2007: the most commented posts, and a bit of blog introspection

Here are the posts that received the most comments on ITWriting.com this year:

Vista display driver takes a break (220 comments)

Outlook 2007 is slow, RSS broken (173 comments)

Annoying Word 2007 problem- can’t select text (101 comments)

Why Outlook 2007 is slow- Microsoft’s official answer (95 comments)

Adobe CS3 won’t install (35 comments)

Delphi for PHP first impressions (33 comments)

Irony: Outlook Web Access more usable than Outlook (29 comments)

Audio in Vista- more hell than heaven (25 comments)

How to speed up Vista- disable the slow slow search (24 comments)

Adobe AIR- 10 reasons to love it, 10 reasons to hate it (24 comments)

Ubuntu Desktop not used in business (21 comments)

Miguel de Icaza on ODF vs OOXML (19 comments)

Visual Studio 6 on Vista (16 comments)

Microsoft Silverlight vs Adobe Flex (16 comments)

Vista vs XP performance- some informal tests (14 comments)

Slow Outlook 2007- the comments keep coming (14 comments)

This is mostly down to Google, everyone’s favourite source of tech support. The most commented posts are about problems with Windows and Office, and reflect the number of people searching for a solution who land up on this blog. Only a tiny proportion of readers actually post a comment, so the top few posts above are evidence of a large amount of frustration.

I highly value the comments, especially when they form a reply or clarification from the organization which is the subject of the post – like this one from Zoho.

A few more stats

FireFox usage has increased from 14% in 2006 to 20% in 2007.

The biggest source of incoming links is programming.reddit.com.

The five top search keywords are: 2007, Outlook, Vista, Slow and .NET.

A bit of introspection

I enjoy doing this blog and web site, though there are a couple of frustrations. One is that I have more material than I get time to write up. Another is that while the ads on the site pay for the hosting, they don’t do much more than that, and I would like to find a way to make web self-publishing viable.

I also muse over whether the range of subjects here is too broad. I post in three broad categories:

  • Software development
  • Problem solving
  • Anything that interests me in the tech world

Most of the subscribers to the blog probably want what is in the first category, especially as it is in this area that I can supply the most original content, sourced from interviews or conferences. The problem solving posts find a different readership via Google. My good intentions to narrow the focus more towards programming fall away when I have some other topic I want to write about, though I do keep it strictly to tech-related topics.

Update: fixed the list (missed a few)

Turn Me Up: an attempt to end the loudness wars

Turn Me Up is a new initiative whose aim is to restore dynamics to recorded music. Currently many, perhaps most new and remastered CDs and downloads suffer from excessive compression, the result being a sound that is fatiguing and lacking in dynamic range. It is a problem that is well documented, but mastering engineers feel intense pressure to make CDs that are as loud as the competition, so the situation continues.

The organization explains that:

…it’s not our goal to discourage loud records; they are, of course, a valid choice for many artists. We simply want to make the choice for a more dynamic record an option for artists…Today, artists generally feel they have to master their records to be as loud as everybody else’s.

The idea of Turn Me Up is to promote the benefits of mastering with full dynamics and to communicate this to the purchaser with a logo. This also explains the “Turn Me Up” name. This is the proposed text:

Turn Me Up!™ Certified

To preserve the excitement, emotion and dynamics of the original performances this record is intentionally quieter than some. For full enjoyment simply Turn Me Up! (www.TurnMeUp.org).

Unfortunately the site does not reveal who has formed Turn Me Up or how much support it has within the industry, though according to this story it was founded by Florida-based Charles Dye, who has mixed CDs for Bon Jovi, Ricky Martin and Sammy Hagar. Apparently a new release from John Ralston, called Sorry Vampire, which is mixed by Dye, uses the Turn Me Up text on the CD.

I’m not sure what chance of success Turn Me Up has, but it strikes me as a sensible approach and worth supporting.

Firefox segmentation fault on Asus Eee PC after update

I’m writing about Eee PC right now, and after updating a clean install (no added repositories) was surprised to find Firefox failing with a segmentation fault. Clicking the Firefox icon did nothing. Running from a console got this:

/opt/firefox/run-mozilla.sh: line 131: nnnn Segmentation fault

Reinstalling Firefox and deleting the profile did not work, nor did safe mode. I found the answer here. Open a console (Control-Alt-T) and type:

sudo apt-get install eeepc-updatepack-20071126

What does this package do?

This update pack fixes SCIM for applications which were provided to ASUS as binaries. This includes Firefox, Thunderbird, Adobe Acrobat.

SCIM is the Smart Common Input Method platform.

All is now well, but I’m not impressed. Running apt-get update and then apt-get upgrade should not break important applications. Nor is it obvious how to fix the problem. This kind of thing will put new users off Linux; not good if Asus really wants to make the Eee a mass-market device.

Incidentally, if you are stuck without Firefox on the Eee and need to browse the web, typing konqueror from a console will fire up the KDE web browser.

When good software goes bad

Verity Stob looks at feature bloat and a few other things in her piece on apps that have gotten worse over the years.

Confession: I use Paint Shop Pro too, although I have Photoshop installed as part of Adobe’s Web Premium CS3. In my case it is PSP version 5.0. PSP starts in a blink and has dead easy tools. Photoshop takes several seconds to start up and displays messages like “Initializing palettes” while it is getting going. There is nothing wrong with Photoshop, but equally if I just need to crop a screenshot quickly, I find myself using PSP and saving a few seconds.

Stob’s piece is light-hearted and unfair (I like C#) but a fun read.

I remember meeting a programmer back in the days of DOS and strict memory limits. He told me that every time he added a new feature, he had to find some other code he could remove in order to fit it in. A nightmare of course; but it prevented bloat.

It’s one of the reasons I like the Asus Eee PC. It is underpowered by many standards, but small, light, starts from cold in less than 30 seconds, and works fine for most everyday tasks.

Just another take on less is more.

Windows Mobile sync pain

I use a Samsung i600, similar to the Blackjack, which I’ve upgraded to Windows Mobile 6.0. Nice mobile, but for a while now it hasn’t been syncing properly. It hadn’t bothered me too much, because the main thing I care about is email, which I retrieve via IMAP, and that always works fine.

Then something else went wrong. I noticed that some documents which I had on the storage card in the i600 had disappeared. No error message; they just were no longer there. That prompted me to fix it.

I started with sync. On Vista it is no longer ActiveSync, but two new things. One is called the Sync center, the other called Windows Mobile Device Center. Probably a lot of the same old stuff underneath. What’s the difference?

The new Sync Center is a convenient central location in Windows Vista from which you can manage data synchronization between PCs, between PCs and servers, and between PCs and devices.

Got that? Now this:

Though it unifies your various sync activities, please note that Sync Center does not replace third-party sync tools or functionality. For example, a Windows Mobile device will still use its own infrastructure—Windows Mobile Device Center—to perform the actual synchronization of data with a Windows Vista computer. If you want to change the granular sync settings for any specific relationship, Sync Center directs you to the Windows Mobile Device Center or, in the case of another company’s device, to the data management settings for that device.

I wish I’d read that sooner. Since it is the Sync Center that fires up automatically (or is meant to) when you connect via USB, I had wasted some time fiddling with it. I was trying to delete the partnership. Right-click, Delete. Nothing happened. File – Delete. Nothing happened. No error, nothing in the event log, but the partnership remained.

I Googled. Dear me. I hit the Windows Sync Center Blog. An archetypal example of how not to blog. Here’s the blurb:

With the advent of the new Sync Center folder in Windows Vista and a brand new programming model, the team felt that it was important to provide a way for those using these interfaces to interact with us and provide feedback.

Just what I wanted. Thing is, there are just two posts, the most recent in September 2005. And lots of comments, like this:

Please, oh please help me remove this thing from my machine. I just got Vista and an external drive. Created a sync partnership which didn’t work. Cannot delete the sync.Cannot remove systray application.

or this:

does anyone who can fix this mess read our blog? PURGATORY!!!!!

or this:


You guys call this a blog?! You’ve answered NONE of your customer’s questions! And you’ve had, what, two posts in two years??

Not the best place for help apparently. Fortunately I realized that what I really wanted was the Windows Mobile Device Center, and hit this post instead. Downloaded and installed version 6.1, and everything worked. Easy. Though the comments to that post are almost equally depressing.

I’m also puzzled. I use Microsoft Update. Why hadn’t my Mobile Device Center been updated automatically?

Never mind. Time to look at the other problem. I looked at the storage card in the device explorer, which now worked. It was almost empty, yet had very little free space. I removed it and put it in a card reader. Right click – Properties – Tools – Check for Errors. As I’d guessed, it was corrupt. The error check restored my missing documents. It also revealed the likely cause of the problem. Live Search had created around 1200 temporary files on the card. I deleted them all. Replaced the card in the device, upgraded Live Search to the latest version. All seems to be well.

Was I just unlucky? I’m not sure. Windows Mobile devices do seem prone to this kind of runaround. Then again, my older Qtek 8100, running Windows Mobile 2003 2nd Edition, worked reliably for a couple of years. Oddly enough, it is not the errors themselves that are frustrating, but the lack of helpful error messages or troubleshooting tips that actually work.

It strikes me that Windows Mobile and the whatever-you-call-it sync software still has some way to go before it is truly user-friendly.

Asus Eee PC down to £199

The price of the Asus mini PC running Linux is falling. UK computer superstore PC World is advertising the 4GB model for £199 including VAT – and yes, right now there seems to be stock in hand.

An improved model with an 8GB solid state drive and 1GB RAM is available in the USA, and my guess is that this will come to the UK early in the new year.

It is not without annoyances but nevertheless a great little device, and will give desktop Linux a significant boost.

Presumably we will see Linux and Windows variants side-by-side in the shops before long. It will be interesting to see how the sales proportions shake out.


I reserved one of these myself, for collection at a local store. 30 minutes later I got a telephone call from PC World (yes, at 9.00pm). It was someone who “just wanted to check” that I understood that this runs Linux and is “not a laptop running Windows or anything”. Fascinating. I have no objection to being called, but I wonder what prompted this ring-round? Customers complaining? Or just a retailer nervous about this strange new thing? Should have asked, bother.

I’ve also noticed something odd about the product description. PC World has the white and the black at the same price – well, I am guessing, but one product is -GW and the other is -GB. However, the code and description for the white (PC2-GW) suggests it is the 2GB variant, which you would expect to be cheaper. There’s also no mention of the webcam (not that I really care about that). If you go for one of these, I suggest checking it is really what you are expecting before parting with money. I will.

Further update

Price is back up to £219.99 for the 4GB this morning. Looks like a temporary pricing snafu. Never mind, it is still a good deal.

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Visual Studio 2008 review, and the WPF business apps debate

Review just posted on RegDeveloper.

In it I quote Peter Lindsey of component vendor Infragistics, who says that:

Microsoft, in trying to capture credibility within the media market, has poorly represented the value of WPF to business application developers.

The problem is that Microsoft decided to tell its customers not to use WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) for line-of-business applications, which is a strange way to launch your next-generation GUI API, and tough on vendors such as Infragistics who have been busy providing business-oriented components like xamDataGrid.

Not everyone agrees that WPF is a no-hoper for business apps. See this post from software architect Ivan Towlson:

For me, the killer application of WPF is not bouncing buttons with dancing elves trapped inside them.  The killer application is information visualisation, the kind of things you get from Tufte and the periodic table.  And that’s something that even forms-style, line-of-business applications will find worthwhile.

When Microsoft introduced .NET it made great efforts to get VB 6 developers to upgrade and migrate their projects, even though there were sound technical reasons for caution. Why is it that with WPF those reasons for caution, valid though they are, have been allowed to dominate the messaging to the extent that most developers probably have the impression that WPF is irrelevant?


An Office Ribbon macro to control audio in Word

I wrote a macro to control audio via keystrokes in Word. Its main use is for transcribing interviews, but you could use it for music as well – easy to pause a song when the phone rings. The idea is that you can pause, play and rewind an audio file from keystrokes in Word, which saves switching applications or reaching for the mouse.

It’s work in progress, hence the smiley faces. Even so, I found it interesting to do. The ribbon is great for macro developers, but could do with a visual editor. I used the Office 2007 Custom UI Editor.

There is a little more info and a download link here.

The day my web site was hacked

Here are the gory details.

Let me add my thanks to the great guys at phorum.org for their help in trying to work out what went wrong. The WordPress folk seemed less interested, maybe because the forums there are so busy that a hack report makes barely a ripple. Further the WordPress code itself was not to blame, so it was not their problem to solve.

I loosened the permissions on the WordPress uploads folder in order to upload images with Live Writer. Lesson learned; I’m back to using SCP.

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