leave the package'). A bit of a pain but I can deal with it.

However, I don't remember ordering anything that comes in "1 carton" from Apple recently. Anyway, in the hopes that I'd accidentally received a MacBook or something, I called up the courier to reschedule delivery.

"Yes, we can redeliver tomorrow between 9am and 5pm, but there will need to be someone there to accept the package." They don't do the 'authorized-to-leave' thing. Okay.. that kinda sucks, but my mum says I can have it delivered to her workplace. No can do. "You'll have to call Apple."

So I do, and after waiting ten minutes or so (there's actually no appropriate option on the menu for 'Delivery Fuck-ups', so I chose the 'AppleCare' one), I get through to a friendly Indian woman. Well, not so friendly. She basically asks me what I ordered ("I don't know, I just ordered the extended warranty, why are you sending me a carton of shit?") and I discover that apparently (this was not explained to me when I ordered), Apple's sent me an 'enrolment form' for AppleCare. You see, you can't just order the 'protection plan' and be done with it; Apple needs to send you an enrolment form, which you then fill out or something (not exactly sure), and then send back to them so that they can enroll you in AppleCare. Hurray! Surely this could come through the mail though? Not to mention the fact that it took 10 minutes to get the information out of the woman because I had to quote a "web-order number", which was in one of the PDFs Apple sent me to confirm my 'order'. Just one of them though. They sent me about five. Good thing I keep my mail on Gmail I suppose.

Anyway, I explain that I need to reschedule the delivery, since the courier company sucks. "Sorry, delivery department's closed, please call back between 9 and 5pm tomorrow." "It is 5pm. You mean Sydney time?" "Yes." "Well I can't do that, I will be busy during the day. Why can't you reschedule it?"

After about 5 minutes of complaining (you know, "ARE YOU EVEN IN AUSTRALIA?", that sort of thing that makes you feel good about yourself) she finally agreed to send it to another address. WELL THANKS, WHY COULDN'T YOU HAVE DONE THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE? I then proceeded to tell the woman the address (again, another 5 minute process).. apparently, she wasn't familiar with the use of a person's name as the name of a company.. ie. "John Brown Real Estate" "OK so you want me to send it to John Brown, on Real Estate Street".. what the fuck.

So hopefully I'll be getting my enrolment form tomorrow. Fuck yeah!

I never had these problems when receiving other deliveries from Apple (new iPod, fixed iPod). Why is it that it's so hard to send me an 'enrolment form'? And why do you have to send it to me in a carton?

If only there were other mp3 players that didn't suck - or better yet, another company made the iPod. Or maybe I just shouldn't deal with the 'AppleCare division'. Sort your shit out, and get a courier company that doesn't suck balls (ie. pretty much every other courier company I've ever dealt with).

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Blogger Beta, SLI setup, PSP

Just opened up the new version of Blogger Beta, and I'm having a muck around with it now. The login interface wasn't very counterintuitive - it took me a while to work out how to convert my old blog to the new format. :-/ Also, I still don't know how to get AdSense to come up on the new layout. Guess I'll have to edit the template manually or something. :-( The WYSIWYG editor seems to have improved (although maybe that's just me). I think I'll stick with it for the time being, editing raw HTML gets annoying after a while (and I think the markup produced by this editor is relatively clean). I don't have time to muck around with the code to the template and stuff like that anymore, anyway - so I'll just stick with the automatic configuration options. I recently bought 2 XFX 7600GTs, with 256MB of RAM, via Nindeals. Basically, they're a subsidiary of Nintek - which, by the way is an excellent computer parts distributor if you're living in Perth (I've ordered heaps from them lately). Nindeals is basically a forum where Nintek buyers group together and agree to buy things in bulk (to put it simply). I ended up getting the cards for A$200 each which was quite a good deal at the time. :D (By the way, this new photo upload tool is pretty nice.) The cards run surprisingly cool (around 50°C) considering that there's two of them right next to each other. Since I got the cards I've been running some benchmarks and stuff to increase my e-peen (and Ben has been trying to sell shit so that he can get an X1800XT or something, possibly spiralling into even more debt with his mum over e-penis enlargement). I think I got around 5800 in 3dMark06, 8500 in 3dMark05, and 20000 in 3dMark03. Didn't save the reports or anything though. Here are some sexy pics. I think I need to clean my case. Hurrah. I also got a PSP recently. It's the white version. Nice toy and all - here's my initial impression. Good things
  • The firmware updating and all that is really slick. Overall the OS is really nice (as I'm sure millions of people have already expressed). The photo viewing, music-listening and video-watching controls and features are great.. once you actually get the media on to the PSP.
  • Built-in WiFi and a web-browser is a great idea. Though I'll have more to say about this.
  • Support for RSS is also really cool.
  • The screen is dead sexy. It's almost the perfect thing to watch movies on, much better than any other dedicated portable movie player IMO (and definitely a cut above the video iPod).
  • The 'analog nub' is a great way of dealing with the problem of analog control on a portable device. It's not anywhere near as difficult to use as you'd expect.
Bad things
  • Why the fuck is Sony so insistent on keeping this machine locked down? There are so many features that are available through homebrew software that I'd really like to use - for example, the IR remote. That's just a fun gimmick, why can't I use it? :-(
  • On that point, I think that 'support' for emulation software could only improve the popularity of the PSP. If it were easier to install an emulator (ie. not impossible once you've upgraded past 2.0 firmware, or whatever it was), then Sony could just turn a blind eye to the fact that heaps of people are buying their console to play illegal Nintendo 64 ROMs and such.
  • ..But the reason they're doing this is probably to protect their 'interests'.. ie. UMD. I have no idea why they decided to go for a disc format. It's slow(ish) and so everything takes ages to load. Apparently it's what kills the battery life on the console. UMD movies are frankly, a stupid idea. If I wanted to buy movies and watch them, I'd buy a (cheaper) portable DVD player and buy (far more ubiquitous) DVDs to watch on it. Video on PSP is better suited to things like video podcasts and TV shows, in my opinion.
  • For some reason, the WiFi is incredibly slow (much slower than you'd expect from "11 Mbps". It took around 2 hours to download a 50MB podcast. I think that's on par with dialup speed internet. Not to mention the fact that browsing the internet seems significantly slower than doing so on dialup. My PC is browsing fine all through this.
  • Uploading movies, music and photos is still not very reliable. Apparently, you initially couldn't load movies on unless you put them in a certain directory with a certain naming scheme. Now you can just dump any old thing in the VIDEO folder in the PSP's root - but for some reason, photos have to go in \PSP\PHOTO, while music can go in \MUSIC..
  • Is AVI support that difficult? Re-encoding everything is something of a pain in the ass.
  • The "LocationFree Player" could be developed into an awesome feature. Imagine if you could just have some sort of HTTP streaming on your computer (provided by VLC, or a tool provided by Sony or something), which the PSP could then tune into via LocationFree - or the ability to act as a remote control for the PC via WiFi. Unfortunately it just seems to be an interface to some device that Sony sells in some parts of the world. And you can't even remove the option, which is useless until you buy a "LocationFree Player", from the menu.
That's about it. I'm hoping that something will come of the current 2.0 - 2.8 firmware exploit which is currently just a "Hello World" proof-of-concept; it does run on my PSP, but unfortunately, I think you'll lose the photo-viewing feature of the PSP if you install it once it's able to do.. useful stuff. I'll probably post another update later, trying to get back into it now that I don't have to bother with the whole "redesigning the CSS" thing.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ugly blog theme

Yes, I am aware that right now, my blog looks like a piece of shit. I started rewriting the CSS, and stopped half-way through. I'll finish it off some time. :/

edit: gave up and replaced the theme with "k2-black" from this blogger templates site. It's a nice theme, I modified it a bit (I'm not a fan of sidebars). Now I've just gotta fix that bugginess down at the bottom of the page..

MSN Messenger personal messages reverting

Several people I know have complained about the fact that MSN Messenger personal messages seem to "revert" back to what they used to be after a while.

From what I've observed, the personal messages are saved on the computer, NOT on the MSN content servers (like your MSN name and contact list are). I occasionally sign on to MSN using other computers and whenever I do so, I sign on with the MSN personal message I had last time I used them.

Furthermore, the personal message is only actually "saved" when you exit MSN manually. (Again, this is just from what I've observed.) If you shut down the computer, leaving MSN open, MSN usually does not save the PM. Try right-clicking the taskbar icon, then hitting Exit - it should save then. This has worked for me every time I've tried.

Not that I care all that much about MSN PMs, or anything.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 tracks people with accounts as they die, usually through the news (so a lot of people have died of violent causes).

It's really quite disturbing: you get a picture of the person, a copy of the news article describing their death, and a link to their MySpace profile. The profiles are littered with comments lamenting their death but I don't think they'll ever be deleted.

Certainly a disturbing concept - what happens to all the records of you after you're gone? What about those people who have lots of 'friends' (whether or not you consider this a legitimate friendship is up for debate) who you never meet in real life - will they miss you when you're gone?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Video game piracy

I'm going to act like I'm a shitload more insightful than everyone else in the video games industry, and tell you why I think it is completely screwed up. You would think that the people who make the decisions would be better informed than me, and be able to work things out themselves, but apparently this is not the case.

First of all, the average video game player is between 14 and 25 years old, at least in my experience (though it's always the fucking annoying, whiny 12 year olds with alternate caps names that piss you off the most). A significant portion of that group is below 18, and an even more significant portion of that group is comprised of lazy fucks.
Basically, what this means is that people (a) can't buy stuff using a credit card (under 18) and (b) cannot be fucked going out to a shop to buy stuff. (Let's leave aside the issue that many of these people are also stingy fucks.)

So overall, this puts us in a fairly difficult situation if we want to sell people video games. What makes it worse is that these people also tend to be very computer savvy, and know just where to get a pirated copy of that video game from.

The current situation is (or so I've heard ;p) such that if you have a relatively fast internet connection, you can find pretty much any reasonably popular game you want within 10 minutes, and download it for free over the next 24 hours (of course, breaking the law in the process, but the internet grants anonymity and we all know how that makes people less likely to consider something as morally wrong, not to mention the fact that it's unlikely that you'll get caught). Typically, once you've downloaded the game, you can burn an exact copy of the original game disc, mount it as a virtual CD, or use a no-CD crack - basically, this means you can play the game the way you want. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the legal course of action involves you going to a store, paying AU$60 or more, going back home, spending half an hour installing the game (from a relatively slow DVD drive), and when the game has copied all the necessary files to your HDD, you still need to insert the disc to get it to run. If you lose the disc, you can't play.

Having to swap discs in and out of the drive all the time is a total pain in the ass. However, there's one situation where the pirated alternative pales in comparison to the legal avenue: you are usually not able to play the game online, since game servers feature some sort of check to ensure that you're using a legitimate copy of the game or legitimate CD-key, et cetera. However, you end up being able to play the entire single-player campaign, if there is one, for free, and you can still play LAN games. (Go to a LAN and tell me how many people you see swapping CDs in and out of their computer so that they can get past all the CD checks.)

The best way to go about things currently (of course, ignoring all legal/moral matters) is to pirate the game, and then if you enjoyed the single-player campaign and LAN gaming (try Hamachi if you want to play "LAN" games over the internet), buy a CD-key off eBay or similar for ~$15 (which was probably obtained by a disgruntled store clerk who looked inside the game boxes after closing time, and fucks up someone else's multiplayer experience when they get kicked for shared CD-key after buying a legal copy of the game). That way, you don't waste any money on a shitty game (*cough* EA's James Bond games) and in the end, you spend a lot less anyway.

And the only legal option that comes close? Anything that runs on Valve's Steam platform. As much as I fucking despise Steam, what Valve has done is really forward-thinking, in my opinion. You download the Steam client (free) and register an account, then "activate" games on it with your credit card (a flaw in the system that still needs to be addressed, there should be another way to pay). Once you've done that, you can download them from Valve's own servers at decent speeds. No bullshitting around with stores and installing crap off CDs, and you have the added "advantage" of Steam keeping all the games it manages up-to-date.

Unfortunately, this model doesn't work for anything other than multiplayer games. The problem (or to some, best part) with Steam is that if one of your friends owns a copy of, say, Half-Life 2 (single-player only) you can simply log onto their account, download it from Valve's own servers (a really convenient way to pirate games) and play it. In fact, your friend won't even notice the difference unless you try to play the same game as them online at the same time (eg. Counter-Strike: Source). However, the single-player game still works fine. Or if you're such a cheap bastard that you can't even afford to split the cost of the game across however many people will share the Steam account, there are a multitude of cracks that (to varying degrees of success) allow you to do the same thing.

Basically, if you want to sell a single-player game, you're pretty fucked. I'll post back here when I magically solve the problem. Unfortunately, single-player games can't rely on external servers most of the time, so in the end, anti-piracy measures can just be hacked out. The only solution seems to be something in the realm of loading a small amount of data externally - without which the game is almost unplayable - for example, in a GTA-style game, an external server could randomly tell you which cars will spawn (eg. 55 means "spawn a Banshee"). The amount of data used should be minimal - such that the company can afford to run the game without regular fees - but you wouldn't be able to patch out the "phoning home" part of the game (during which your CD-key would be checked). Unfortunately, there is no way to do this without alienating the offline community, and I suppose it would just drive people to play console games instead. (Console games! Nintendo's disc format for the GameCube seemed to have worked really well in preventing piracy. I wonder if there's a way to transfer this to the PC - probably not, since you have so much more control over a PC than a console..)

Where am I going with this? Well, I forgot. The point is that at the moment, downloading shit is just way more convenient than going out to the store, buying it, and then having to contend with all the stupid anti-piracy bullshit. (Now that I think of it, it is interesting to note that the only way to get rid of said anti-piracy bullshit is to use a pirated version.)

Friday, April 07, 2006

New version of Google Talk: avatars, themes

The new version of Google Talk has support for avatars and themes, and perhaps more interestingly, support for BlackBerry devices.

Unfortunately, we don't have BlackBerries here in Australia, so that really doesn't interest me all that much. However, it does seem like an interesting idea - particularly if it's free or very cheap to use.

The avatars are fairly basic. A small 32x32 preview shows up in the contact list, and if you mouseover the person's name a small popup appears, similar to the contact cards in MSN Messenger, which contains a larger version of the avatar.

Screenshot of the 'contact cards'

A whole bunch of (mostly crappy) avatars are available for use by default, but you can specify your own from most image types. Fairly standard.

I like the new theming feature - something that I haven't seen in any other IM client. I think it's a good way to make the interface a little more pretty while keeping it simple and utalitarian - and this is exactly why I prefer Google Talk to MSN (though it doesn't have anywhere near the userbase). You can pick from 9 default themes, some incorporating the avatar into the chat screen, and there's a preview image for each one. My favourite is the ping-pong theme:

Picture of the ping-pong theme.

I think they're done using some type of CSS. I'll see if I can work out how the themes work and report back here.

This news article has been submitted to digg.
Digg it now!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Finally: got the new Gmail improvements to show up

For those of you that don't know, recently Google introduced a whole bunch of improvements to its Gmail service, including "chat" integration (providing part of the functionality of Google Talk) and searchable chat logs right inside your Gmail window, with all sorts of AJAXy crap in there.

However, all of my contacts seemed to have got these upgrades, while I've been stuck with the older version of Gmail. I could select to have my chats saved in Gmail from Google Talk, but I couldn't actually access them!

I finally found out what the problem is. For some reason, the Chat functionality (and Web Clips, and Quick Contacts) are only activated if you have the language set to US English. So, if you had similar problems, I strongly suggest setting the language back to US (I had mine set to UK).

I'll be leaving mine on US to make sure I get any future upgrades straight away!

Update: It is now possible to use Gmail with Chat in Opera - simply mask as Mozilla using one of the latest betas under site-specific preferences, and all should work fine.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Aur-Phala forums

Someone pointed me in the direction of the Aur-Phala forums earlier on today, and what I saw there has shocked and appalled me.

image from aur-phala forums
image from aur-phala forums

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Seems like a curious teenager, right? Wrong. image from aur-phala forums
A 41-year-old guy. Great. image from aur-phala forums
image from aur-phala forums
image from aur-phala forums
image from aur-phala forums
image from aur-phala forums
image from aur-phala forums
image from aur-phala forums
image from aur-phala forums
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Google's CL2: calendar app, with screenshots

James Duncan has a mirror of the leaked screenshots of Google's CL2. (They were originally leaked by TechCrunch.)

Looks really nice, and I can't wait to get an invite - but apparently, at the moment there are only 200 users with no invite system whatsoever. :-( Two of the nicer looking screenshots:

First screenshot of Google's CL2

Second screenshot of Google's CL2

I'm really looking forward to trying out this automatic parsing of sentences in the above screenshot - if that is what it does. From what I can tell, you would type in " Dinner with Michael at 7pm tomorrow" and Google would give you an appointment titled "Dinner with Michael" at 7pm on the next day. (Just thought that needed some explanation :P) This would be a really great feature to see implemented into any other calendar app, but I still like the idea of having calendar integrated into Gmail. Synchronization with PDAs and smartphones would be cool too (or even iPods?). At the moment, I'm using Mozilla Sunbird.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Blog spammers

Bastards. I keep getting people adding spam comments to sites like the following:
(no link provided to avoid increasing their PageRank)
Unfortunately, I guess a lot of people don't check out the comments on their blogs. They seem to be in the same general format - "Hey blogger, your site is really informative! I'll check back later. Regards, make money online." The bolded text is always a link to their site with some sort of keyword that they presumably want to come up high in the search engine rankings.

The other sad thing is that apparently it works, or else these guys wouldn't be able to afford hosting fees. People actually search for "make money fast" and such and end up getting redirected to these sites, and apparently pay for whatever the hell they are selling. It's sad to think that people really believe this kind of crap:

Image taken from

Oh well. Looks like I'll have to keep deleting the comments, since I'm not turning on comment moderation. I don't even know why people keep doing this since rel=nofollow has been implemented on Blogger. :/

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Preview of the Canon EOS-30D

(via Engadget) A preview of the new Canon SLR, the EOS-30D, has been released by Engadget.

It's pretty much just a "refined 20D", as they put it - not like the 5D, which offers almost all the features of a 20D at a lower price point, but is still a separate line. The 30D will probably replace the 20D.

The most welcome feature - which really should be on all Canon's cameras - is that you can now see the ISO speed in the viewfinder. All I have to say on that is finally! This is the most friggin' annoying interface bug with Canon SLRs, and would be enough for me to run out and buy one of these if I had the cash. :P

And of course, the obligatory pic (it looks exactly like the 20D). This was stolen from Engadget:

I'm still looking forward to something that competes with the MP offerings of the 1D and its revisions, at a lower price. (The 20D current retails for around $3000 in Australia, from memory - or around $2000 in the US.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 misinformation

Recently I've seen referenced a few times, mostly on forum threads about "which browser is better".

When I first saw it, I was interested, since I had thought that someone had finally catalogued all the bullshit about Firefox going around the internet. However, this reads more like an advertisement for Avant Browser.

disclaimer: I can't stand Firefox fanboys crapping on about what they don't understand, as you might have noticed by my earlier post on some of Firefox's "innovations". Personally, I use Opera. However, this page is so horribly wrong on most counts that I'm forced to defend Firefox here. So, here follows a debunking of the debunking on that site...

Requirement Myths
The author appears to misunderstand the difference between "browser" and "operating system", and manages to contradict himself, all in the one "point". First off, he claims that IE has "much" lower system requirements than Firefox, while ignoring the fact that the CPU clock speed required for IE is roughly double that of Firefox. Secondly, he doesn't take into account that IE is part of the operating system, so its requirements appear to be much less than those of Firefox, particularly the "disk space" ones.
Update: I was wrong here, the requirement for IE is actually a "486 66 Mhz CPU", not a "486.66 Mhz CPU" as I had read it. I can't find a Microsoft source for my claims as to IE's integration into the OS, but they are somewhat substantiated by this quote:

Internet Explorer 6 SP1 setup installs the majority of its files on the drive where the Windows operating system is installed, regardless of the installation location you choose.
..from the source provided at I also forgot to admit that Firefox has some pretty bad issues with memory consumption under the default configuration, though this issue is not reproducible under all Firefox installations.

Performance Myths
Most of the information listed here is correct, simply because it's sourced from a much more reliable source. However, this..

The argument that components of Internet Explorer may load during Windows Startup is nullified by Opera's start times. Which means there is no excuse for this except poor coding on Firefox's part. an interesting idea. Somehow, the author thinks that the fact that Opera has a faster "cold start" than IE means that saying "IE loads in part with Windows" is completely invalid. We call this an "fallacy of irrelevance".
Update: The author refuses to accept that Opera is irrelevant to the myth "Firefox Is Faster Than Internet Explorer". Guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this one.

Market Share Myths
I'd question the reliability of any stats on browser market share, since it depends on so many factors: for one, the content of the site measuring the stats.
Update: Yes, I agree with the author on this one as per his comments below, but not the site. The wording of the site implies that somehow, the lower usage statistics are "more correct", when it would be more accurate to say that the fact that there are several conflicting reports on Firefox's market share indicates that measuring market share is extremely difficult and unreliable and such statistics should be taken with a grain of salt.

Security Myths
The Secunia advisory for Firefox claims that currently, there are only three unpatched vulnerabilities, all of which have medium criticality or lower (3 / 5 bars). Opera has one unpatched vulnerability with the lowest level of criticality (a minor URL spoofing problem). IE currently has 32 unpatched vulnerabilities from Extremely Critical to Not Critical. While this does indicate that Opera is "the most secure", in my opinion it does not make Firefox "insecure"; the author claims that one vulnerability is enough to make software "insecure". Firefox's security claims are based on comparison to Internet Explorer, and are perfectly valid. While Firefox does have its share of security flaws, it has proven to have had far less serious flaws, and it has responded to them more quickly than Internet Explorer - which is the main point marketed by the Mozilla team. Additionally, the author's arguments about spyware, while logical, are simply not true: Firefox is an excellent "solution", in part, to the spyware problem - as its comparably low level of exploits and smaller and more IT-savvy user base, make it a much less attractive to spyware vendors, and as such, there is no widely spread spy/malware software that installs through Firefox (at least to my knowledge).
Update: The author continues to claim that one vulnerability nullifies any chance of describing the software as "secure", so again, we'll have to agree to disagree here. However, nowhere in the relevant paragraph on is the notion of "Firefox as a solution to all security problems" raised. I stand by my conclusion, that Firefox, in comparison to its primary competitor, Internet Explorer, can reasonably be considered "secure" as a web browser. I also suggest that it is a good method to minimize spyware installations, though I don't suggest that it is a complete spyware solution. I also disagree with the idea that the author's guide to securing Windows XP can give any user the "same level of protection" he has, as an uninformed user tends to be able to click "Yes" enough times to install any malware program. Additionally, Avant Browser (with the same level of security as Internet Explorer) has been recommended over Firefox. It should be noted that several IE exploits have existed (and been exploited) in the past allowing the silent installation of malware without user input, while this has not yet happened with Firefox, possibly due to its smaller user base. As things stand, I would recommend Firefox over Avant for just this reason, as history tends to repeat iteself. Finally, the author continues to suggest that "Firefox is incompatible with 10 - 15% of sites", rather than "10 - 15% sites are poorly coded and implement non-standard functionality only present in Internet Explorer", which I feel reflects the situation much better.

Feature Myths
All true up until Tabbed Browsing (though the myth that IE7 "stole" Firefox's icon seems a bit ridiculous to me; I've never heard that myth, and I'd think most people who actually care about such things would know the real story). The rest of this section demands a more thorough debunking:
Tabbed Browsing: Claims that Opera only added "tabbed" browsing in 2000 per a Wikipedia article - the author clearly doesn't understand the difference between MDI and TDI. Also claims that Firefox was released in 2004 - it was released in 2002, albeit under a different name (Phoenix).
W3C Standards: Claims that Firefox has "incomplete" support for for many W3C standards, then claims that IE has "very good support (86%) for the most important web standard, HTML 4.01". Apart from the fact that this is a clear attempt to confuse a reader into thinking standards support in IE is better than in Firefox (far from it, IE doesn't even support position: fixed; in CSS..), claiming that HTML 4.01 is the "most important web standard" is laughable. It's seven years old, released in 1999, and the web has moved forward since then. While it is possible that most sites are written in HTML 4.01 (I have no statistics for this), I would say that the most important web standard is the current "version" of HTML, XHTML 1.1 (though this is a separate standard, it is very similar and is designed to replace HTML).
Update: The author claims that he does not intend to confuse readers into thinking that IE has superior standards compared to IE, therefore, I suggest the text be changed to reflect this. Despite the fact that it is "biased against IE", the original source for the information should still be linked to, and I'd suggest that it be indicated under 'notes' that Firefox has better support for all HTML-based web standards than IE. Additionally, the "source" link regarding Firefox's 'poor standards implementation' is broken.
W3C Standards define a Webpage: Here, the author just fails to understand the contextual meaning of the word "define". In this case, it means more or less that W3C standards outline the way a web page "should be", not define as in a dictionary definition.
Update: I was basing this on the Myth Heading, not the actual Myth itself, apparently. The real Myth is "A Site that doesn't conform to W3C Standards is not a Webpage". This seems more than a little obvious to me, but I'll accept that I was wrong here. Sort of.
Acid 2 Browser Test: The author claims that the Acid2 test tests "the features considered most important for the future of the web". Incorrect, the test is designed to demonstrate how the most poorly-supported features should work, not the most important ones. The most important ones are already implemented in most browsers (by and large, the only browser without support is Internet Explorer in most cases).
Update: The author claims that he is correct, but the only quote I was able to find on the Acid2 website he referred to was "It uses features that are not in common use yet, because of lack of support", which appears to support my argument.
Web Page Rendering: Claims that "Firefox is not 100% Internet Explorer and ActiveX compatible", and as a result will not render "web sites that depend on ActiveX or were only tested in Internet Explorer (which there are many)" correctly. If those sites had adhered to coding standards when they were created, they would work correctly in all major IE competitors (Opera, Firefox, Safari and others), but in many cases would have problems with IE. Most web designers know that trying to get IE to support your website can be a major hurdle after testing a design that works in all other "standards-compliant" browsers.
Update: Apparently, I'm just making excuses here, in that case, I would suggest that the text be reworded to accurately reflect the truth (as suggested previously): "10 - 15% of sites are coded poorly or using proprietary technology and as a result will only work correctly in Internet Explorer". I accept that 10 - 15% of sites "don't work" correctly in Firefox, but the problem is not with Firefox, it is with the sites.
Web Page Rendering Differences: Claims that "Firefox does not wait for the whole page to be rendered like IE" is a myth. Based on the other information quoted and linked, I'll assume the author means "Firefox progressively renders pages, unlike IE" or "Firefox does not wait for all markup to be downloaded before rendering, unlike IE", since what he's saying doesn't make sense (why exactly would the browser "wait" until it has finished rendering a page?). Here he says that IE offers support for progressive rendering in tables. Since any modern website design uses divs, not tables (tables-based layouts are an old hack left over from pre-CSS days), IE's progressive rendering is next to useless. (I'm not even sure if Firefox uses progressive rendering, to be honest, but in any case, it's a lot more noticeable in Opera than any other browser.)
Update: I concede defeat here too, in actuality, IE supports progressive rendering except with tables-based layouts (where there is only partial support). The confusing wording of the summary got me, and had I read the source more thoroughly, I would have understood what really happens. Anyway, I suggest that the summary be changed to what I said ("IE supports progressive rendering except with tables-based layouts (where there is only partial support)."), to make it more clear to the reader.

The author ends his article with a challenge:

Do you think there is a single argument that refutes a single fact on this page? Think again. The sources speak for themselves and the facts are irrefutable.
He also claims that Firefox fanboys have "blindly react[ed] rather than calmly [thought]" when presented with said facts. I'm not a Firefox fanboy, as I said, I'm far from it, but I've tried to present a calmly thought-out response to this article, which is not only poorly researched in parts, but appears to be intentionally misleading in others. I'm tempted to suggest that the entire site is an ad for Avant Browser, which he recommends at the end since it includes IE's rendering engine for "99.99% website compatibility" and "all the newest features of other browsers" (such as "100% security", according to the Avant website). He also suggests that readers read his other "guides", like "XP Games" (where every game is "100% Freeware", it reads like a malware site) and "XP Media" (which ironically implores the reader to "Get Firefox with Google Toolbar for better browsing"). Ordinarily, I would have expected this kind of writing to be ignored, but since it seems to be getting a fair amount of attention, I've taken the time to debunk it and forward my response onto the author. Hopefully I'll be able to post back here confirming that he's seen the light and decided to correct all the misinformation on his website. To the author: I challenge you to come up with a reasonable rebuttal of the facts I've presented here, or otherwise modify your website to be a little less misleading about things.

Update: I've added Updates to most parts of this entry according to the comments below by Andrew K. - the author of the page. There are a few more things I'd like to respond to:

  • I never suggested that the page wasn't researched or thought out correctly - however, I do feel that in many cases the writing is constructed in quite a misleading way which makes it feel very biased when read by someone who knows the subject matter reasonably well.
  • I simply said that the "100% Freeware" comment on every game on the XP Games page makes the site read as if it's a malware site. "100% Legal", "100% Free" and such are all terms that I see on such sites all the time, and especially when things look like they have been copy-pasted all over the page, it loses the page a lot of credibility. I'd suggest that the repetition and "100%" be removed - there's no such thing as "90%" freeware, and it just makes the whole thing look a lot less suspect.

Monday, February 13, 2006

My experience with Digg

My recent post on µTorrent's WebUI was quite popular after I submitted it to Digg - it's currently sitting on 1061 diggs.

Submitting it taught me a couple of things about Digg that I'll keep in mind for future reference.

  1. The URLs generated by Digg suck. The URL for my submission wasµTorrent_s_web-based_interface_(with_screens) (I submitted it under the title "Preview of µTorrent's web-based interface (with screens). For some reason, Digg cuts out punctuation like ', but doesn't get rid of the two brackets and for that reason it was a total pain in the ass to post the link places. MSN Messenger for example won't auto-link the last bracket (not all that obvious from a glance), and the person you sent it to usually won't notice (just getting the "dead link" message). This problem occurs with Wikipedia too, since that's the way they name different topics with the same name (eg. Placebo (band) and Placebo (album)). Additionally, the µ broke many forums when I tried to use the [url] tag. I ended up having to hexify the URL like so:
  2. Digg people suck when it comes to AdSense. There's some sort of restriction on the information I can divulge about my AdSense "earnings", but suffice to say I made less on the day my story hit the front page (probably giving me about 50 times the daily traffic I usually get) than I do in a normal day. It actually makes me feel kinda guilty - since Digg is a technology site, I'm presuming most of the visitors ignore ads like "Bit Torrent Here" etc. that Google inserts (as would I, since I don't trust many of the p2p-related sites in AdSense).
  3. Given that, the average intelligence of a Digger seems to be quite low. :P There wasn't much of this related to my submission (in fact there wasn't any), but if you check out the other submissions on Digg, particularly the ones that are more or less "check out this cool link", you'll find a massive number of stupid comments like "lol google hax", "microsoft is gay" and other such crap. I admit that a lot of smart people use Digg - since I know a lot of Digg users from other places - but it just seems that the vast majority of commenters are not those people.
  4. Though this doesn't really relate to Digg, my blog is ugly and I seriously need to work harder on creating my own theme (these mods to Minima Black just don't cut it, I'm afraid). The main problem with it is that it adheres horribly closely to the blog stereotype of having long rants in thin columns, meaning you have to scroll heaps. And you know how I feel about scrolling.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

µTorrent's WebUI: monitor your downloads remotely

Update: Some people were questioning how I got access to these files. While µTorrent itself is developed by ludde, with access to the source and the original creator, there is a µT development "team". We work on stuff like the website, managing the forums and that sort of thing, and get previews of this alpha stuff for that reason. ;)

Lately, the µTorrent development team have been working on a WebUI (web-based user interface) to allow users to remotely manage their BitTorrent downloads. (Don't know what µTorrent and BitTorrent are? Check out my earlier review of µTorrent.)

As the WebUI is still undergoing alpha testing, it is currently inaccessible to the public (when the UI goes final, you'll need to install a bunch of extra "add-on" files to make it work, as the WebUI currently takes up about 110 KiB of disk space after compression - almost as large as µT itself).

However, here's a little intro to the WebUI and how it works. Click the screenshots to enlarge them.

The WebUI runs through your web browser, and is accessible via HTTP through the port you use for BitTorrent. Of course, I'm running on port 31337. Basically what this means is that you can access the WebUI, once installed, by going to http://localhost:port/gui/index.html in your web browser. localhost basically is a shortcut to "this computer" - so obviously, this will only work if you're accessing the WebUI from the same computer as µTorrent is running on.

It's probably more useful to access the WebUI via your IP address (perhaps using dynamic DNS ). So, if your IP address is, and you run µTorrent on port 666, you could access the WebUI at from any PC, assuming you've done all the necessary port-forwarding to allow µT to serve the UI.

Of course, you wouldn't want just anyone to access your UI, so it's locked with a password configurable from µTorrent's Advanced Options menu. Here's the GUI operating on my computer under Opera:

Screenshot of the WebUI running under Opera, displaying the address bar.
You can get these torrents from

The buttons below the address bar are all part of the WebUI, but I've included the Opera toolbar too just so you can see how the URL works. From left to right, the buttons are basically the same as those in the regular desktop version of µTorrent: add, delete, start, pause, stop, and move a torrent up or down. There's also a fully functional search bar at the right-hand side of the window. Clicking the search icon will open up a menu allowing you to pick a search engine, and entering a query into the box then hitting Enter will pop up with the results in that engine. (Unfortunately, at this stage, the WebUI uses an internal list of search engines - although it can be edited, this may not be the case with the final version. Perhaps it will be able to take the list from µTorrent's Search Engines setting.)

Screenshot of the search engines available to the WebUI.

Clicking the plus button (add torrent) spawns a little dialog allowing you to upload a torrent from the current hard disk. This way, you can visit your favourite torrent site, download a .torrent file, and add it to µTorrent, so it's downloading while you're away and ready for you when you get back.

Screenshot of the upload torrent dialog.

The DHTML columns are fully resizable and sortable, just like in µTorrent (though there is no "secondary sorting" feature). However, sorting the columns is done using JavaScript with no communication with µTorrent, so sorting won't be reflected in µTorrent.

Screenshot of the Size list, sorted in descending order.

Double-clicking a torrent brings up the Torrent Properties dialog, which you can't move, but it does display most of the info in µTorrent's General tab. You can access the Files tab, too:

Screenshot of the first page of the General tab.
Screenshot of the second page of the General tab.
Screenshot of the Files tab.

You can also right-click on torrents in the main window or in the Files tab, but not all of the options from desktop µTorrent are available:

Screenshot of
Screenshot of

As for browser support, the WebUI is currently fully functional in Firefox, partially functional in Opera 9.0 TP2 (no right-clicks work, even when JavaScript is permitted to control right-clicks), and partially functional in IE (no right-click in the Files tab, occasional graphics glitches and crashes).

Like I said earlier, the WebUI is still under construction and will be released to the public when a more stable version is available. A 'lite' version using less DHTML will be available eventually, too. This is essentially just a preview to see what's coming up in µTorrent development.

If you want remote access to your BitTorrent client now, there are several BT clients offering some sort of WebUI: Azureus (via the Swing Web Interface plugin), ABC and G3Torrent, though apparently the functionality is quite limited and some of the clients are no longer under active development (I haven't tried them out myself). You could also try using a VNC system (like TightVNC), which is what I would recommend, though it's a bit more bandwidth-intensive than a real WebUI - so you can keep using µTorrent.

This article has been submitted to digg.
Digg it now!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Opera Labs and Opera 9 TP2

Opera has just opened the doors to Opera Labs, somewhat reminiscent of Google Labs, as well as releasing Opera 9.0 Technical Preview 2 (TP2).

One of the major features in TP2 is the official alliance with BitTorrent Inc., the company behind BitTorrent owned by Bram Cohen. Whereas earlier previews of Opera 8 featured basic BitTorrent functionality built into the browser, this was based on the open specification for BitTorrent. Now, Opera has a commercial alliance with the company itself which they are using to license the BitTorrent logo and integrate the official BitTorrent Search into the browser.

Additionally, and possibly more significantly, Opera 9 TP2 (which can be downloaded from Opera Labs) contains widget support, as reported by InformationWeek. Here's a screenshot of the widget configuration dialog (of course, you can completely disable widgets if you so desire):

Widgets in Opera

And here's some screenshots of the Slashdot widget, which folds out to display the latest Slashdot articles:

Slashdot widget before unfoldingSlashdot widget after unfolding

Very nice. Widget support does seem to be a bit bloaty, but Opera is still significantly slimmer than Firefox in executable size, install size and resource usage, so I'll stick with it. Also, widgets are something I'd like to get into, but when I've tried it in the past it's been a pain in the ass to keep another program running in the background to control them. Since Opera is always running on my PC, the job suits it nicely.

This all comes in addition to the recent release of the second beta of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7. Looks like things are pointing towards another instalment of the Browser Wars..

Sunday, February 05, 2006

MSN Messenger's personal messages and more

I had naïvely thought that with the introduction of MSN's "personal messages", people would use them instead of having essay-length quips in their name.

However, it seems that people now have shit in their name AND in the personal message. Personal messages were created for a reason - you put your exciting news summary (you know, like "@ city bying stuf", "PUT A (F) IN UR NAME TO RAISE AWARENESS OF 9/11", "omfg mi dad is so meen" and "(8)u dnt no wot itz lyk wlcum 2 mi lyf(8)" - usually all strung together separated by broken heart emoticons) into one and save everybody else the annoyance of having to read it EVERY TIME YOU SEND A MESSAGE.

Like I said, people have just taken the personal message to mean that now you can have TWICE the shit appearing on your contacts' desktops.

Here's a demonstration of how annoying these long names could be if you're not the sort of person who keeps one program open, maximized at all times (ie. someone who uses the computer for reasons other than "ch@in 2 m8s on msn"). Just imagine how bad it would be if you had multiple people in the same conversation.

A typical conversation with MSN names of reasonable length. Note that the entire conversation fits in the window with no need for scrolling.
Short names.
Once people have long names, you must scroll down! Fuck no!
Long names.

Now I really didn't have that much of a problem with it when there was no alternative, since having info like this is occasionally useful and I don't have a huge thing against people who like advertising their inside jokes. However, since we've got personal messages, PUT SHIT IN THERE INSTEAD, PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST. I have to admit though, Microsoft fucked up pretty bad when they made it so that personal messages "basically don't work properly yet", that is, they don't always "save" unless you close MSN Messenger properly, and they're not portable (if you sign in on one MSN client and change your PM, that won't be reflected on another client, unlike your MSN name and contact list).

Moving on, something else that really shits me about MSN: those people that add you to their list that you don't really give a shit about (so you don't immediately start talking to them), then 20 minutes later open a conversation with you asking "hu iz dis?". Why the fuck did you add me in the first place asshole? Now if these people were spammers or mail order brides trying to find a "business partner" than I wouldn't have so much of a problem with it, but invariably they're the 12-year-old third cousin twice removed of someone you once talked to on MSN because they asked you the same question.

Or how about the people that change email addresses and demand that you "add their new addy"? First off, there are very few reasons to change addresses in the first place. These include:

  • You were using an email address given to you by your workplace, from which you have been fired for using MSN or browsing midget pornography during work time;
  • You discovered that Hotmail sucks ass and decided to switch to Gmail because at the time Hotmail only had 2MB of storage and you like having searchable email;
  • Your email account was otherwise disabled or deleted (note: this does not include getting that email account banned from signing up on your favourite teen forum);
  • You're changing your identity due to someone stalking you.
Other reasons frequently cited for a change of email address that are NOT reasonable include:
  • Your old email address was, but now it's 2006, and you want to be the first person to secure (helpful hint: don't put the year in your email address!);
  • Your old email address was, but James dumped you for a hotter, smarter, and all-round better person;
  • Your old email address was, but ever since "emo music" became uncool you decided not to like them anymore;
  • Your old email address was because you hate Jimmy Eat World, but many people misinterpreted it;
  • Your old email address was, but now you're fat, ugly, boring and nobody likes you;
  • You forgot your old email addresss;
  • Someone blocked you;
  • You "just got sick of the old one".
Furthermore, even if you do change email address, there is a MUCH easier way to get all your contacts back than simply telling people to add your new address, and it saves the potential embarassment of asking your best friend to re-add you only to discover that they don't even know who you are. Here it is, supplied to you exclusively by my blog:
Transferring contact lists from one account to another
  1. Sign into your old account.
  2. Click Contacts at the top of the screen (or press Alt+C if you've hidden the menu bar), then select Save Contact List.
  3. Save your contact list to a location of your choice.
  4. Sign into your new account.
  5. Click Contacts at the top of the screen (or press Alt+C if you've hidden the menu bar), then select Import Contacts from a File.
  6. Hopefully by now you haven't forgotten where you saved your contacts from before. Locate the file and double-click it.
  7. Your contact list has been imported, celebrate by writing some poetry.

Finally, one more thing to rant about, though this applies to all the internet, not just MSN. The following phrases have been way overused and are no longer funny:

  • FTW
  • roflcopter
  • Chuck Norris / Vin Diesel
  • FPS Doug / Boom Headshot
This list of course is supplementary to all the other words that used to be cool but aren't any more (eg. LOL, pwned, hax, 1337, et cetera). Thankyou.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Yet another dodgy "pay-for-freeware" website

There's a great writeup over at on yet another one of those sites that basically charge you for freeware.

Definitely worth a look. The only way we can get this sort of thing to stop is if people stop making the mistakes that get them caught out in the first place.

Today, they've reviewed "FreeDownloadHQ", which basically sells you a subscription for about US$35 that does absolutely nothing. They don't even host the downloads they "sell", they just redirect to


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Google censoring China search results

Much has been made recently of Google's decision to censor China's search results as per the request of their government. Searching Google's Blog Search for 'google china censor' turns up 4 481 results as of now, which means that it's certainly made an impact on the 'blogosphere' (not that anyone gives a shit). However, it is quite interesting to take a look at the search results offered to the Chinese in comparison to the vanilla results, for example:

Apparently, this is the first image that comes to the mind of the Chinese government when presented with the phrase 'Tiananmen':

Tiananmen according to Google China

However, the image presented by the international version of Google looks a little more like this:

Tiananmen according to Google International

So, there's obviously a little bit of what could be called "foul play" going on.

I really don't have that strong a standpoint on this - even assuming that Google prevents access to any other version of the search results than for Chinese users, I still don't see what the big deal is. At least Google is providing a service in China - basically their only other option is to get blocked from China entirely, since it's the governments fault. However, a lot of people feel differently. You might want to have a look at the Slashdot articles on the topic, since there's a wide range of opinions presented in the comments, some of them quite insightful: