January 17, 2009

Tweets for 2009-01-17

  • Have to create a new slipstreamed XP SP3 CD. My notebook has some harddisk drivers which load only on bootup and aren’t available by default #
  • Quite a few international news agencies seem to be carrying stories about how Lasantha wrote his own obituary … this is how myths are born #
  • Finally got my hard disk to work correctly under XP using AHCI mode/drivers. Yay!! Now I guess I can stop obsessing about that one 🙂 #
  • Ooh, AddictiveSoftware has released Addict 4, the dictionary component that I’ve used in most of my Delphi freeware apps! #
  • We’re watching the new season of “American Idol” … man there are a lot of people with very (unreasonably) high opinions of themselves 🙂 #
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Posted by Fahim at 11:59 pm  |  No Comments

January 16, 2009

Tweets for 2009-01-16

  • I think it’s time to do a new Windows XP install under VirtualBox for my app installation stuff. Windows7 is still buggy even under a VM. #
  • Huh, there’s somebody doing geocaching here in Sri Lanka as well … didn’t think anybody was 🙂 http://geocaching.com #
  • Oooh, nifty feature of VirtualBox (that I don’t think VMWare has), I can resize the virtual OS window to anysize and it scales nicely 🙂 #
  • Simon Haynes, or rather his publisher, is actually doing e-books right. They’re going to publish his e-books at about $3.50, less than print #
  • I hate e-book editions which are priced higher than the print edition. Come on people, it’s like audio tape or VHS all over again 😀 #
  • “Quantum of Solace” starts out well – there’s a fight sequence which reminds me of a Rube Goldberg device more than anything else 🙂 #

January 15, 2009

Tweets for 2009-01-15

  • Why is it that support people take a week to say “We can’t help you?” or tell you that technical is taking a look and then say “can’t help”? #
  • Google Analytics and WSO, both services from Google but they don’t always work well together? How retarded is that? 😀 #
  • Aargh, so many different e-book formats (and probably more coming in) … is this going to be the news VSH vs. Beta (or HDVD vs. Blu-ray)? #
  • I really, really hate tech support guys who are tennis players – they always lob the ball back to you 🙂 #
  • I’ve not yet tried VirtualBox as a virtualization solution. Giving it a shot now since I’ve heard about it several times in the past month. #
  • Love the graphics on the VirtualBox start tab 🙂 So vibrant and clean somehow … Yes, I know it’s a small thing but I enjoy small things 🙂 #
  • So far, VirtualBox is working admirably well. Took my existing VMWare Ubunut installation and works with it fine. Given that VirtualBox >> #
  • << is less than 40MB and VMWare is 500MB as a download, I think the choice is fairly clear 🙂 #
  • And VirtualBox has an equivalent to VMWare’s Unity feature – Seamless Mode. I’m sold. I’m uninstalling VMWare right now 🙂 #
  • Removed my dual-boot install of Windows7 since it never worked well anyway … Going back to trying a VM install to see if that’ll work betr #
  • Windows7 is much, much slower to boot up under VirtualBox but not sure how it compares to VMWare, been a while since I tried with VMWare. #

January 14, 2009

Tweets for 2009-01-14

  • Joy, joy, joy … have three e-mails from a client – mostly about cross-browser CSS issues. I hate cross-browser CSS 🙂 #
  • Back in Windows 7 for the time being … testing out a few other things now that the beta is officially out 🙂 #
  • SpeedFan will not work with Windows 7. Surprise, surprise :p #
  • I don’t care about the glowing reviews for Windows 7 so far, it still sucks for doing anything besides looking pretty 🙂 #
  • Over here, Windows update will not work, trying to get to properties for a Start menu item hangs Explorer, Explorer hangs on a file rename #
  • Ooh, and after an Explorer crash, quick search in Start menu seems to be broken … Yeah, Windows 7 is really stable even in beta 😀 #
  • OK, back to XP SP3 again. Windows 7 is a huge pile of bantha doo-doo right now. Can’t even kill Explorer from Task Manager – great 😀 #
  • Windows 7 also appears to drive the temperature on both the hard disk and CPU higher than does XP … again, not good. #
  • It’s surprising how IM is becoming less and less relevant, at least for me. I used to be on IM all the time 10 years ago. Now I hate it 🙂 #
  • Indian foreign secretary to visit Sri Lanka soon. Is this a precursor to India asking for Prabhakaran to be handed over to them again? #
  • Finished watching “Surface” last night. Now on to “Lost” season 4. It was getting rather annoying with season 3. Will this be better? #
  • Amazon is the worst thing for publishing anything if you’re outside the US. Both CreateSpace and their Kindle site requires a US address 🙁 #
  • Sorry, CreateSpace doesn’t require a US address but doesn’t seem to work well with non-US credit cards. What happened to global village? #
  • ipsnews.net has a “send your comments to the editor” link but their mailbox is full. So what’s the point of having the link? To feel good?:p #
  • Had a discussion today about Microsoft Sri Lanka wanting to see previews of an article I did before publication and my refusal. But the >> #
  • << following memo from Microsoft seems to indicate that a lot more than that goes on as standard practice at times: http://is.gd/fQ17 #

January 10, 2009

Tweets for 2009-01-10

  • Wanted to do some ROM cooking for the Omnia today. But looks as if that’ll have to wait since I’ve got some Joomla work for a client … #
  • When it comes to CSS issues, FireBug is your friend in such a big way – now I keep looking for similar solutions under other browsers 🙂 #
  • OK, client work completed. Now perhaps some time to play with cooking a new Omnia ROM … I really want a clean ROM with lots of free space #
  • OK, the ROM has been customized. Now to see how to add new applications to be installed as default with the ROM … #
  • OK, my first custom ROM cooked with registrty customizations, custom apps, the works 🙂 Now to see if it actually works by flashing it … #
  • Woo hoo! Phone booted up and my customizations appear to have taken place. Now of course, I have to re-install some of my other apps … #
  • Ming in the “Flash Gordon” TV series is such a one-trick pony and his daughter Aura is so bipolar – first she’s for him, then against etc. #
  • Finally finished “Flash Gordon”, which was really beginning to drag, with Ming’s rages and posturing, and now we’re back to “Dexter” … #

September 3, 2008

Polishing Up the Chrome

Google has their own browser! Yes, you heard me, a new Google browser has hit the streets as a beta 🙂 And what’s more, it seems to be mostly faster and better than the existing crop of stable browsers …

The new browser, named Chrome, has been built from the ground up with the latest web technologies in mind. So, each tab in the browser, as well as every task/process within each tab, is it’s own thread. What this means for most users is that the whole browser does not lock up because one site on one tab has issues or is busy. In fact, in using Chrome, I found this difference to be crucial because the browser performance was super smooth for each and every tab I was working with.

If that wasn’t enough, Chrome also appears to be ahead of the pack with regards to standards support. While most of the existing stable versions of browsers aren’t doing so well on the Acid3 test, (and no, don’t bring up the browsers that do pass the test :p), Chrome appears to score about 79 out of 100 on the Acid3 test whereas the latest FireFox (3.0.1) manages only about 71 out of 100. And that’s better than how IE fares 😀

Of course, there’s one thing funny with the how Chrome handles the Acid3 test, it seems to take longer and the score isn’t always the same – it’s almost as if the test was created for single-threaded browsers and the multi-threaded nature of Chrome throws the test off somehow …

Additionally, Chrome imports bookmarks, site passwords, browsing history, and a host of other information from FireFox and so, if you use FireFox, once you start using Chrome, it’s almost as if you’ve not changed browsers at all. All your previous settings and browsing history is all intact.

I won’t go into all the other great features of Chrome, especially the address bar which does FireFox‘s nifty new address bar one better, but the one thing I do miss is the ability to extend the browser using extensions, as is possible with FireFox. I haven’t checked yet to see if Chrome supports extensions/plugins but I sure do hope it does …

August 26, 2008

Of Bygone Vistas

I have been a staunch defender and advocate of Windows Vista since it came out. I had been using Vista since the early beta days and I’d always found it to be better than Windows XP in many different ways. In fact, some people on various online forums went so far as to say that I was a shill for Microsoft and that I was championing Vista because my bread and butter depended on it :p (Of course, if somebody at Microsoft wants to pay me for championing Vista, I won’t say "No" – just so you know … :D)

I like Vista both for the little touches that it adds to the operating system which makes life easier (like the multiple clocks in the system tray) and for the speed enhancements in the graphics subsystem and the stability that it seemed to provide. The people I clashed with over Vista were people like the lady who claimed that none of their games would run under Vista and this had never happened when they first switched to XP. (I had pointed out to her that she either didn’t switch to XP immediately or had already forgotten the pain those of us who were early adopters of XP had in running games – that’s part and parcel of switching to a new operating system and that hasn’t changed since the Windows 3.1 days …)

Anyway, while I like a lot of things about Vista, I realized that I spent a lot of my time fixing minor niggling issues under Vista and that these minor fixes were eating into a lot of my time. While there were no major BSODs (Blue Screens of Death) as I’d have quite a bit of the time under XP, I would have something minor like a USB device not being recognized or a the drivers for the device not being installed properly. I’d spend a couple of days troubleshooting that and finally get it working and the next day, something else would stop working …

I suspect that most of these issues are because I’ve turned off the annoying UAC (User Account Control) feature in Vista. For instance, UAC got turned back on by accident on my machine and one of my startup programs refused to load because it no longer had read access to one of its data files – a file that I accessed everyday without any issue with UAC turned off, mind you. So perhaps somebody who uses Vista without turning of UAC or doing any of the other power-user stuff that I do probably would have better results with Vista. But for me, it wasn’t working …

So I formatted my OS partition (I have three partitions – one for the OS, one for applications, and one for data) and went back to using XP SP3. I got the old familiar BSOD as I was pulling down updates from Microsoft, even before I was fully up and running, but it does run faster in most cases (except with regards to the graphics subsystem) and it takes up a heck of a lot less space! My OS partition had about 2-3GB free after I got done installing Vista but with XP, I’ve still got about 10GB free 🙂

Only thing was, using Vista had spoilt me – I was no longer content to using the Windows Classic theme and I couldn’t bear to use the Lunar interface under XP either. Fortunately, it turns out that while I was using Vista and singing its praises, others had been busy getting the Vista look and feel working under XP. There’s individual applications like viStart, Visual Task Tips, and TrueTransparency which try to provide bits and pieces of the functionality that is present in Vista. Or, there’s projects like the Vista Transformation Pack, which combines all of the above utilities, adds in graphics and themes and gives you a one-stop-solution to getting XP to look like Vista.

So if you’ve had to switch back to XP and are missing the look and feel of Vista, the above might be a good place to start 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 6:01 pm  |  1 Comment

August 21, 2008

Good Accounting is Hard to Find …

Is it just me and my picky ways or are there really no good choices for small business accounting software?

I’ve been using Microsoft Money for around ten years to track my spending and my bank and credit card balances. However, I recently discovered that Money, at least the standard version of Money, wasn’t enough for my needs. I also wanted to track invoices to customers for the consulting work I do and to be able to track payments from customers. So, since I had years of transactions in Money, I thought I’d move up to Money Plus Home & Business since it had basic accounts receivable features.

Not a good idea 🙂 Turns out that the business features in Money are more of an afterthought and not really well thought out. Money normally supports multiple currencies but the business stuff doesn’t. So while I really bill my customers in US dollars, there is no way for me to track those transactions in Money because the program insists on doing invoices in my home/base currency, which is Rupees.

So I thought I’d look around for any other accounting software which had the option to use multi-currency and handled accounts receivables the way I wanted. I started out small with the free BS1 Accounting package. It had multi-currency and it had accounts receivables but it couldn’t (or at least didn’t seem to) handle over payments. Plus, I don’t think it could import my existing Money data since I wanted to have all my finance info in one application.

I then went bigger (since there didn’t appear to be too many smaller accounting applications around) and looked at some of the industry leaders. QuickBooks does not support multi-currency in its current version and while it is supposed to support multi-currency at the premium levels in older versions, none of the trials I tried had this feature. And I tell you, those trial downloads are huge! Some are like 600-700MB and I was getting pretty tired of trying out accounting software after a while.

Peachtree was again supposed to have multi-currency but I couldn’t find it anywhere, not even in the help files. In the case of Microsoft Office Accounting 2008 Pro, I could find all manner of information about setting up multi-currency in the help file, but those settings were nowhere to be found in the program! Either they don’t have the options in the trial version, in which case they should mention this somewhere, or the help file is not consistent with the program.

SimplyAccounting was the only application where I could get the features working the way I wanted wit the trial. The multi-currency finally worked but the account set up was a bit clunky. It appeared to want you to set everything up manually and accounts receivables couldn’t directly handle an over-payment like other applications seemed to do, you had to match the original invoice amount against part of the payment and then enter the rest as a deposit. However, it did work but the cost was a bit too much for me since I had to shell out about $250 for the Premium version if I wanted unlimited multiple currencies, which I did. My other option was the Basic version which cost $150 and supported two currencies.

I had avoided Quicken till now because I had tried it in the past and had found it to be very similar to Money and I didn’t expect anything much to have changed. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Quicken‘s small business edition supported multi-currency and that I could invoice and receive payments in several different currencies. Additionally, it had a dashboard for different categories (personal finance, business finance etc.) that was pretty useful and informative. The only issues I have with Quicken are that it feels old, as if it’s really a Windows 3.1 program with some newer interface elements slapped on (this is very evident especially when you print stuff) and the fact that the invoice designer is very basic. SimplyAccounting had a beautiful invoice designer and Money, while it had something very similar to Quicken, still made it look and function a bit better.

My last issue was with importing in Money data and that’s a tale in itself. So I will reserve it for another post 🙂 But for the moment, I’m not really satisfied with the accounting software choices available out there. And no, don’t suggest an online solution because I prefer to have my data on my own machine :p But if you do know of another small business accounting package which does everything I’ve mentioned and is cheap, then I’d certainly be interested …

December 25, 2007

The Norton Conundrum

Sacrilegious as some might find the statement to be, I have switched over to Norton Internet Security 2008 again 🙂 Yes, I went through all of the other security suites around (in fact, I went through some several times over) before I came back to Norton after trying it the first time. On my machine running Vista with 2GB of RAM, NIS 2008 works beautifully. Of course, I must mention that NIS 2008 was really sluggish and slowed down the system a lot on my wife’s XP SP2 machine with 512MB of RAM. But since I’m really interested only in protecting my own machine, NIS 2008 fits the bill beautifully :p

But all that’s beside the fact. I switched over to NIS 2008 for the second time yesterday and since my machine was performing well, I decided to tax it a bit more by installing the Norton Add-on Pack which adds anti-spam capability to the NIS suite. And that’s where the trouble started 🙂 The Add-on Pack installed fine but I couldn’t access any of the configuration screens because each screen would throw up several Internet Explorer Script errors about not being able to "instantiate object".

I contacted Symantec Tech Support since I was a registered user. The first tech I got was the usual "uninstall and re-install again" variety which didn’t seem to even know about the issue. I simply told him that I had already tried the uninstall-re-install routine and that it had gotten me nowhere and that this sounded like an ActiveX issue and asked him if he knew which DLLs needed to be registered in order for the ActiveX objects to be correctly created. He immediately said that he was transferring me to his supervisor 🙂

The supervisor (or colleague, I wasn’t sure which) turned out to be not so prone to work from a set script. He listened to what I had to say and suggested a few things that I had tried before. When I asked him about what DLL to register, he suggested MsouPlug.dll which can be found in \Program Files\Common Files\Symantec Shared\AntiSpam and I tried that and got an error saying that the DLL registration failed with an error code of 0x80070005. Now I’d gotten this far on my own the last time I ran into this issue – which was when I had had NIS 2008 installed the first time a few weeks back. So I told the tech guy the issue and he suggested a few other things.

While I was trying his stuff, I was also doing some Google searches on my own and my latest combination of search terms turned up a site that I had not found before. Now all this time, my biggest question had been whether the DLL registration error was normal or if there was something really wrong. I finally had a resource which suggested a way to check on this. The site in question mentions RegMon but I actually used ProcMon instead but you should be able to use either one depending on the OS supported by each utility.

Basically, you try to register the DLL in question by using the regsvr32.exe command and watch the regsvr32.exe process via one of the above apps to see if there are any ACCESS DENIED results on a registry key open request. I did that and found a registry key which had the problem. So I fired up trusty old regedit.exe and changed the permissions on the key in question to give the Administrators group on my machine full access to the key. I then tried the DLL registration again, it failed again. I checked and noticed that the keys I had fixed earlier now had sub-keys and they were inaccessible. So I changed the permissions on those and the DLL registration worked.

At this point, I told the Symantec tech that I should be able to resolve the issue on my own and terminated the chat. But it wasn’t to be that simple. Registering the MsouPlug.dll didn’t seem to do anything with regards to the issue I had with accessing the Anti-Spam configuration options. So I took a look at the error message again. It was pointing to the error message as originating from the Options folder inside Symantec Shared from a file called whitelist.htm inside optRsHtm.loc – I checked the Options folder and there was an optRsHtm.loc file but no whitelist.htm file. It looked as if the whitelist.htm file was inside the optRsHtm.loc file and I needed a way to get at it.

So I downloaded PE Explorer which allows you to explore the resources inside executables, DLLs and other files. When I opened up optRsHtm.loc using PE Explorer, I was able to access the whitelist.htm file in question as well as all the other files referenced by optRsHtm.loc and going through the JavaScript source, I was able to trace the object instantiation error to the following line:
g_pSymDisp = new ActiveXObject("Symantec.Options.SymDispatchWrap");

So, I went rooting in the registry for the HKCR\Symantec.Options.SymDispatchWrap key and what do you know? That key was inaccessible as well! So I fixed the permissions for the key and it still wouldn’t work. I checked to see what that key referenced and found a DLL named UIHelper.dll that wouldn’t register. So it was back to ProcMon to trace which registry keys were at fault and then change the permissions on those and so on. After some further back and forth and changing permissions on a few other registry keys and registering a few other DLL files, I was finally able to access the configuration screens for Anti-Spam with no issues whatsoever 🙂

I wrote this entry so that anybody running into similar issues can find the solution since the Symantec knowledgebase does not appear to have any reference to this issue. But if you are unable to figure out the problem on your own, drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do to help 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 11:45 am  |  No Comments

May 3, 2007

Boosting Joost

Over at LinkedIn, where I’m a member, I heard about this new service called Joost. It was still in beta but the aim of the service was to provide television on demand, for free, to all users via the Internet. Sounded like a good idea to me and so I wanted to join in and see what the service was like.

Only thing is, Joost is in beta at the moment, as I mentioned, and you needed an invite from an existing member to get in. Fortunately, LinkedIn members were there to help 🙂 Mat Morrison from digital marketing strategists, RMM London had some invites available and was kind enough to send one my way when I asked over at his blog. (Incidentally, I’ve got invites now and if you want one, ask away – you might have to link back to me but I’ll give you an invite :))

The Joost download was not very big and the install went through fine. The video streaming is pretty good, even with the crappy broadband connection you get here in Sri Lanka. The playback is a bit choppy but since Joost appears to cache the program as it is being downloaded, you can simply let it play in the background at the standard choppy rate (if your Net connection is as bad as mine that is) and then play it back when it has a good chunk downloaded.

Actually, the caching goes beyond that. Let’s say you shut Joost down while you were in the middle of playing a show or a song. The next time you connect to Joost, it will continue on from where you left off and it appears to have the cache for the segment you already downloaded intact. I liked that because I can watch a long show without having to go through the download again 🙂

There’s some Indian content on Joost as well and so I’m getting my Hindi music fix :p They even have a couple of shows from the Sci-Fi channel (not available in the US or Canada via Joost though) but that’s where I ran into my first snag. I’m not sure if it’s a Joost issue, a Vista issue at my end or something else (like not enough disk space) but everytime I tried to cache one of the Sci-Fi channel shows, Joost would crash out half-way through. Hopefully, they get that kind of thing sorted out (if it’s a Joost issue) and I can enjoy my television to the max 🙂

Note: If you want a Joost invite, you will need to let me know both your first name and last name as well a valid e-mail address since Joost requires these things to send out an invite. (You don’t have to put the e-mail address in the comment – if you give your valid e-mail address when posting the comment, I’ll be able to get that even though it’s not displayed along with your comment.) If you don’t want to leave those details in a comment, please e-mail me directly 🙂

Due to the number of people asking for invites without providing the details requested above, please note that I’ll be ignoring any requests without all the necessary details.

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