Category Archives: blogging

Read this blog in French

My first go with Yahoo Pipes.

Fascinating stuff, but I’m finding it frustrating. I tried to do an illustrated blog using For Each Annotate and the Flickr module. I can’t get it to work. I managed to get some images retrieved, but couldn’t get them to display, and their relevance was marginal, even using the Content Analysis module which is meant to retrieve key words. Noticed that the official example which does the same thing doesn’t seem to work either (at the time of writing), which makes me feel better.

Another problem is that the output always truncates each feed item. Any French readers trying the above link will be disappointed when they click the link, as it reverts to English. Not easy to fix, since Yahoo does not publish a Babel Fish API. I could put a Translate link on the blog page, but that wouldn’t be Yahoo Pipes.


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What you’re reading

The new year beckons, so here’s a quick look back at my web stats.

I’m surprised by the most popular search phrase. Believe it or not, it’s database. I wrote a short article on getting started with a database app. This was in .NET 1.1 days. My presumption was that when you fire up VB.NET with the intention of writing a simple database application, it is not particularly obvious how to go about it. I wasn’t altogether happy with the piece; yet the number of hits suggests that this is indeed a common source of puzzlement.

Next up is dreamweaver 9. Back in June I picked up some information about the next version of Adobe’s web design tool. There’s clearly keen interest out there.

Other bit hits are .net mac (are you listening Microsoft?), htmleditor (looking for this) and wpfe, attracting more interest now that the CTP is out (here’s the interview on the subject).

The list in full:

  1. database
  2. dreamweaver 9
  3. jbuilder
  4. htmleditor
  5. .net mac
  6. private bytes
  7. tablet pc
  8. wpfe
  9. sqlite delphi
  10. msi editor

What about pages retrieved? At the top is the blog, of course, with twice as many hits to the blog home page than there are RSS retrievals. When you consider that each RSS subscriber typically creates several hits per day, that’s surprising.

Here are the other most read articles:

  1. The htmleditor phorum, now a useful archive of information on mshtml, and the c# htmleditor download page.
  2. Why does my dot net app use so much memory? – lot of people shocked to see what Task Manager is telling them 
  3. Wrestling with the Windows installer – reflecting your frustrations with MSI
  4. Notes on Sqlite – out of date now
  5. ipodphoto.php – also out of date, though I gather these older iPods are sought-after for things like the firewire port and according to some, superior audio quality
  6. wpfe.php – as mentioned above 
  7. Sqlite wrapper for Delphi
  8. Running .NET on a Mac – very out of date, but reflects the interest in this subject 
  9. VB.NET Database sample as mentioned above 
  10. Why Microsoft froze VB 6.0 – a subject of enduring interest

Other points of interest:

Browsers: 79% Windows but only 60% Internet Explorer, 14% Firefox. I reckon the figures are distorted somewhat by bots that awstats is failing to detect.

Search engines: 93% Google. 2.1% MSN, 1.6% Yahoo. This is not only an indicator of Google’s market dominance. For some reason Google tends to rank pages on this site higher than the other search engines. This makes a big difference to the hits.

How many visits? Around 1 million, from 250,000 unique visitors.

Finally, tons of spambots, mostly trying to post comments, but some just trying to get into referral stats (as far as I can tell). It is a huge and offensive problem. Very little muck actually gets posted, but some of it gets into the stats, so don’t take the figures above too seriously.

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Bugs in IE7 RSS platform?

I welcome the introduction of the RSS platform in IE7; I think a central repository for RSS feeds is a great idea, even though Outlook’s RSS integration strikes me as totally broken

But is it reliable? I was using it to browse Jensen Harris’s excellent blog and noticed that the entries were from somebody else. A look at the feed properties reveals all:

It appears that the RSS store had somehow zapped the blog, but kept its title attached to a different feed, Bruce Schneier’s security blog as it happens.

I don’t think I have much hope of discovering why this bug occurred, unless someone from the team would care to comment, but it does cast doubt on the RSS store’s reliablity. Or could it be a problem with my blogreader app? The only time this writes to the store is when it marks a feeditem as read, which it does by setting the IsRead property on a FeedItem reference. Strange.

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JetBrains OMEA going free and open source

Prior to my current experiments with the IE7 RSS platform, my blog reader of choice was Omea Reader. However, despite the popularity of RSS, Omea Reader somehow never made it beyond a small niche, as I know from my own web stats. The company has just announced that the product is now free and will become open source.

Oddly, I can’t find a valid url for the announcement, though it turned up in my blog reader. Here’s the quote:

After collecting your opinions and having long internal discussions, we have finally decided to move Omea Pro into the open source domain.

This will definitely take some time, but the first step has already been made – from now on, Omea Pro is available free of charge.

Thank you for your input, and you are welcome to contribute to Omea Pro development when it goes open-source.

— The Omea Team at JetBrains

I am sorry that Omea Reader has not been a big commercial success, especially as I admire the work JetBrains is doing with its Java IDE IntelliJ IDEA and with ReSharper for Visual Studio. Even so, a big thank-you to JetBrains for doing the right thing and open-sourcing OMEA rather than freezing it as so may companies do with their abandoned products. I think the Omea code will be interesting as a .NET sample project even for those who do not want to use it. I will be intrigued to see how much PInvoke code is in there.

As an aside, one thing I notice when I talk to IDEA users is satisfied they are with the product. They feel it gives them an edge over competitors working with more popular tools like Eclipse and NetBeans. By contrast Eclipse users almost always have some grumbles. Same with NetBeans though I don’t hear so many complaints since version 5.x.

A simple blog reader for the IE7 common feed list

Readers of this blog will know of my dissatisfaction with both the IE7 feed reader and the RSS integration in Outlook 2007.

I’ve now posted the (VB.NET) code for my quick-and-dirty solution, the Hands On Common Feed List Reader.


What problems does this solve? Mainly:

  • It allows me to browse through blogs by item and not by feed
  • It reads the feed list directly instead of Outlook’s misguided synchronization efforts
  • It gives me a quick view of all unread items

Just to be clear, this is a reader for the IE7 common feed list. You still need to subscribe and unsubscribe using IE7. Lots of features could be added, but for now this works for me; however fixes and improvements are welcome.

Download the code here.

More on how this is put together in the February 2007 issue of Personal Computer World.

If anyone would like just the executable, let me know and I’ll make a quick setup. Requires .NET 2.0.

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RSS in IE7: not too good

I’m now 24 hours into my attempt to use IE7 in place of my previous dedicated blog reader. It’s tolerable, but only just.

On the positive side, feeds are neatly presented and work well with IE7 tabs. If you want to read the full text or comments for a post, right-click the header and choose Open in New Tab. This is particularly handy for slow pages; you can carry on reading the feed while the all the ads and stuff on sites like open in the background in the new tab.

So what’s wrong with it? The biggest problem is that IE7 has no real concept of a feed item. It must be there internally, but it isn’t exposed. This messes up the management of read/unread items. You cannot mark an item as read or unread; you can only mark a feed as read. For example, say you select a busy feed like Engadget and there are 6 unread items with those large shiny images scrolling well out of sight down the page. The top item catches your eye, so you click it to read. IE7 now considers all the other items as read as well – unless you remember to unselect “Mark feed as read” every time. As a result, you are very likely to miss some items if you use IE7 for feed reading.

Next snag: there’s no way to search feeds. This turns out to be problem with the underlying RSS platform. Unless I’ve missed it, there are no methods for searching feeds; you have to iterate through each item and search in your own code. I presume that means that the centralized RSS store has no full text index, which is a shame. Anyway, IE7 has no such feature, so if you think to yourself, “I saw that in a blog this morning…”, but can’t remember which, then you have to turn to Google or Technorati.

Third, you cannot get a single view of all unread items. This is silly, as it is almost a defining feature of an offline blog reader: “Show me my unread items”. Instead, feeds with unread items are bolded, and you have to click each one to read. Lots of mouse clicks, not nice.

Fourth, it’s difficult to organize your feeds. Feeds sort themselves alphabetically, though sometimes you have to exit and restart IE7 to sort the sort. You can drag-and-drop feeds in the list, except you can’t, because although IE7 draws a horizontal bar showing where the feed will be dropped, it doesn’t drop there at all. It goes to the bottom of the list, and re-sorts alphabetically when you next restart. You can create subfolders, but you can’t select a group of feeds and move them between folders; you have to do them one at a time.

Maybe Microsoft doesn’t really want you to read RSS feeds in IE7. Perhaps the idea is that you buy Outlook 2007, which also uses the RSS platform.

The only bright spot is the API. I was so annoyed about the folder management that I ran up VB6 and wrote some code to move all the items in one folder to another. It worked sweetly. Perhaps I will write my own blog reader; I am sure the community will soon come up with some handy RSS platform readers and managers – maybe there are some already?

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Brief notes on IE7

I upgraded to Internet Explorer 7.0 on three machines this morning. I have to say the experience was very smooth, though not especially quick. You have to pass a validation dialog as well as a new licence agreement, so I guess there are hassles if Microsoft decides your not on “Genuine Windows”; but plenty has already been said on that subject.

IE7 is long overdue and probably won’t wean many off Firefox, but it’s a decent upgrade, with tabbed browsing perhaps the number one feature; of course FireFox has had this since its first release. Even if you use Firefox, I’d still be inclined to upgrade to IE7 simply because it’s pretty much a system component. You may not use it for browsing; but embedded IE will likely still turn up in a few apps you use. Web developers will need it for testing if nothing else.

I’m particularly interested in the centralized RSS platform which comes as part of IE7. I’m a satisfied user of Omea Reader, which is superb and deserves more attention than it gets; but I really like the idea of a single feed store in the OS, so I thought I should try migrating to IE7. First question: can IE7 import an OPML feed list? It turns out that it can, but the feature exposes some silliness in Microsoft’s new browser.

You see, Microsoft has gone for a clean look with no menu by default, just a few icons and an address bar. Unfortunately, this means there is significant functionality hidden by default, and finding it is not particularly intuitive. In this case, you have to click the Tools drop-down and select Menu Bar, then choose File – Import and Export, then choose Import Feeds.

It worked, I’m glad to say, and now all my subscribed feeds are in IE7. However, now that I’ve realised the importance of the Menu Bar I don’t want to hide it again, so I’ve lost the clean look; in fact, it feels odd having the menu bar below the address bar and I wish I could put it at the top where it belongs.

Will I be able to live with IE7 as a feed reader, or go running back to Omea in a day or two’s time? I’ll let you know.

Finally, a note for any Borland developers reading this. If you use Borland Developer Studio, you need to update the registry to avoid access denied errors with ASP.NET. See Resolving Access Denied errors in the BDS ASP.NET designer with IE7 installed.

Update: A comment to this blog tells me that import and export is also accessible through the Add to favorites icon. So showing the menu bar is not essential after all; it’s just a bit obscure as I’d presumed that Add to favorites only does what its name implies.

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Live Writer good, performance bad

A side-effect of migrating this blog to WordPress is that I can now use Windows Live Writer to author posts. It’s a great little app, as noted today by James Governor, and has been favourably reviewed around the web since its first public beta in August (though I wish the team would add spell checking in languages other than US English). This review by Phil Wainewright is my favourite, because it gets the strategic potential. In addition, if Microsoft can get us hooked on Writer, we’re more likely to start using other Live services like  Maps – Writer has “insert Windows Live Map” on its menu bar – which ultimately results in more Live traffic and ad income.

A snag with this grand scheme is the poor performance of Microsoft’s Live properties. For me, Live Writer works much better with WordPress hosted on my own site than with the Windows Live Space that I’ve set up as a trial, purely because Spaces is so slow. Live Local Maps is tardy too. As for the Live plugin gallery, this is what I get right now:

Live gallery reporting an error

This is where Google scores so highly. It is not immune to problems, but most of the time it is remarkably responsive, whether for Search or Maps or other services.

I sometimes wonder if the folk in Redmond with fast local links just don’t see these performance issues. It not just me though: here’s the A9 report on Live Spaces: shown as very slow

I don’t mean to be negative. Writer is excellent, and offers a better user experience than any browser-based editor that I’ve seen.

Tags: livewriter microsoft .net

Moving to WordPress without breaking links

Some time back, I decided to migrate this blog to WordPress. Until today, I’ve been using a self-modified version of bBlog. It worked well, but WordPress has more to offer and has huge community support, so I’ve made the change. A few new things you will notice are the recent comments list, the search box, the blogroll, and limited html support in comments.

The change was delayed while I figured out how to handle old links. I didn’t want to break existing links to old blog entries, or to the blog home page; and I wanted to make it seamless for existing subscribers. In the end I did three things:

  • Installed WordPress into the same directory as the old blog
  • Modified index.php to redirect requests that point to old blog entries
  • Modified rss.php (the old feed url) so that it delivers the new WordPress feed

In other words, I’ve kept bBlog running in the same location as before. This trick works because the two systems only have one filename collision, which is index.php. The result is that links to old blog entries still work.

If you subscribe to the blog, you don’t have to change anything. The only annoyance is that you’ll likely get some duplicate posts, but I’m hoping that is better than having to re-subscribe.

I’ve only migrated a few recent posts and comments to the new blog. I might do the others, but it’s more likely that they will remain in the archive blog.