The competitive world of SSL Certificates…

At work we have an SSL enabled site which basically means we’ve been stupid enough to pay hundreds of pounds for a text file that makes your web browser display a pad lock. I’m sure there’s some fancy pansy technology behind all the gubbins running it, but from my end it’s pretty simple stuff.

SSL certificates are issued for set periods (usually in years) and our said cert was up for renewal next month. VeriSign, the world’s larger supplier of text files, let me know about this last month by email and post. Repeatedly. And it’s pestering paid off handsomely because I renewed it for 3 years just to stop them pestering me any time soon.

I kind of wondered how many more emails and letters (and god forbid phone calls) I would have received if I’d have left it and renewed the day before it expired. But of course if I had, sods lord would have reared it’s ugly misshapen head and a delay would have occurred and our Citrix hosting would have fallen over in steaming pile as a result. A public stoning would then be in order and I don’t want to go through that again.

But the story doesn’t stop there, I got a cold call today from Digi-Sign also telling me our certificate was about to expire. Wonderful! I’m glad everybody knows. There was then some confusion whilst she explained she was from Digi-Sign and not VeriSign, and that we were using VeriSign and not Digi-Sign, but she wanted us to switch to Digi-Sign from VeriSign… and DigiVigiPigiSign something.

Anyway, whilst I enjoyed listening to her dulcet Irish tones I had to eventually admit I’d renewed last Friday. It felt like cheating, but you know you have to honest in these things. There was obvious disappointment, shortly followed by disbelieve and then the realisation that she was too late. Such is life.

So now I know why they cost so much. They really are just text files and a fancy padlock. What you’re actually paying for is to keep the marketing and sales departments afloat that try to keep you as a customer. Great!

And on a complete tangent, I really dislike companies that ring me up for “a chat”. It seems that whenever I evaluate software someone inevitably rings up and asks me how the “experience is going”. By doing that you’ve just lost some of my interest in the software. Just don’t do it.

Whenever I try software out personally I usually put in details along the lines of Mr. Squirrel at the Tree Tops so I don’t get followed up. Unfortunately, if it’s work related, I have to be sensible… although there was that one time when I did enter stupid details but by accident put in our real phone number and so someone rung up asking for Mr. Ironside in the Wheelchair Department. Oops.

I suck at blogging (or do I?)

I’m almost as bad as RPG and Bal ¬_¬. Anyhoo, what has been the cause of the lack of blog chatter? Well, three things: Xbox, Work and Xbox.

Work has been been a bit of pain of late, not because of it being work, but because I’ve been fixing, installing and tinkering with various bits of software and hardware instead of programming. As I mentioned previously I was at work a week ago last Saturday rebuilding a replacement server for the one that had lost its marbles.

Well yesterday, whilst I was working at home waiting for a new shed to arrive (the old one was another victim of the bad weather. The new one is a shiny metal one, or it will be when Kate and I put it together. I don’t possess Vonduresque building skills, so it may take a while), I was rebuilding the injured party since new parts for it arrived in the post on Tuesday. One SATA RAID controller and one 160GB SATA HDD. The controller, scarily, costs more than twice what the HDD does and is also more expensive than a Geforce 7950GT. Why, I don’t know, give it’s just a PCI card with fancy sockets.

But it’s not just been the hardware that’s been an arse, it’s the software too. Microsoft Exchange and Veritas BackupExec in particular. Words cannot accurately describe the utter contempt I hold for them. There are times when software seems to be designed to be needless hard to use or completely dumb in telling you what problems it’s having. I could rant for hours on the subject, but for the sake of my sanity, won’t.

But enough of work, outside of it because of the above fun, I’ve not much felt like sitting in front of my laptop writing updates. Instead I’ve been giving the 360 a kicking. However single player Gears of War has been pounded into a bloody pulp, Project Gotham has been aced, Burnout Revenge the same and Test Drive Unlimited has lost it’s shine a bit for the time being. So I got Oblivion and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 Super Mega Squirrel Edition last week to keep me busy.

Oblivion is an odd one. It’s a proper RPG like days of old. Lots of text to read, a proper story to follow and gazillions of attributes to tweak. Gom appears to be loving it going by his achievement record, but 6 hours play was enough. I think though that I’ve been spoilt by playing Blizzard games, like Diablo and WoW. They’re more arcady RPG’s with the emphasis on action.

Actually, I totally forgot that Oblivion was unlike WoW. I went thundering into a bunch of enemies and obviously got decked. There I was expecting to be revived in some local graveyard but was instead prompted to pick which save game I’d like to load up. Feck and biscuits. An hours gameplay lost.

The main thing with Oblivion is that it’s slow going in parts. Kinda like eating a steak but getting stuck on some gristle and you just end up chewing. You know there’s more good stuff to come, but you’d rather have a Big Mac instead. Hence the Tiger Woods purchase.

Now I’d played the demo and was totally addicted. A chap at work loves Links on the PC (I used to play it for hours back in the DOS days) and it got me interested again. There’s plenty of courses (like St. Andrews, Firestone CC, Spyglass Hill) and it looks pretty damn good. One thing I really like is the way the golf swing is done. You move the left thumbstick back to start the back swing that mash it forwards to finish it off. If you don’t do it in a straight line it’ll go off sideways. It’s clever stuff.

Thing is, it’s a total time sink. I ended up playing til 3 in the morning last Saturday. 9 holes takes 20 to 30 minutes whilst 18 is double that. You really have to practice to get the hang of the controls. I’m getting there but I still suck at getting out of bunkers.

I’ve also yet to play online because I know I’ll get my arse kicked by some 12 year old who has the kind of thumb dexterity I can only dream of. I think finishing the PGA Tour and Tiger Challenge cup would be a good idea first.

Vista + Intel Wireless 3945ABG = No

One of the first things I did with my laptop was to remove Window XP Home since it’s about as much use as a chocolate fire guard and install Beta 2 of Vista x64 (yeah I know RC2 is out but I don’t have a copy to hand). So I did a fresh install, deleting the existing drive partitions (Dell had configured the 80GB drive with two 30ish size ones?) and creating a new one that filled the drive.

The Vista installation then tried it damndest to grind the hard drive into a fine powder and also gave the DVD drive a good work out as well. It was a hideously slow process at over an hour, but I must admit it was slightly more stream lined than the XP installation process. You entered almost all the required details at the beginning and then it got on with it.

Once into Vista I had a quick poke around (Aero Glass is really nice and the new UI in general looks really cool) but was disappointed that it couldn’t find any drivers for the majority of the hardware in the machine. 

I did a bit of manual searching and found a video driver for the Intel GMA 950, but I couldn’t get a wireless driver, which was a bit of deal breaker since that’s my main network connection at home. There is a section on the Intel site for it, but it just sends you round in circles. Wireless drivers aren’t expected until 4th Quarter 2006… err?

It’s also amusing because last week Dell updated a lot of their range last week noting that machines were Vista Capable and in fact this laptop has the following sticker on it:

VistaCapable

At the moment, it clearly isn’t. So I switched to Windows XP x64 and had similar problems with drivers. Intel did have a 64–bit graphics and wireless driver, but for things like the sound card and memory card reader I had no joy.

I also checked the Dell site for what drivers they have for the Inspiron 640m and was out of luck for anything other than Windows XP x86, which is really poor given the Core 2 is a 64–bit processor. You’d think proper drivers would be available!

World of Warcraft playable on an Intel GMA 950?

Now this all depends on your definition of playable. For me, it’s a constant frame rate of 30 or above, with no drops below that… which in this case means WoW isn’t. Sure it runs, but it’s on lowest settings, with pretty much everything turned off, at 800×600 res, and the frame rate varied between 15 to 40.

I found that if I avoided any of the towns, or any area with more than 5 polygons, I’d be ok since it was seemed to run at 25+ fps… but how likely is that?

Still if I’m reaaaaalllllyyyy desperate for a game, it’s doable.

Farewell Tabbrowser Extensions…

As well as installing Internet Explorer 7, I did the same with Firefox 2.0 and had the fun job of upgrading all the extensions I use. As it turned out pretty all of them did so automatically, however there’s always an except to rule. Tabbrowser Extensions.

So I popped over to the author’s site to find out what the crack was and saw this rather odd message:

This extension strongly unrecommended. Tab Mix is recommended instead of this, because it is stable, light, and it covers most useful features of this.

This extension is strongly unrecommended by Mozilla Foundation. This extension has many many latent bugs <snip>. If you use this, you must be prepared to own huge risk maybe.

There’s a full Advantages and Disadvantages section about why you should / shouldn’t use it, which is actually an interesting read, but the end result is I’ve switched to using Tab Mix Plus in FF 2. It doesn’t do everything Tabbrowser Extensions does, but it’s close enough.

Flashblock for Firefox

I know this is a really old extension, but it seems that sites with lots of Flash crap cause really high CPU usage in Firefox 2. I’m not sure if it’s just my installation but given that it’s a real pain in the backside I went hunted out Flashblock, which does exactly what you’d expect. Instead of loading a flash animation up, you just get a blank box with a little flash icon on instead. If you mouse over it, it gives you the option to play it.

Funny but Ars Technica looks pretty messy with Flashblock on!

Firefox style search for Internet Explorer

I downgraded to Internet Explorer 7 over the weekend and annoyingly found that the search box still looks like it did in IE3. I was positive I’d seen a plugin to allow the Firefox style search (called Inline search) in IE in the last couple of weeks and a bit of foraging proved me right. Here it is, in all it’s glory:

IEInlineSearch

It’s a small 180KB download from IEForge. Makes IE just a bit more usable.

Found via Omar Shahine’s blog.

Easy automatic WordPress backups

Can’t get much easier than this and I’m amazed no one has explained it properly. Basically with the install of a simple plugin you can get your WordPress database automatically backed up and emailed to you everyday.

If you have WordPress 2 you’ll already have the WP-DB-Backup plugin. Make sure it’s activated and then download the WP-Cron plugin (by the Scott Merrill, also the author of the DB Backup plugin). Extract the zip file locally and upload the files straight to your plugin folder (/your site/wp-content/plugins/).

Next go into the admin section of WordPress, then Plugins and activate it:

WPCronOn

Once activated, extra options will appear on the Manage / Backup option:

WPBackupNormal

Before plugin activated

WPBackupCron

After plugin activated

Make sure you’re happy with it’s setting and click submit. And that’s all there is to it!

Alt + Tab Replacements

Given that one of the most consistently *popular searches on my site is for TopDesk (blog posts) either with people looking for similar apps or serial number generators, I thought I’d try to help out with the former. The latter I’ve commented on before, $9.95 is cheap.

So here’s a list of what springs up on a quick Google search, with half arsed commentary:

  • TaskSwitchXP (free) – If you’re after a enhanced Windows replacement, this is the best of the bunch. A medium sized window appears on top of your desktop and you get a thumbnail view of the selected window, with a list of mini icons. It’s very tweakable.
  • Screen Edge Task Switcher (free) – Not a true Alt+Tab replacement. Move your mouse to the top edge of the screen and click and it’ll switch back and forth between the two last used windows. Good if you’re a mouse user, but heavy keyboard users (like me) will find this hard work… and a little bit pointless.
  • Alt-Tab Replacement – XP PowerToys (free) – Kind of like TaskSwitchXP in that it shows a thumbnail of the selected window, but that’s about it.
  • WinGlance ($11.99) – Takes over the entire screen, like TopDesk, and shows a reasonable size preview of each app with tooltip details on them. Kind of like TopDesk’s tile all windows option. Unfortunately it’s not multi-monitor compatible.
  • Exposer for Windows ($7) – The name is the giveaway here, it’s OS X Exposé for Windows. It’s not very good though since it’s slow to generate a list and then, even though its multi-monitor capable, it moved some apps to the primary screen when they were on the secondary. And it doesn’t replace Alt+Tab, its set up on different shortcut keys.

Out of the free ones TaskSwitchXP is best but it is just doing a replacement of what Windows does with more info. The commercial ones are going to offer you more and in particular it’s popular to emulate the OS X Exposé style of working. Out of them, and to be honest there aren’t that many, TopDesk is the best. It’s also worth noting that TopDesk is the only one to use hardware acceleration, which is a good thing.

So what do I use? I switch (pun not intended) between the default one and TaskSwitchXP. I’m a bit old school in my task switching.

*The most popular search at the moment being “Outlook 2007 crashes”, say no more.

Mind Manager 6 and Outlook 2007

As I mentioned yesterday MindManager’s Outlook Add-In to Export to MindManager doesn’t get on very well with Outlook 2007. Microsoft tech support gave two options:

  • Uninstall MindManager 6 and use Outlook 2007
  • Revert back to Outlook 2003 and be able to use MindManager 6

I wasn’t particularly happy with either option since I use MindManager more than Outlook, and I do quite like Outlook 2007. So I investigated how to turn off the Add-In, and here’s how:

  • Run Outlook 2007
  • Go to Tools menu / Trust Center…
  • Add-ins option. Select COM Add-ins from the Manage dropdown and click Go..
  • Look for Export to Mindjet MindManager and untick it. OK the popup.
  • Close Outlook (watch it crash) and Restart it.
  • Job done!

The snag is that if I do want to export anything from Outlook to MindManager I have to turn it back on… and if I’m totally honest I’ve kept it turned on since I use that functionality a lot!

So, yes Outlook does crash on exit still, but it’s my own choice and at least now I know what the cause is! If Outlook does hose itself, it’s totally my own fault!