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ID card smoke screen

All this time I've been worrying about ID cards and I should have been worrying about the routine tracking of all UK drivers via a vast network of cameras and a big ass database.

What a fucked up nasty Big Brother state we live in. Between this and the retention of mobile phone records, the Government will broadly know where I am at all times now.

I may as well get my ID card and be done with it.

Nice of the Independant to mention civil liberties in one small paragraph in the article. That'll make people sit up and take notice.

Hurray.

Compare and Contrast

Bug reporting in Fogbugz (the tracker we use at work) is very simple. There aren't many fields and you can't customize it much. QA are sometimes frustrated by this but on the whole most people agree that Fogbugz got instant and widespread buy in precisely because it was simple and has been a great success. Joel himself summarizes the principal like so:

People add so many fields to their bug databases to capture everything they think might be important that entering a bug is like applying to Harvard. End result: people don't enter bugs, which is much, much worse than not capturing all that information.

So far so groovy.

The other day I spotted what I consider to be a bug in Firefox, the posterchild Open Source browser.

Being the good citizen I am, I thought I'd report it so I went to the Firefox Bug Reporting Page.

Are they having a laugh? Have you seen the steps I am expected to go to before a I register a bug?



Use the latest nightly build of Firefox with a new profile
Ch…

Grabbr 1.2

The process of porting Grabbr to the new Flickr login mechanism has taken longer to complete than writing version 1.

However, it's done now and can be downloaded from the project page.

If you're a Yahoo!-ite or just a Flickerer tricked into merging your accounts, you can now get Grabbr to work.

This is a joke right?

Flickr has updated the authentication method used for 3rd party applications.

"OK" I thought, "I'll just get Grabbr working correctly."

Then I saw the spec.

It's a joke right? They don't really expect you to do all that do they?

All those bright people at Flickr who made the most fun, usable photo sharing service ever, and this is what they came up with? It's a complete and utter pain in the arse.

Maybe I should go and join the tinfoil hat brigade in Flick Off and blame Yahoo! for the end of civilization as we know it.

IE Se7en

Leaving aside the lack of CSS stuff which I know is coming in the next beta, IE 7 is still just lame.

There are many things I dislike about it but the thing that offends me most is the total disregard for UI standards that has been employed in what will (tragically) become the most used application in Windows.

The prime example is that Microsoft have taken the single most annoying "feature" they introduced to Windows - the ability to tear off the menu bar and move it and taken it to the next level.

They have moved the menu bar below the tabs, and then just to spit in your eye a little more, they have reverted to it being non movable, so you can't even put it back where it belongs.

Rubbish.

Bonjour iChat's use of XMPP (Jabber)

I'd been meaning to do this for a while, but prodding from various people in comments and email has prompted me to actually start.

This post will document how iChat makes use of the XMPP protocol for its local Rendezvous/Bonjour/Zeroconf/whatever messaging. It is by no means complete, and based purely on my observations while trying to make the iChat plugin for Miranda.

If you have any corrections or want to fill in one of the many gaps, then please add comment here and I'll get it up to date.

Introduction

iChat is in most respects a pretty standard jabber client. You should be able to talk to it very quickly by modifying any existing Jabber library and building in the Zeroconf stuff. For example I modified the Jabber plugin for Miranda. There is absolutely no need to start from scratch.

Just to be clear, I personally use the Apple Bonjour SDK in C for Windows, but any Zeroconf library will do. In my Zeroconf examples I refer to the Apple SDK functions here and there, it's left…

Just another reason to hate RealPlayer

This popped up the first time that I plugged in my iPod after installing RealPlayer.

Are they insane? What makes them think I would possibly want to manage it with that POS?

Option Smug Off

I looked at VB.NET for about 5 minutes but I can’t see a single compelling reason to use it. A few syntax constructs remain but basically it’s a new language and one that does not appear to be as well supported as C#. Whichever language you use, you still have to learn the Winforms way and the .NET API. The extra learning involved in C# syntax is negligible

C# provides excellent support for early binding to COM. You just import the COM reference, some magic wrapper code is created and you pretend you're using a .NET object.

So far so good.

Unfortunately, in some circumstances you don't want early binding, you want late binding.

There are scenarios for which late binding is justified. You may not know the exact binary interface until runtime. The object may exist in multiple versions and have improperly adapted interfaces between the versions.

This is where things become a pain in C#. You have to use reflection to invoke everything, producing such beautiful code as:



// overloaded…

Grabbr 1.1

More tinkering with Grabbr has resulted in a 1.1 release.

I've added the ability to draw pretty red boxes for highlighting stuff (assuming you don't want to use flickr's notes), and also an obscuring button so you can blank out your confidential data before uploading.

Also new is mult-level undo of said features.

It's feeling quite slick now. If only Paul would come up with some nicer toolbar buttons.

With thanks to Jason Rhyley

Been playing with Greasemonkey again.

Phil showed me two scripts for Flickr by Jason Rhyley

The first adds some text formatting buttons to Flickr text areas.

The second adds some extremely nice extra features to Flickr photo pages (links to different sizes, HTML code for copy and paste, etc).

So in, er "homage" to these scripts, I whipped up two of my own.

The first adds text formatting to LiveJournal's posting form (so you don't have to use the painful rich text editor).

The second adds an option to enter a photo to the current Camera Phone Competition by tagging the photo and then posting a thumbnail to the appropriate discussion. I realize this is quite a niche script 1 but I was quite pleased with its exotic mix of Flickr API calls, screenscraping and posting to other pages.


[1] Unless of course you'd care to join us in the competition, it's only just started.

Screenshotting Flickr

My latest side project is Grabbr, a tool to capture screenshots and upload them automatically to Flickr.

For all my bitching about C++, it was actually really easy to write. I don't think it would have been a whole heap quicker in .NET, and it would have used up a shed load more system resources.

On a related note, rather than bake the Flickr API stuff directly into the app, it's in a seperate library. The cppFlickr library really only covers the functions I needed for Grabbr at the moment but it should grow in time. It's all standard C++ so although I only build for Windows, it shouldn't be hard to port to other platforms.

More UK Big Brotherisms

The latest wheeze to come out of the Government. Universal road tolls backed by satellite tracking.

Every vehicle would have a black box to allow a satellite system to track their journey, with prices starting from as little as 2p per mile in rural areas.
It looks like more and more government policy is informed by the twin beliefs that

Privacy is not importantGovernment can implement huge IT projects
If either of them weren't true then there'd be a problem. Given that they both look suspect, heaven help us.

Usable Windows

Work just swapped out my machine and it came complete with all the software I need to do my job.

God, what a nightmare! For the record, and my own future benefit, here's a list of all the tweaks and software I need to make Windows bearable.

Tweak Windows Explorer - Stop hiding file extensions and system filesInstall FirefoxTweak Firefox Advanced Options - Open links from other applications in a new tab in the most recent window)Add AdBlockAdd GreaseMonkeyGet Power ToysInstall Tweak UIInstall Command Prompt HereInstall TaskswitchInstall WhoLockMeInstall Startup MonitorInstall Startup Control PanelWipe out unneeded startup itemsUse Classic SearchInstall ClipomaticInstall AppRocketInstall MirandaInstall PuttyInstall FilzipNo doubt I'll find more annoyances as time goes on.

Updated: See, 1 hour in and I've already found something missing:
iTunesiPod Software

Odd spam.

I just got a spam email that was basically a cut and paste of this article from The Register.

No links, no exhortations to buy, just that.

Unless it's an attempt to game the Google adwords on my GMail, I don't understand what it's for.

Software evolution in pictures.

I'm currently writing a tool to take screenshots and upload them to Flickr.

The core functionality is done, but I need some more attractive icons and buttons.

You can see the tool's progress in its own Flickr account. I think it's quite cool1 to watch the tool record its own development.





[1] For values of "cool" that include a large dose of geekery

Since we're talking about ID cards

Former Lib Dem MP and all round knowledgeable person Richard Allen chimes in:

There are a number of red herrings in the Government’s case for ID cards (Guardian p4 26th May).

The biggest of these is the card itself. The most important element of the proposed Bill is not the issuing of an ID card but the national identity database. Identity cards are only an optional and expensive extra to this database. So when the Government ‘concedes’ that it will not be compulsory to carry the card, this is meaningless as it is common practice for us all to carry our irises and fingers from which the Police will be able to extract the information they need to check against the database with portable scanners. As live scanning technology becomes cheaper, it is quite possible that the cards will be quietly dropped in favour of direct checking of biometrics against the database in a range of situations.

Which makes it all even more worrying, since ID theft can't even be countered by cancelling a card…

Could you cancel my fingerprints while I cut up my eyeballs please?

The UK and US are getting biometric ID cards.

Regardless of your opinion of national ID schemes, it seems to me that a biometric based system is just asking for unnecessary extra trouble.

A quick Google suggests that it's already possible to fake a fingerprint scan with relative ease which isn't a good start.
Let's give the Government the benefit of the doubt and assume that:
They can improve scanners such that the existing fingerprint hole can be plugged.Retina scanners are not currently foolable. 1 Given the length of time these systems would have to be in place to be cost effective (ha!), it's almost inconceivable that the scanning technology will not be outstripped by some deception technology during its lifetime.

Now we're reliant on people taking the scans to be vigilant to spoofing methods again, and we know for a fact that that won't happen.

So what do I do in this future world of perfect global identification when someone has my identity? I won't be can…

The May-lenium Bug

I haven't used FeedThing for ages, I've been using Bloglines so I don't have read/unread issues reading at home and work.

The Usability Manager in my company does use it however to keep up to date with internal RSS feeds.

It all stopped working a few weeks ago and I've discovered that it contains a schoolboy error that renders it incapable of working at all in the month of May.

She's christened it the May-lennium bug.

Everyone hates a smartarse.

Why I am no longer a Vodaphone customer

I just sent this letter to Vodaphone customer services.


Dear Sir,

Having been on one of your pay monthly contracts for over a year I was due to renew my contract and get a new phone.

Now I understand that there's a certain amount of haggling to be done to get the best deal. I find it unpleasant, but it's a fact of life.

I had a specific phone requirement, so I looked around for the best deal I could find. Having found what I wanted, I called your upgrades department and explained what I wanted, and what it would cost me elsewhere. They told me that there was nothing they could do about it, that they only had the deals available to them.

That seemed fair enough, so I went out and got myself a new phone and contract. When I called to cancel my old contract however, I was surprised to be offered a tariff that undercut my new deal. I explained that I had already signed a new contract, and it was suggested to me that I should go back and cancel this contract.

I find this astonishi…

This is local chat for local people

I finally scratched my Rendezvous itch with an iChat plug in for Miranda the multi-protocol Instant Messenger for Windows.

It's a little rough and ready at the moment, but I'm working on smoothing it out.

Download it now and talk to the smug Mac users on your network1

[1] Unless of course they're using Adium - but I'll get right onto that.Fixed!

Citeable Blockquotes

I use some javascript to make the citations in my blockquotes clickable. It's all very well but it doesn't exactly help for general browsing.

So, with a little more Greasemonkeying, we have Blockquote Citations.

It works by adding a link to the citation if it appears to be a url. It will use the blockquote's title as the link text or "source" if there isn't a title.

It will not add the link if there is already a visible link to the same URL - the idea being we don't want to make pages unreadable if people already have gone to the trouble of linking to their source either manually or with script.

This blog has the blockquote citations script inline, but you can test your installation of the script on this handy test page.

Nice Titles in GreaseMonkey

In response to a request on the GreaseMonkey Wiki and with the kind permission of Stuart Langridge I've ported Nice Titles to GreaseMonkey (actually this involves almost no work on my part).

They key differences between the original and my version are:

No need for browser detection or background pngs - we're always in Firefox.
I've added a 1 second delay on the Nice Title appearing since I prefer it that way.


Get the script here.

It's all just Rip, Mix, Burn innit?

The latest blog echo chamber whitterings seem to be on the subject of AutoLinks in Google's new toolbar.

Given that this feature would have to have near magical qualities to induce me to start running IE again, I'm probably not best placed to comment on its utility.

But after yesterday's tremendous experience with Greasemonkey, I think that it is worth pointing out that mangling the content in the browser is a stunningly useful idea. I may have only had it for a day and only run a handful of scripts, but the only way you're going to get Greasemonkey off me now is to prise if from my cold dead hands.

I've read a lot of bitching and moaning about the rights of content producers having their precious editorial mangled with, but honestly it doesn't wash. This is just Rip, Mix, Burn for the browser, and quite frankly it's been going on for ages. What do you think your popup blocker does? What does you Advertisement blocker do?

OK so this particular mangling happ…

A Bloglines to call my own courtesy of Greasemonkey

Bloglines is growing on me the more I use it. So much so that my own aggregator is falling completely by the wayside.

That said though, there are a number of annoyances with it's interface that drive me nuts.

The worst of these is Bloglines' complete and utter insistence in opening every link in a new window.

Enter Greasemonkey stage right.

Five minutes after installation and my first user script was complete. It's not rocket science but it makes the whole Bloglines experience much more pleasant (for me at least) by opening all links in the frame which they originate. If you want to read in a new window or tab, there's always right click isn't there?

Life is Random

So say Apple as an excuse for the stripped down nature of the iPod Shuffle.

Except of course, they're right. A random selection of your favorite tracks is mostly all you need. Having reinstalled my home computer, I have yet to get round to replacing all the wiped out music.

Turns out it doesn't matter. Instead I've been connecting to my last.fm personal radio station. All my top tunes (no laughing at the back) streamed to my home in random fashion.

Does this mean I'll get an iPod shuffle? Well no, I still lust for the full on white iPod goodness and iTunes Audioscrobbler users will be pleased to hear I am > < this close to getting one.

What I would get would be a mobile phone that would stream last.fm to me at an affordable cost. I wonder how far in the future such a device is?

Low end Apple

There's not much point in pontificating too much on the Mac Mini and the iPod Shuffle. The world and his wife has done this.

Of course I'm still going to do it.

Personally I think the shuffle looks like a nice flash player, but it hasn't had me reconsidering my decision to get an iPod. The Mac mini looks fun, and if they're still going in 12 months I'll probably get one to retire my current iMac. With any luck they'll be G5 based by then.

The response to the new Apple products has been largely predictable. People are largely hailing them as the affordable Mac/iPod for granny or castigating them for being underpowered / underfeatured and not as cheap as they look. I can't decide which side I'm on.

What I am surprised about though, is doom laden predictions that they undermine the Apple brand. I can't believe this is true. The smart luxury brands always have an affordable range as well to keep the aspirational masses happy. I'm strongly reminded …

What security problem?

In theory my home machine should be a completely spyware and virus overrun spam distributing zombie.

I've been running anti-virus free Windows XP pro on a broadband connection for about a year which I'd heard was tantamount to suicide, especially when you consider that almost all of that time was pre SP2.

In my more paranoid moments, I have taken to running netstat -a to look for unexpected connections whenever my machine slowed down suspiciously.

But in the last few days I have installed both Anti Virus software and Microsoft's new Anti-Spyware tool and both report me clean.

Hurray for the twin joys of XP's built in firewall and FireFox.

I suppose there's always the chance that my problems are so insidious that neither tool could spot them. Hey ho.

Music player usage is a power law just like everything else.

At least if you believe these figures from Audioscrobbler:


lastscrobplugin | count
-----------------+--------
wa2 | 17667
itw | 5518
wmp | 2920
osx | 1846
foo | 1823
xms | 591
ark | 533
qcd | 205
jmc | 74
rbx | 39
slm | 27
tst | 9
shk | 4
mdn | 3
bmp | 3
mpd | 2
noa | 2
pte | 1
123 | 1

The good news for me is that iScrobbler for Windows is the second most popular plugin even if it lags seriously behind Winamp.