Archive for October, 2006

More Scary Halloween Vista graphics

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

Taking a quick break from pumpkin carving and decorating Castle Kingsley-Hughes ready for the trick or treaters tonight, to do another rush job: creating an animated graphic for Hardware 2.0 as part of the Halloween Scary Technology series over on ZDNet. 

Ani_pumpkin-vista2

Windows Vista EULA – scarier than ghosties, ghoulies and zombies put together!

Happy Halloween!!

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Halloween Vista Pictures

Friday, October 27th, 2006

Here are some images I designed for Hardware 2.0 over on ZDNet today, with the remit of combining a halloween theme with the current licensing issues for the next version of Microsoft Windows, Vista. 

It wasn’t a hard remit and as I’m one of what they rather quaintly call ‘enthusiasts’ – people who build their own PC and/or upgrade it regularly – I am particularly incensed that, where as I could move my copy of Windows XP Professional onto as many PCs as I’ve wanted  (I think I’ve had three PCs during the lifetime of XP) as things are shaping up with the new Vista licensing agreement, I would now have needed a new license before I could move onto the third PC.  

There is also some question as to whether the numerous graphics, network and sound cards as well as changing hard disks multiple times would most likely have triggered the need for a new license had I been using Vista over the last five years.  At the moment under XP when I’ve changed something a new activation is required and this generally happens via the web. Occasionally, I’ve had to phone the activation line to be reinstated by some very bored sounding – but pleasant – lady in India.  Given the new license agreements, I wonder if she’ll be quite so pleasant!! 

I really hope Microsoft change their mind about this.  Their excuse seems to be that there aren’t many of us folks who buy a copy of their Operating System separate from buying their PC.  Well I haven’t bought a PC for many years, preferring to build my own (trust me folks, it ain’t that hard!) so buying Windows separately has always been a necessity for me.  But just because I’m not in the majority, shouldn’t mean that I don’t count!  And having always been very loyal to Windows and to Microsoft, especially having spent a great deal of my time on beta testing Vista,  I’m more than a little bit hurt to be discounted in this way.

Pumpkin_vista

This one wasn't good enough to go up but I thought I'd share it here...
Halloween_vista

Happy Halloween!

Updated to add: The problems with the EULA seemed to have been resolved now. Yey!

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Deceptive Web Ads

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

I don’t like deceptive web ads.  The web of course has had a well-deserved bad reputation for dodgy advertising over the years, so much so that many people have popup blockers and ad stoppers to prevent seeing the ads at all.  In recent years however advertisers and site owners have cleaned up their act a lot, so that most mainstream sites avoid pop-up ads altogether and any swish ads (that open as you mouse over them) do not steal the focus of the page.  I was particularly dishearted then to see this pop-over ad from a reputable charity on a reputable newspaper website.

Deceptive_ad_screenshot

Looking just like the Microsoft Outlook reminder window it is designed to make the reader think they’ve just got a mega-list of things to do.  The buttons are active so, just like Outlook, they move when you hover over them and clicking the buttons brings up more information about the charity’s aims. 

Perhaps it’s considered OK because clicking the buttons doesn’t take you to another website or install spyware or do anything nasty to your computer.  Yes it is a good cause.  Yes it’s for charity.  But that doesn’t make it OK. 

If an ad appeared on TV pretending to be a news bulletin, it would need to display the word ‘Advertisement’ clearly at the top.  If an ad appeared in a – dead tree format – newspaper purporting to be an article, again it would need to display the word ‘Advertisement’ at the top.  Why then should web advertising be considered any different?  Why is it considered permissable to mess with our heads?

By doing this, they are crossing the line between the internet and web page that you’re viewing and your computer and the applications that are on it.  Whether it’s a legitimate ad or not isn’t the point, they’re using a deceptive technique to get your attention. Shame on you Barnardos!

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Adventures in security software: BlackICE

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

I’m still on the search for security tools since my Bitdefender 10 problems.  For anti-virus I’m back on my old Norton AV subscription at least for the few weeks remaining while my search for the best AV continues. 

For firewall, I really don’t want to go back to Zone Alarm as my firewall because it’s too heavy on my system resources and won’t let me log on to Windows Live Messenger. I want a lightweight firewall with application control because I like to know what’s connecting. So, returning to my roots, I decided to go back to BlackICE which I used before I became a Zone Alarm fan a few years back. 

Sadly BlackICE seems to have taken a turn for the worst since I last used their product.  Within a few minutes of downloading and installing I experienced two of those – near-forgotten beasts – the BSOD (or ‘Blue Screen of Death’ for those of you who are lucky enough never to have used Windows before XP). It’s been a while since I saw one and here was two in quick succession.  This was while it was completing its installation by calculating the ‘baseline’ for my PC. [Causing it to flatline, more like!]

The fun continued.  Eventually, after rebooting I managed to kill the BlackICE process (blackd.exe) before it could resume its calculations and go BSOD again.  Apparently it doesn’t like Windows XP SP2 or DEP (Data Execution Prevention) which I really wish I’d know about before I downloaded the software!  So I then set about switching DEP off, not permanently of course, just long enough to uninstall.  [Stay calmgirl,  no need to panic, we can deal with this . It’s no biggie after all Norton Antivirus Live Update has to be excluded from DEP too, so BlackIce are not alone in this kind of shoddy programming.]

Next step to uninstall.  Trouble is the uninstaller doesn’t work giving me the error ‘Failed to get product version’ and the uninstaller stops. Dead!  

061023uninstall_fail

Cue frantic screams for Adrian!  OK so sometimes it’s handy being married to the PC Doctor despite the long hours and ceaseless blogging… 

A few minutes research later and he tells me it’s because of my CPU. Apparently BlackICE not only refuses to play nicely with both XP SP2 and DEP, I’m now hearing that  it doesn't work with 64-bit CPUs running in 32-bit mode[It doesn’t even wanna work with my processor?? Ah crap!]

Luckily, he found me an uninstall tool to get rid of BlackICE which worked, thankfully both very quickly and easily. Panic over! For a while there I thought I was going to be stuck seeing a lot of BSODs! 

Now I’m off to ceremonially burn my BlackICE license key…

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Extras

Friday, October 13th, 2006

Ricky Gervais’ new series of Extras (watch the latest episode on BBC website) is hilarious. 

Sir Ian McKellan is absolutely incredible as … himself.  (Watch out for his ‘graph’ of his method of playing Gandalf in Lord of the Rings – inspired!)  How does Ricky Gervais get such prominent people to send themselves up like that?  And how does he manage to stitch himself up so effectively the whole time?  Loved the first series, but this one is in a different league, mainly because it has such capacity to make the viewer feel so utterly uncomfortable.  I’ve watched every episode of this series either with my hand clamped over my mouth!

We already knew Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant were geniuses of course, but Extras puts them in a different class entirely.

Bitdefender10 Problem

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

I’m on the verge of uninstalling Bitdefender Internet Security 10 for good after having problems with it for the last month.  Adrian posted previously about my Bitdefinder problem and I’ve been very patient with Bitdefender tech support, but I’m now getting to the point where I’m ready to give up and ask for my money back. 

The problems include:

  • Ridiculously slow file accesses – this means that whenever I try to look at a file (for example a small .jpg image file sitting on my desktop) it will take around 15 to 20 seconds to be able to a) preview the file in Windows XP b) alt-return to get the file properties. For network accesses this can be as long as 2 minutes the first time I access a resource since reboot!
  • Even more ridiculously long file save – if I type the words ‘Bitdefender sucks’ into notepad and save it will take 40 seconds before the icon appears on my desktop and control (not just of notepad but of my whole PC) is returned to me.
  • Send to takes an age!  Normally I use send to constantly, but in the last few weeks I’ve given up using it altogether.  Of course I still try to use it compulsively by right clicking and hovering over send to for just a split second before I realize that I shouldn’t have done that.  Some 30 seconds will go by before I can do anything with my PC again and who cares about a send to after 30 seconds? I’ve already gone off to make a cup of tea. 
  •   Deleting a file – just forget it.  You’d be quicker trying to sniff the ones and zeros off the hard drive!

Initially, I liked Bitdefender because its memory/CPU footprint is not so huge as running Norton AV and Zone Alarm.  Trouble is what’s the point of having a fast bit of software if it slows you down at every turn.  If I’d wanted a PC this slow I’d go back to using the one I had 5 years ago.

I’ve actually developed strange ways of getting things done quickly, for example if I want to delete a file off my desktop I open a remote desktop connection to my laptop and use that to delete the file.  It’s much quicker – even though my laptop is situated in a different room, and it’s not even switched on!

So Bitdefender I think you’ve had your chance.  I was really hopeful that these problems could be solved and that tech support would come to my rescue.  But after several emails back and forth and a long wait, they only came back with a couple of suggestions for setting changes that might (but didn't) fix the problem. They don't want to admit that it's a bug. I’m seeing the same problem with Bitdefender 10 on multiple PCs, so it can’t be just my problem. 


Have you had the same problem? Send me an email … who knows maybe they’ll listen if more than just one person – albeit one with lots of PCs – has the same problem!!


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NEF and JPEG

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Question: If I open up a NEF file in Photoshop CS2, why can't I save it as a JPEG when I've finished editing it?

That's a bit of a puzzler but after a bit of searching round and some divine inspiration (ie. clicking on everything!) I managed to recreate the problem.

Originally I was thinking this was an interface bug with CS2 but actually the problem occurs during the import process when the Photoshop Camera Raw dialog box is displayed (where you can set the white balance etc). Check near the bottom of the screen and reset the color depth to 8 bits per channel.
Photoshop Raw Dialog box

If you've already imported the RAW file and edited you can reset the color mode to 8 bits per channel by clicking Image > Mode >8 bits per channel. Saving as a JPG will reappear among the file format in the save dialog.

IE 7 get ready

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Just fixing a few things ready for IE7 which should start being automatically delivered to us all via Windows update any time now. Think about it, switch on your PC in the morning and it silently upgrades while you go make coffee (herbal tea in my case, but once IE7's out I may be back on the hard stuff in no time!). Imagine your surprise when you come back and find that the world looks slightly wrong and websites you use all the time, including your own, don't work quite right. If like me, you haven't been running the beta ("too big, too scary") and have been avoiding thinking about whether everything works in IE7 or not, then this day has probably come around rather suddenly! Picked a helluva day to quit drinking coffee ... 😕

Apparently this is due to happen any day now as Microsoft's update servers fell over for yesterday's patch Tuesday ... so I'm guessing that with supreme irony or forshadowning we'll start to see this roll this out the day after tomorrow or Friday the 13th.

Is that an omen? :mrgreen:

Presenting PowerPoint: Dos and Don’ts

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Do:

  • Check out where you will be presenting before you go. What size is the room? What size is the screen? Where's the light switch? Does the sound system and microphone work?
  • Find out what storage media can be used to transport your presentation? (floppy, CD, DVD, USB memory stick, wireless network)
  • Keep the 3 elements of your presentation separate: your notes for presentation (what you're going to say), your PowerPoint (what your audience will see), handouts for the audience (what you give to your audience to read afterwards).
  • If you can, check through your PowerPoint beforehand in the room where it will be presented to look for any possible problems.
  • Have the title screen of your presentation on the screen before you start. (This saves you from having to speak over screeching chairs as people realize they're in the wrong room, which happened to me!)

Don't:

  • Don't start the PC, projector running after your audience has arrived. Do it first!
  • Don't clear your throat before you speak! Well, go ahead and clear your throat, but do it before standing up, walking to the podium or picking up a mic! Then take a few deep breaths.
  • Don't read your PowerPoint. It's redundant. Your audience has come to hear you speak, not hear you read the screen. Keep your notes separate and glance at them as you need to. Some people say only glance at them occasionally, but don't be afraid to look at them if you need to. It's better than forgetting your words. Switch from looking at your notes to sweeping your eyes around the room to making eye contact with individuals, looking to the screen occasionally to connect what you're saying to the words (and to check that it's on the right slide if you don't have your own monitor!)
  • Don't stray from your subject. It's easy to take a sea of nodding heads as meaning 'wow, this is great, give us more, more, more!' - they may just be nodding off! Remember the old adage 'Leave them wanting more.' and stick to your original outline.
  • Don't let it linger. If you've left a spot for questions, remember to create a slide for this (just the word 'Questions' is fine) and state the time you've allowed for this if you wish. (You may want automate the timing on this slide to move on after the allotted time to give an added visual cue.) Remember to put in a final slide after this to signal that your presentation is complete. A polite thank you on the final slide always works well. If there is a handout for the audience, indicate where they should pick this up before they leave (as you may be ambushed by questioners and hand shakers and you won't be available to do the handing out yourself). Here's a great set of dos and don'ts for presenting your PowerPoint from Cherie Kerr.

Managing your presentation

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Some tips for managing your presentation

  • Keep the presentation ‘on topic’
    Nothing is more boring than a discussion between a speaker and a single member of the audience that seems to have drifted off onto another plane! I think it’s the duty of a presenter in that circumstance to state quite plainly that, while that subject is of great interest to yourself and you’d love to discuss it in greater depth, that it probably isn’t as interesting to the rest of the audience and then offer another time or venue where you can give them more information. Offering to find additional resources that you don’t have with you can be a very useful way to put off even the most persistent questioner!
  • Handling Quentions
    One tip for anyone who is daunted by questions after their presentations: I try to include a slide in my presentation for questions and I limit this to ten or fifteen minutes.  I set the slide timing to move on to the next slide (usually the 'The End - thanks for listening' slide) automatically after the time has elapsed.  If the questions don't fill the allotted time, I simply move to the next slide.  Another tip to prevent questions from delving into the minutia is to state clearly that I want to answer as many questions as possible in the time, then (as the politicians do!) move straight to the next question after giving my answer.  If that feels a little impolite then I add something like 'I'll gladly continue this with you afterwards or via email'.
  • Tough Questions and Persistent Questioners
    Dealing with questions that you don't know the answer to can be hard.  While speaking in public is a major fear for many people, getting asked questions they can't answer is the ultimate stress inducer.  So how do you handle the fear of it happening and how do you handle it if it does? Firstly, it helps to remember that the audience will be sympathetic to the situation you’re in, so even if the questioner is quite determined it helps to remember that everyone else is on your side! Also they’ll probably be very grateful if you put off the person to another time or promise to discuss it with them later (because let’s face it, the questions come at the end of the presentation, and by then everyone will be wanting to get away!) So, smile broadly and do what the politicians do, answer as best you can, then without pausing move on to the next question!
  • Questions during the presentation and Losing your place
    It’s not always possible (especially if you're delivering a presentation in an academic setting) to leave questions to the end of the presentation. One tip if you feel you’re being pulled off your train of thought is to write ‘we got to here’ on the slide at the point where you got to. This gives a reminder for you and a visual reminder to students that the discussion needs to end and you need to move back to your planned presentation. And if they are doing it just to get you off track, hopefully they’ll have realized they’ve failed!
  • Handouts 
    Keep these until the end.  This avoids paper shuffle during the presentation and also avoids the audience feeling anxious that they're supposed to be reading this stuff, when you really want them listening to you and looking at your presentation.  It's best to put the handouts somewhere for people to pick up on their way out, preferably near the door, because you may be too busy answering questions or shaking hands to hand them out.  Put a reminder (on your final 'thank you' slide) to pick up the handout on the way out (and you can even say where the pile of handouts is if it's possible to edit your slide in situ). Also remember to include your email address or phone number on both the final slide and the handout, so that those who don't have time now can follow up with you later.

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