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Archive for February, 2006

When is memory leak not a memory leak?

When its a feature of course! There has been a bit of a kerfuffle over a feature in Firefox (1.5) that people are apparently mistaking as the source of a big “memory leak”. The feature in question is the caching of web pages, officially known as the Back-Forward cache. The gist is, the more RAM you have the more pages it caches (up to a limit of eight).

Lead developer Ben Goodger tried to clear the matter up, but looking at the comments he seems to have stirred up a hornets nest. It all sounds very logical and sensible, but the crux of the matter is that Firefox likes its memory.

I agree with the people commenting, I don’t care that this particular feature is memory hungry, the whole program is and its becoming more of an issue. As a developer I can totally see Ben’s point that Firefox is a cross platform, extensible, complex application and as such its to be expected. But part of me wants to ignore the fact I should know better and say “Its a web browser! It displays text and pictures. How can it use so much memory?!”

Am I missing something here? Probably… but its still a valid point.

Love Spud yours for a Tenner

Or it could have been. Yep, some asshat has paid the princely sum of £10.50 (15 Euros, $18) for a potato shaped like a heart. Why? I have no idea. You could buy 25 kilograms of potatoes for that.

This is one of the many, many reasons I try my best to avoid eBay. I see eBay as a way of buying something cheap, as in cheaper than I would normally pay if I went to the local shop. Now my logic could be regarded as faulty here, since eBay is an auction site which means it’ll go to the highest bidder… but I don’t buy that (pun not intended).

I’ll give you an example. I was in the market for a new graphics card a few months back (its a long story). I’d set my sights on an Geforce 6600GT AGP (even thought I’d just broken one). My local shops had prices of about £100 and upwards. I thought perhaps I could get one for between £60 to £90 on eBay. Sounds like a reasonable thing to do doesn’t it? You’d think that…

…but what began was an exercise in futility. A perfect example of where there was definitely more money than sense. I started by placing bids of about £40 to £60, but was quickly out bid. But not just out bid slightly, but by large amounts.

When the price started to approach high street prices, I thought what’s the point? I might as well go buy it locally. But I continued. At one point I had was in the risky position of having 6 maximum bids. Did I win any? Did I b*ll*cks! The final bids on some of the cards were just silly money, at least 50% above retail prices.

I didn’t give up though, I thought I’d try bidding on broken hardware. I picked items that “expert” sellers said weren’t working. One guy in particular had two cards for sale, one NVidia, one ATI, with the same problem. He noted “They just give static on screen”. My guess was the problem was not the cards, but Computer User Non Technical. So I bid on them.

I thought 20 to 30 quid tops on each would be good enough (and yes I had every intention of buying them). Both went for £30+ And it gets better, I was out bid on the ATI card in the last 30 fecking seconds of the sale!

In my despair I calculated how many hours I’d wasted and thought I could have bought a few new cards if I’d worked that amount of time. So I went to Micro Direct and bought a new one! And now I’m about to put my broken (and it really is) Geforce 6600GT on eBay. Lets see what it gets!

BlogJet continued…

I’ve been using it fairly heavily for nearly a month now and I have to say I’m impressed. I’ve also noticed its written in Delphi (7) as well, so thats even better! My trial version is nearly up so I’ll have to cough up for it soon, however, I have some suggestions:

Should haves:

Strikethrough – As in the font style. There is bold, italic and underline, so why not that? There is an extra popup for font properties, so it could be added there?

Option to set default target for links – The Insert Hyperlink popup always defaults to “default window” where as I’d prefer it to be “new window”.

I know Jakob Nielsen says in his book Designing Web Usability, that its a bad idea and that all external links should stay in the one window, but I disagree. I like to open links up in another window / tab to look at later, but be able to continue reading. I can see how IE users would be annoyed since a new window will popup in front of the existing one, but anyone using FireFox / Opera should be ok (if they have new tabs set to load in the background). 

Shortcut keys to the menu – The menu options have shortcut keys but not the top level menu items of “Blog”, “Edit”, “Format”, etc.

Text Formatting Options on the Toolbar – As in Align Left, Right and Centre. I know they’re all defined in the Format menu and they have short cuts, but I haven’t learnt them yet. Which brings me on to…

Tooltips on toolbar icons to show shortcut keys – I find this a really good way of learning it because as you use the toolbar you see the tooltip with the shortcut on and once you’ve seen it enough times, it sinks in and you then switch over to using it.

Nice ideas:

Remembering addresses you’ve entered for hyperlinks – In relation to the Insert Hyperlink popup, as you type addresses it would be great if it remembered them and then when you come to enter them again it uses auto-complete with a drop down showing matches you could pick.

I do like how if I create a link once that everytime I type the word again (in the post I’m working on), it automatically puts it in as link (but it doesn’t appear to remember the window target I set!).

Ability to add categories – This would be great but I’m using WordPress for my blog and BlogJet is designed to interface with several others. You can tag posts to categories in the editor and even get it to refresh its list from your site when you add more, but the more I think about it, its not really a central option to the program. Its more an admin thing on your site and BlogJet is meant as a simple editor.

Option to show contents of remote FTP folder – Given that it uses this to upload images, etc to I was thinking it would be useful to view it locally and be to rename / delete files and other chaff you’ve uploaded by mistake.

Odd Problems:

If I create a post in BlogJet, post it onto the site, change it via WordPress and then download it again in BlogJet, the formatting is messed up. Its as if the paragraphs have disappeared.

It also tends to get very confused with images that have links. I’ve uploaded articles to then find its either removed the image and left the alt text or removed the link.

On a couple of odd occasions it has converted file names to lowercase. Whether thats WordPress or BlogJet I’m unsure. I’ve yet to get my head round the whacky world of case sensitive file names (why?!?). I tend to name things Pascal case, E.g. PauksBlogImage.jpg, so have been caught out a few times when that error occurs.

Also the WordPress editor problem I mentioned ages ago happens just in FireFox, it works in IE. Although it is a bit of flakey bugger at the best of times. Is it possible to replace it?

Passport Shenanigans Concluded

Yep, my new shiny 10 year passport arrived last Friday. It took under two weeks which is pretty good! If I hadn’t cocked up filling in the form first time round it would have been even quicker. Driver’s licence next!

Make your Comments Stand Out

I was just going through a blog feed for Sun peeps and noticed an interesting post titled Make Your Comments Count! by Tor Norbye. His point was that modern IDE’s tend to hide comments and make the code the most important thing on screen, which is very true. However he noticed a colleague had changed it so his comments stood out, the reason being, he said, is because they’re vital.

I totally agree, comments are incredibly important, but I would have thought that was obvious? For years I’ve used a Delphi colour setting of Twilight which is a black background with white / cyan text. By default comments are in (dark) green which don’t stand out, so I change them to lime green so I can’t miss them then! A chap at work has similar settings to Tor with his comments in red (but with a grey instead of white background).

CodeWithComments

Not a particularly good example, but it shows how I highlight comments

I used to work with someone who said he didn’t need comments because he wrote “Self Documenting Code” (SDC). If by that he meant incomprehensible crap then full marks! Thing is, there is no such thing as SDC. Comments should be liberally sprinkled about and, this is the key point, be relevant.

If you going back into something (and you will) the comments help to get you up to speed. It is much quicker to read plain English than to decipher the code. Obviously you can determine what the code is doing, but that heads up in the comments is a real help.

I suppose the reason why Mr. SDC never commented is code was because he only every tended to work on stuff he’d written and when he was happy with it, “ownership” would be given to someone else (muggins and others) who would then have to fix any bugs in it (and put comments in)!

Bye bye TopDesk

After 4 days use I’ve uninstalled TopDesk. Its a nice idea, but its not fast enough. By that I mean compared to how Windows manages task switching. I’m so used to seeing the program icons and being able to really quickly tab through them, that the slight delay that TopDesk has, really hurts my productivity. I tried out the various layout options and thought that Flip was the best, followed by Grid and then Spatial.

Flip (which is apparently how Windows Vista will work) shows your windows as a 3D stack. Kind of like looking at a deck of cards from a corner at a 45 degree angle. Its nice in that is in that there is a consistent point on the screen to look at but it does tend to hide windows, so you’re not really sure what order they’re in. So you end up tabbing through them a few times to work out what you’re after.

TopDeskFlip TopDeskSpatial

(Flip and Spatial Layouts)

Grid shows all the windows in 2D but resizes them to a similar size / scale and shows them in a grid, obviously. Quite nice in that its organised in a obvious, neat way, but it doesn’t feel right. Spatial is similar to grid, but keeps the original scale and ratios of the windows. This is my least favourite because the windows layout seems to be random, which I guess is a side effect of it.

The latter two also suffer from what I mentioned previously, they make it hard to focus on what you’re after. On a multi-monitor set up its made worse because the windows are spread over the monitors. I know this seems like a good idea, but I can’t see how. I think this is more down to my conditioning of expecting to look at a set point on the screen and work from there.

As I commented on previously, there is also its memory usage. Lets see, I have mIRC, Firefox, BlogJet, MindManager Pro X5, FeedDemon, Windows Media Player, Process Explorer and a couple of Explorer windows open and TopDesk is using…

TopDeskMemory 

…35MB! I’ve had it creep up to 100MB+ on a couple of occasions. Thats a bit worrying for a glorified picture viewer!

I also noticed some odd behaviour where windows think they’re minimised when they’re not. I didn’t look further into this to work how it occurs, but I’m fairly confident its TopDesk related. Its never happened before or after using it.

So all in all, its a little too quirky for me. I just hope that Vista has the current / old style method available!

Geek PHP Job Posting

Here. Nice twist on the usual job postings, but PHP isn’t exactly hard to read. I didn’t think $25 an hour was too shabby, but from the comments on Digg they think its low. Its worth noting it is a contract job / part-time work.

Useful Utils #2 – ZTreeWin

This is a bit of an old school one. I’ve been using ZTreeWin and its predecessor XTreeGold for well over 10 years. It looks like a DOS program you say? Well thats the idea. ZTreeWin is the Windows version of the late great XTreeGold. Essentially its file and directory manager that is incredibly fast to use (once you know the shortcut keys). It has the ability to work with small subsets of files very easily by tagging them.

ZTreeWin v1.50 - main view small

The problem with XTreeGold was that when we all shifted to Windows it was stuck in the days of 8.3 file names and short directory name. Plus the fact it was a DOS program limited to using 640k of memory! To give it its due, it still worked, but it was a bit handicapped.

Norton / Symantec, by some odd route, bought them out and tried to make a native Windows version but given that the ALT key is meant to activate menu’s and various assigned controls in Windows, it completely destroyed half of XTree’s short cuts making it piss useless. Plus it looked hideous and was a tad sloooow.

ZTreeWin v1.50 - split view small

So when I heard of ZTreeWin I was well chuffed. Like most things in life its not free, but at $29.95 its hardly expensive. It is also worth noting it is still actively developed by Kim Henkel. Its been done as old style console app that looks and works exactly (and I mean *exactly*) like XTreeGold but without the limitations.

One of my favourite things it can do is mirror folders from one location to another and accurately tell you how long it will take (yes, Explorer does this, but you give it a lot to do and you end up with a progress bar like this!). It is also very fast at searching files, you can get it log a directory, filter it down (by extension, or any sort of file filter), tag the files you want and then search them.

Of course it isn’t perfect. The lack of drag and drop is a pain and its inability to work with native UNC paths doesn’t help. It does provide a workaround in that you can open the “Map Network Drive” wizard, but there are times when you just want to quickly enter a path and get on with it. It doesn’t need to have a drive letter!

That said, along with SlickRun, I use it everyday and probably will for the foreseeable future.

There is a very comprehensive XTree fan site that spookily looks like the program. It contains a wealth of information about XTree’s history.

The original author of XTree, Jeffrey C Johnson, has a website as well. One of the domain names of which, www.xtree.com, was given to him by the author of ZTreeWin. A nice gesture I thought.

This Site is Certified 19% Evil

This site is certified 19% EVIL by the Gematriculator This site is certified 81% GOOD by the Gematriculator

Baaah, I want to be Evil not Good! I do like the link that appears after the report though, “Wasn’t that fun? Now waste your time by Killing Everyone!” Yaay, maybe I can be evil…

Found via clarkszone.

Edit: To try your own site, go here. Oddly a day later, I’m now 36% evil!

Citrix / NFuse fun continued – IIS 6.0

Carrying on from my previous post, I’d mentioned that IIS gave the sites a unique name along the lines of W3SVCn, well it turns out this is called a Site Identification Number (Site ID for short).

So I had an existing installation of NFuse on a machine running IIS 6.0 this time, that was again in the wrong location for what I needed it for (this was the original machine I mentioned previously, I’m using it as a test for setting up https access, but we needed to keep the system live for our customers, hence the messing about).

I tried my old trick of deleting the default site (the one assigned W3SVC1) and creating it again, but was confused because it now had a Site ID of W3SVC3490234 (example). I tried the NFuse installer but was politely told the same as before, “IIS is not installed or is configured incorrectly. Installation of the Web Interface for MetaFrame XP cannot continue.”.

It turns out that in IIS 6.0 the default naming convention is different. It now comes up with a unique ID based on the Site Name in IIS. Great! IIS 5.0 however, used an incrementing number. All was not lost though, by whacking in a registry entry I got it to revert back to the old IIS 5.0 way of working.

To do that, run RegEdit and do the following:

You edit the registry at your own risk, I am not liable for any damage caused, it may explode in flames, blah, blah etc etc.

  1. Expand HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, expand SOFTWARE, expand Microsoft, expand the InetMGR subkey, and then click Parameters.
  2. Under Parameters, in the details pane, click IncrementalSiteIDCreation. If the entry does not exist, create it by doing the following:
  3. Select Parameters by clicking on it.
  4. On the Edit Menu, point to New, and then click DWORD Value.
  5. Type IncrementalSiteIDCreation and press ENTER to create the entry.
  6. With the entry IncrementalSiteIDCreation selected, on the Edit menu, click Modify.
  7. In the Value data box, type 1 to force IIS to use the incremental method of generating Web site identification numbers, and then click OK.

I was then able to delete the site again and recreate it with the correct Site ID of W3SVC1. The NFuse installer was then happy and got on with its job. 

Relevant links:

I did try originally to just copy / move the NFuse site manually but the Installer sets up a few virtual folders and various different folder level permissions that are a pain to duplicate!

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