About Site Admin

Website administrator for the WhyDontYou domain. Have maintained and developled a variety of sites, ranging from simple, plain HTML sites to full blown e-commerce applications. Interested in philosophy, politics and science.

Technorati oddness

I know it has been mentioned before, but why doesn’t technorati update their records when a Ping is sent? WordPress automatically “pings” (informs them there is an update) technorati when each new post is made, yet it seems to take about 12 hours for this to get through. Now, when some one else pings this blog, or posts ping other posts, the update is instant – yet technorati cant seem to manage this.

Does technorati have a system where the most popular blogs get the most frequent updates (or similar)? If so, then this reinforces my opinions about an already two tier internet.

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Summer Months

Quick one – sorry about the recent lack of posts. Its is blindingly how and sunny here so, as you can imagine, sitting at a PC is far from anyones mind 🙂

We plan to write more soon.

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Summer 2006 – .net Magazine

Well, the year continues to hurtle past. It seems like only yesterday I was discussing the “Latest issue” of .net magazine and its structural overhaul, when all of a sudden the next one lands on my doormat.

Loathe though I am to admit it, things are getting better. Miraculously, .net has dragged itself out of the slump it has been living in over the last few months and is once more a good, readable, magazine.

Still…. nothing is perfect…. 🙂

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New Month… New PCW… New Rant

Well, as it has been inordinately sunny here over the last few weeks, getting time to type up blog entries has been thin on the ground.

That notwithstanding it is shocking how fast the time is passing – it only seems like yesterday I was complaining about how pants Personal Computer World magazine was, and planning to cancel the subscription, when the latest copy arrived in the post today. I had intended to cancel, honest.

This month (again) I wish I had. To stop the rants taking over I am planning to address each issue I have with the magazine in separate stages.

Despite my annoyance, there are some postive points. The cover disk (“more than 8GB of great software” and “9 full products worth £176”) is reasonable. Unusually for something which heavily relies on its “value” as a Unique Selling Point, this disk is crammed full of open source software – which could reasonably be downloaded by anyone with a faster than dial up connection. The brunt of the disk space is taken up with Star Office 7 (brilliant), SuSE 10.1 Live DVD (good – but you will have to burn this to a disk before you use it, and then download a better version to install it), Knoppix 5.01 (not bad – live CDs of this distro turn up everywhere though) and the ever present Ubuntu 6.06 Dapper Drake (This gets everywhere, I suspect there are more copies of this floating around on disk than there are people in the world). It is good to see PCW head down the open source route some more.

This leads me nicely on to a hatstand comment in the Letter pages (p 25 for the pedantic). Tom Callway from the Open Source Consortium quite rightly chastises PCW for their comments about OS software in the July issue. The reply is bordering on the nonsensical. It somewhat resembles a Microsoft or Adobe press release…

Alan Stevens replies that while the software may be free, it might not be a good choice for small businesses to use it on the desktop. He explains that the lack of familiarity is the key problem thinking that “most people know how windows and windows applications work.” He states that this may affect productivity and make it harder to recruit / retain staff.

Some good old FUD there…. (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt for the newbies).

He finishes off with how it can be difficult and expensive when things go wrong because specialist help is needed.

This was obviously written by someone who has not stepped outside a Windows (and old Mac) dominated corporate environment for quite some time. Of the people I know who interact with Windows based software on a daily basis I would say less than 2% are actually aware of any of its underlying properties. Less know how the OS itself does things.

IT support for Windows based PCs is big business and can cost phenomenal amounts of money. There is a reason for this…. It is not because every user is a Windows expert…..

To further highlight the idiocy of the comment, Linux applications are nearly all identical in “look and feel” to their windows based versions – it takes a fraction of a second to learn where the file menu is etc. Most Open Source office packages are close enough to (for example) Windows that the transition is totally painless. Less hassle than (for example) switching from Word Perfect to Word. I am sure any one uses Lotus Notes at work, but not at home will be aware how easy it is to learn new ways of doing things. The implict statement in PCW’s reply is that business have to use Windows because that is what the staff have on their home PCs.

Pure madness.

How hard is it to use Firefox? (Open source is not just linux!!!!)

What learning curve is there for someone moving to (eg) SugarCRM from MSCRM? If you know how to use the MS package, you can use the OS equivalents with just as much ease. For hardened experts it may be different – but the reply is talking about general-skilled staff.

Things will get funnier when (if) Vista, Office 2007 et al., are launched. What argument can there be then for staying with closed source software? When most home users use Works, why do companies use Word? They are similar, but so is star office (even more similar IMHO).

Shame on you PCW. Very poor reply.

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Interesting Links

Sorry for the recent hiatus. We hope to resume normal service soon.

For now, here are some interesting links we have been looking at recently:

More to follow.

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Quick .net comments

Do they pay their article writers by the word? That is the only reason I can think for some of the worse abuse of the English language I have seen in print for quite a while.

The new layout of .net has split the old “web designer” sections and now you have technique/* sections (obviously trying to increase the web-feel for the style). These come in different forms ranging from what appears to be CSS for the retarded to “pro_tips.”

Most of these are fairly well written. The new style of the magazine appears to have improved the writing style of some of the feature writers. There is definitely a less patronising tone being used – especially in the “beginners guides.” (I will not mention the errors for now…). When they are talking about the more technical aspects, the writers do very well and actually get their point across.

However (always a however), when given the chance to “reflect” on some aspect of design (which, as opposed to the coding, is where the magazine seems firmly heading) the writers can go for three paragraphs without actually saying anything. Every other page is crammed full of meaningless prose which looks like it is there for a joke. Words like “leverage” are abused to within an inch of their lives. When ever one analogy gets used (and often a tenuous one at best), there are normally another three or four thrown in for good measure. Dont even think about letting me start on the mixed metaphors… It is truly educational reading – if only for how a “clique” magazine can butcher the English language…..

As always, as soon as “Web 2.0” and “Agile” programming becomes the topic, no one actually knows what it means, so the writer has to make up words to fill the copy. Sentence after sentence saying the same (non-)thing.

One of my favourites:

Use abstracted code so that you can make changes quickly and easily. This almost goes without saying, but the key to developing in a flexible way is to make sure that you’re not building something that has no room for manoeuvre.

Fantastic – and that is one of the more readable ones…. The really painful ones are too much hassle to type in! When the write starts to wax lyrical about making sure all your staff take ownership of the agile development rather than viewing it as a job, you know it is going to be pure word soup.

Sadly, the Web Design “industry” is entirely to blame for all this. The seemingly constant desire for new “buzzwords” means web design has spawned a language of its own. Strangely, no one actually understands the words they throw around, so every article has to spend the first ten pages explaining what the author thinks the word means. If people would just use the language properly, instead of trying to blind people with word-bluff, this wouldnt be required. Agile is word in the English language. It has a meaning which pretty much every English speaker can work out. Using it to refer to software code is simply wrong. This is why page after page have to explain what it means.

Will the madness ever end?

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Another month, another .NET mag rant

Well, doesn’t time fly. It only seems like yesterday I “commented” on a new issue of .NET, yet here is another one. Last month I resisted the urge to rant on about the magazine – unfortunately I dont think I can do the same this time round. There are good and bad points, possibly one of the major good points is the fact that this month the magazine is actually inspiring enough to rant about.

Sadly, some raging lunatic at .NET has decided to go for a major overhaul of the magazine. The sections are renamed, the writing style has drastically changed (and not for the better in most cases) and the sequencing has been altered. Now, I appreciate people often reject change but this really is change for changes sake. I cant for the life of me think they consulted their customers before this re-design (I subscribe and they never asked me).

The old layout, while re-assuringly familiar, did need a change. However it needed a change for the better. It seems that at the moment, .NET has hired the crazy horse who designs Computer Arts and gone for the same look and feel. Sadly, this seriously diminishes the “uniqueness” that .NET used to have regards structure, content and style. Now the magazine looks a bit like a poor copy of an arty style magazine and, strange though this is to admit, it actually takes away from the “authority” the advice it gives carries.

Some bits of it are good – the letters are at the very start now for example. There seems to be more advertising, but I dont know if that is actually the case or an effect caused by the way every article seems to be surrounded by ads. One other positive thing – the crazy editor who oversaw all manner of bad advice, typos, misprints and other assorted lunacy is leaving now. (I can only assume she is moving to Computer Arts…).

Well, that is enough on the style – I will think about polite things to say about the articles and return to this topic.

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Web Based Software

Well, time for some more rants. It seems that pretty much everywhere I have been looking over the last month, from the arrival of .NET magazine through to searching web news sites, has been going on about how great it is that we can get all our software online as a web app instead of having to buy and install it ourselves.

For those with a memory span longer than a goldfish, you will remember this was the “next big thing” in the 1990s and fell flat on its face. However, with the widespread adoption of broadband and the advances in internet technology, the dream is now possible. For example, sites like 30boxes.com, ajaxWrite and all manner of google offerings are gaining popularity all the time.

I can see why the pundits are heralding this new wave of “next big things” (even if it is a second hand idea), as at first it does seem like a good idea. If one discounts the facts – such as dumb terminals are nothing new(30 years ago all “computers” linked into a mainframe which actually ran the software) people didnt like them and wanted their own computers – and accepts this is an old idea rebadged then there may be some reasons to go down this route.

For some, technophobic, customers there can be advantages to having all your software remotely hosted. The host can automate backups and upgrades and you can pay only for the things you use.Software manufacturers certainly like the idea, being able to keep selling you the same thing, over and over, is fantastic. It is like hiring a car instead of buying your own. No maintainence costs, no road taxes etc. Isnt that computer utopia?

Well, no. The same as hiring a car, you dont “own” anything. This is worse than it may first seem – given that the “ownership” of software is a very grey area.

Let me give you an example, you (CTO of XYZ Company) have decided to save costs and run all your company’s office-like applications on a web provider service. (Eg, ajaxWrite). Everything is great. You have saved a fortune and all the share holders are cheering. One day you log on to write a memo and the host is down. Instantly, you have lost your ability to work. Your office staff cant do anything but sit around. This can happen with an offline application, but generally you become responsible for taking protective measures to prevent it happening. Anyway, on with the example:

After the smoke has cleared, and the MD / bosses stopped trying to kill you, the descision is made to go with an expensive host which has a penalty clause in the contract. Great. Savings are down though, so people arent as happy as before, but still – this is all very Web 2.0 and the terminology has kept them quiet.

One day you come into work and there is a problem connecting to the internet. (ISP / Telco etc). The lines were eaten by a wild, rabit rat and wont be repaired for a week. All your office software – more importanly ALL YOUR DATA – is unavailable for that time. All those off site backups the host has made are worthless and the all high tech kit in your building is sitting silent.

More hell. The shareholders demand you get a leased line with even more penalty clauses. More costs. Now you are hardly making any savings (unless you previously bought new software at the drop of a hat). But at least everyone is happy and you are still “Web2.0ing.”

Another fateful day, you come into work and you web host gives you notice that due to demand, it is changing its T&C and limiting your bandwidth. In addition, because it has a virtual monopoly it is going to increase prices. Outraged you try to move to a different host, only to discover the data you have stored remotely has been stored in a proprietary format. After some furious debates the share holders accept this and allow the extra costs but demand you find a new host. Now you are on the same costs as previously.

The next hurdle appears when you discover all your data has become “intellectual property” of the host (not as far fetched as it sounds), and to make matters worse the host is being bought out by ABC company – your arch rivals. There is nothing you can do at this stage to regain control of your data. You chose to allow a third party complete and utter control over it and now will bear the consequences.

Ok – this is just a hypothetical story. But seriously, what real advantages are there to having all your data stored by an effectively unknown third party? It isnt safer – if you want to be safe, then ensure YOU are running proper security measures. 99% of people connected to the internet are less likely to get hacked than a large application service.

Bottom line – this isnt a new idea, not even an old idea whose time has come. It is stupidity all wrapped in a Web 2.0 cloak.

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Some webdesign links

Just as an aside, I have been looking at changing the layout of a goodly number of the sites maintained by the web warriors at Why Dont You, and one of the things I googled was about getting rounded corners. For those who aren’t aware, this is almost the “holy grail” of current web design trends and is normally done through the excessive use of overlapped, css guided, images.

However, thanks to the mighty google, I came across this site – http://www.html.it/articoli/nifty/index.html – and it shows you how to do the trick with just plain old CSS. Excellent. Also useful is this site on colours: http://www.htmlgoodies.com/ tutorials/ colors/ article.php/ 3478961

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blimey. Coldfusion at last..!

Well, blow me down. As mentioned previously I have had all manner of issues with ColdFusion. I thought I had tried everything. I upgraded Apache. Downloaded the latest versions of the CF software etc. All to no avail.

cfscreen_thumb.jpgAs I was reading through the last post I made, I noticed that I had missed a vital step. I never tried the manual configuration methods on the 2.0.58 version of the server. I upgraded to 2.2 first. Would this do the trick?

Suffice to say after a 2 minute download, 5 minute install and 5 minute manual tweaking I now have a fully running ColdFusion system at last!

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Webserver Woes

Well, as reported previously (see last post crying about this), getting apache, php, python etc up and running on an intranet server has turned into a whole world of problems.

Currently, the problems getting the webserver to talk to python have proven to be insurmountable and I have decided to give up on that. Now the system has been “upgraded” to apache 2.2 and I will try again with Mod_Python when the 3.3 version is out (which claims it can work with apache 2.2!).

Next on the hit list was Cold Fusion. Following the unmitigated sucess getting Ubuntu 6.06 running on one of the linux boxes, I suspect there was the “air” of determined optimisim :). Sadly, things rarely turn out so well. Since the previous problems getting this nightmare bit of software running, repeated google searches had produced some possbile helpfull links:

Sadly, as with the python debacle, there is a lack of actual help on the net. The URL adobe techhelp point to still isnt working. Generally speaking the Macromedia Livedocs run rings round the Adobe “help” pages (which surely should be taken to court for false advertising!).

Anyway, this is the offending line which the CF Installer adds to httpd.conf

LoadModule jrun_module “Z:/CFusionMX7/runtime/lib/wsconfig/1/mod_jrun20.so”

Now, I have checked and the mod_jrun20.so is where the path implies it should be. The installer thinks everything is working and nothing I can do shows any errors. However when httpd.exe is run this is the error message:

Cannot load Z:/CFusionMX7/runtime/lib/wsconfig/1/mod_jrun20.so into server: The specified procedure could not be found.

The madness continues. It appears that nothing I have changed (after masses of manual tweaks) is improving anything at all. It is genuinely insane. This is a demo version. The idea is, that I try this Cold Fusion out, if I like it I buy it. Or better still, if I like it, I buy it and I program in it – causing other server owners to buy it as well. Sadly, given the amount of effort it is taking to install I very much doubt this will ever be the case. I could understand if this was some backstreet coder’s work but this is a major product shipped by a major software company. It should be able to work. Seriously. If I bought a car and when I got it home I had to rewire the electrics for four days to get it to function I would not be keeping it!

Still, the goal is to get it working – not complain about how bad it is (and it is bad). Commenting out the LoadModule line in httpd.conf, gets the webserver (Apache) started – but when you browse to a *.cfm page it tries to make you download this weird thing. Blatantly things arent working.

This quote comes from one of the links listed above: (http://www.adobe.com/cfusion/ knowledgebase/ index.cfm?id=tn_19575)

Macromedia ColdFusion MX comes with a webserver configuration tool for connecting to external web servers. There may be occasions, however, when the tool doesn’t work properly. Should this happen, the connector can still be configured manually. This TechNote demonstrates the steps required for manually configuring connections to Apache 2, IIS and iPlanet websites.

As you can see, even Adobe – Macromedia appreciate that this software of theirs is not working properly. The next stage of my master plan was to follow the advice given on this page.

Now step 1 went fine. Step 2 was a bit pointless (there folder it wants is already there, no point creating it!)

Steps three and four seemed very critical, as the apparently important file it was talking about was not there. (wsconfig.properties and jrunserver.store). I was going to extract the mod_jrun20.so from the JAR file but the one there was the same size as the current but an hour older. As it stands, I left the current one (which was extracted by the system) to see how it went. The changes to httpd.conf were already in place, so I left them.

Well then came the time to try and start apache!


Exact same problem. I extracted the mod_jrun20.so from the JAR as requested, but still nothing. There is the hint, at the bottom of the page that another article may help (and points to the article) but that is nothing other than a copy of this one (or vice versa).

Still “The specified procedure can not be found.”

Does anyone have an answer to this?

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Technological Retreat

Well, as I have said in the past (see previous article) there are numerous problems in the Apache/CF/PHP/MySQL set up I am trying to rebuild. The goal was for a system to develop applications on – using the most recent versions of the software and following the dire performance of SuSE10 I thought trying others would be worthwhile…. How wrong was I?
Apache was easy. Infact really easy. It just worked. (Remember I am currently working on a Win XP box). All you do is download the .msi file and run it. Once it finishes you have a server on localhost.

Perl was also easy (used ActiveState ActivePerl). Just run the .msi and it all works. PHP was harder but with the assitance of google and apachelounge.com that was quickly sorted.

Python and ColdFusion MX7 were next. Urgh is all I can say. Python was easy to install on Windows (ActivePython) howeve the “LoadModule mod_python (blah)” bit has gone terminally wrong. Same problem with ColdFusion in that the following error message appears “The specified procedure could not be found.” Nothing I have done so far will rectify this and websearches are far from helpful.

The best I found was a link to a blog Django on Windows but that was just a comment which hasnt been replied to yet. Macromedia / Adobe had some hope on their support forums but that provided the solution on a URL which doesnt work. All in all – not a successful evening.

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More on ColdFusion MX 7

In the last rant about this, I speculated about how the problem may be related to Macromedia (instead of the OS) as I was unable to get it running properly on all manner of configurations (Mostly XP and Linux). Now, today I have become even more sure of this conclusion.

By messing around with the command line (in windows XP of all places), the problems with Cold Fusion MX 7 became much more obvious. Now I dont think I have to explain to any one how strange it is that the WinXP command line gave a better idea of the problem than Linux terminal window but it still happened like that.

Simply put, Macromedia ColdFusion MX & adds a “LoadModule” line to the httpd.conf file which calls the jrun_module. Seems simple, apache is driven by all these modules (see the Apache website for more) and the LoadModule line is the main part of it.

Sadly, when you run from the console in XP you see the error message. The “.so” file called by the module is trying something “unsupported” by Apache. This is causing all manner of fatal errors – most not showing up in the logs or the x-term windows. So it seems it is actually Macromedia’s fault. Looks like it is time to visit the reference documentation and see what I can learn.

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Pseudoscience, pseudohistory, pseudoeverything…

Alun Salt (of archeoastronomy fame), has written an interesting and well presented article on the history news network, which opens the discussion on the way that historical “facts” can easily be misrepresented (even completely made) up to suit the prevailing needs of the speaker.

It is not just history which suffers from this, although the “woolly” nature of the subject lends itself readily to pseudo-ist ideas. (Should I copyright that phrase?). People are bad enough when it comes to talking about things which happened in recent memory so there should be no surprise at how atrocious people are when it comes to things even further back in time.

Common examples of this are the “it was never like that in my day” conversation. This becomes exponentially more common as you get older and is certainly a sign of aging. Every day I hear people bemoaning how “standards” have dropped and people aren’t getting as “good an education nowadays.” Generally nonsense.

Add to this the “golden times” from beyond possible memories and it gets much wierder. Thanks to the crackpots in the 19th century we are now burdened with all manner of myths and legends which have been shoe horned into a new status as “real.” (For example, King Arthur, Robin Hood etc.).

Combine this with recent trends in media and education which appear to give people an incentive to jump on what ever uban myth bandwagon passess by (I suspect this is more to do with the amount of information people are given today, not any decline of standards or the like) and you can see that sites like Badscience are unlikely to run out of content any time soon. Good examples of the way myths become real are things like the media hyped reaction to the MMR “scare story” (which was mostly the media re-interpreting the published data…) and things like Glass windows “Sagging.” With the increased penetration of the internet, things can only get worse.

I suspect that given the limited amount of data a person can process each day, there has to be a point at which you think “ok, I dont have the time / facilites to investigate this, I will take it on the authority of Person X.” The problem is, often the cranks and crackpots in our society now manage to demonstrate Status. In the UK we suffer people who are famous for all manner of reasons sounding out on issues of climate change and global politics. Really. Our media-driven obsessions with fame have created all manner of insane “Authority Figures” who are so desperate to get another few minutes of TV time, they will spout out nonsense on anything.

A couple of days ago, I was idly watching a chat-type show and some soap star is going on about issues of global politics as if he was the Professor of International Affairs at St Andrews. However, from his comments it was obvious he could barely point to a foreign country on a map – let alone discuss their geo-power related desires. Pure madness.

The scary thing is the number of people I interact with daily who think that these “self educated” (For want of a less flattering term), self appointed heroes of the cause actually know what they are talking about. Shame on everyone.

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Windows as bad as Linux…

Well, with a somewhat embarrased look on my face, I have to provide a follow up to my blog on getting Cold Fusion MX7 running on Linux vs Windows. Sadly, upon booting up the Windows box today this was proven to not be the case.

For some reason, Coldfusion MX 7 has totally embuggerated (is that trademarked word…?) my Apache installation – which completely refuses to run, rendering the Coldfusion installation somewhat pointless (as it wont run without apache). This is starting to degenerate into a farce.

A websearch provided a guide to installing Coldfusion (http://www.sitepoint.com/article/install-coldfusion-mx-windows), granted for version 6.1, which was very detailed and should have been helpfull. Sadly it wasn’t. The instructions here were followed step by step but Apache still gave up the ghost. I have tried default installs of Apache, along with bundled installs (XAMPP etc), and each time it dies on the reboot.

Maybe I was too harsh in my critique of Linux. Maybe it is actually Macromedia’s fault. Needless to say, my interests in developing CF applications is rapidly diminishing…

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