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Diary of System and Website Development
Part 12 (October 2007 -December 2007)

13th October 2007

Barcodes for ISBN Numbers

This is a rather ISBN 13 Barcode different entry into the Diary. Pauline is writing a book and getting it published and has obtained a set of ISBN numbers. All books now have the ISBN number in barcode form on the back cover and I was tasked with making one. I did some research on the Internet and found out that it was not as simple as one might expect. I found after many searches a few demonstration barcode programs capable of generating the new ISBN 13 format barcodes and some explanations of what is required and useful background. An example of an ISBN 13 barcode is on the left.

The references and programs I have found useful are:

Barcode Blitz which has a free demonstration program which produces ISBN 13 barcodes, when saved they have the word demo across the bars. The download is a small zip file and the program does not need to be installed and can be run from the zip archive. The help file is a font of information. Expensive to buy a licence but very simple to use. Runs under Microsoft XP service pack 2 and Vista. I have it partially running under Wine on Linux after adding a .dll from XP but it does not yet produce any text - a fort problem but at least the demo text is also missing! Produces .png .jpg .bmp .tiff and .eps files

Barcode Maker 5 - the first program I found with a free 30 day trial and very comprehensive. A big download and needs to be installed with a reboot. Again a pile of text is put across the file if saved as a .tiff file but there are many options including a lower resolution .bmp without added text. If you want to buy the registered version it is cheaper than Barcode Blitz.

Yaquinapress - a site covering use of the Lulu.com printing service which has a number of useful pages including the one linked here which covers making barcodes suitable for Lulu an hence any other book. It references a free online barcode maker which is referenced below.

Bookland - has a free online barcode maker which produces an .eps format file with few adjustments possible.

When one looks at the back of book it is rapidly apparent that every barcode is different in size, aspect ratio and the associated text and numbers. My research has led me to believe that there are ISO standards defining much of this and that there are 10 standard scaling factors with the default height of the barcode being 24.5 mm (not 25.4 or one inch) - the guard 'characters' at either end and in the middle are higher. The scaling allowed is from approx 82% to 180% .

First some acronyms

The ISBN 13 barcodes are to the same underlying standards as EAN 13. These days the ISBNs are almost always scanned using the barcode but the standards say that the character set should be one of the Optical Character Reader friendly sets ie OCR-B see Matthew Skala

File Formats and scaling. The barcodes produced need to be saved and scaled in a way that they remain sharp ie they should not be in a compressed format such as .jpg . Bitmap files and .png files should be OK. The .eps files are vector graphics which have to be converted to work on in Windows. It is far better to get the size right at the start which can be done best in Barcode Blitz. If the files are too big reduce the colour depth in a graphics program such as the free IrfanView or the OpenSource GIMP.

Addition Digits: You will see that many barcodes on books have an additional 5 digits and a separate set of bars. These can be used to give a price. 90000 is the price not given code. The leading digit gives the country with 0 for UK pounds and, for example, 5 for Canadian Dollars.

17th October 2007

Setting up a system including a Laptop with Windows Vista

These are my notes from setting up a Toshiba Satellite L30 for a client who wanted to replace a basic laptop which was used for personal work alongside a Dell desktop running Microsoft Office 2003, Outlook 2003 for business. Internet access was via Tiscali broadband and their standard USB ADSL modem. The basic requirement was to now be able to be able to work on the laptop around the house whilst flood damage was being made good without spending a large amount on additional business software. It would provide a valuable backup to the Desktop which, although working to some extent, had a number of anomalies following the floods. The desktop had not been completely immersed - the problems were mainly caused by wet mains and other cables which had caused repeated shutdowns which Microsoft Windows dislikes.

The Toshiba Satellite L30 was available at a very favourable price of £318 plus £5 delivery from Dabs.com and had Vista Home Basic, a 60 Gbyte hard drive, 1 Gbyte memory, WiFi, modem, Network port, 2xUSB ports and a DVD +-RW dual layer making it a good choice. A Targus bag, 4 way USB port and miniature retracting cable mouse was available as a package addition for £16.

Internet Access: The decision had already been made to replace the existing USB modem which had started giving intermittent problems following the flood. I chose a model 3CRWDR101A-75-UK 3Com ADSL Modem with Wifi/Router/Firewall because 3Com products have proved very reliable and stable for me and my clients, unlike those from Netgear and other manufacturers. This cost was approximately £50 from Ebuyer including a 10m long ethernet cable to the desktop so the modem could be sited in a dry place adjacent to the telephone line into the house. That restored a rock stable connection for the desktop with a good signal to noise ratio measured.

WiFi security. The laptop is normally connected via WiFi which has two layers of security. Firstly the WiFi Network has been configured to use WEP 128 bit security and secondly MAC address filtering has been enabled - this should be sufficient to protect against all but the most sophisticated or persistent hackers. As with most ADSL/Routers/Firewalls the 3Com on is set up via an ethernet cable connection to the main computer where one logs into the router control panel via an internet browser at address via a [username and] password - the password was reset for security. The connection procedures are covered in my Guide to Painless Networks page on Adding an ADSL WiFi Router Firewall for Broadband and Wireless Access and will not be repeated here other than to note Tiscali uses PPPoA and one can use the defaults for everything else other than setting your username which must be in the form user@tiscali.co.uk and the password. The Security is set on a tab under Wireless Settings as is the MAC Filtering on the Connection Control Tab. The initial set up of the wireless network is made without any MAC filtering and it needs to be temporarily turned off every time another laptop is added. Once the extra connection is made on the laptop the address can be found from the drop down list of connections and then added to the table when the filtering is turned back on.

Microsoft Windows Vista Home Basic: The initial reaction to my first exposure to Windows Vista Home Basic was not good. I turned on and it took about half an hour to complete the configuration, similar to XP, then the problems started. I connected a network cable and set up and updated the free Norton security suite without taking too much time but the Windows updates stalled after a few of 26 updates (total 66 Mbytes) were downloaded and installed. I tried repeatedly and finally got them in, by selecting a small number each time . Basic setup thus took about three hours to complete - this is clearly not acceptable for a normal user.

WiFi Configuration: The WiFi configuration on the laptop uses the Windows software rather than that from the WiFi network card manufacturer and it worked well I could then access the Internet and I set up file sharing on the Shared Folder. Initially I could see in from other machines but could not see out unless I turned the Norton Firewall off. I finally had to turn off several of the general rules to get file sharing to work and more importantly access to a printer over the network, again difficult for a normal user. I must admit I do not like Norton and have replaced my free copies at the first opportunity, however I have never experience this sort of problem before on the XP versions. I would have replaced it with AVG as a Virus checker and a ZoneAlarm firewall if it was not a new machine which might need warranty or other support during the first few months - my recommendation is not to buy a subscription but to replace it after a couple of months with AVG and ZoneAlarm or the McAfee Security suite in common with the desktop

Office Software: Coming next to Office Software - there was a requirement to be compatible with Microsoft Office Word and Excel however Microsoft Office 2007 is very expensive if it includes Outlook. OpenOffice 2.3 does a very good job, is Open Source and cross platform and can be downloaded free. It is easier to use than Microsoft Office and can be set to use the Microsoft file formats as the default. That was an easy choice and downloaded (115Mbytes) and installed quickly and the only work was to add links to the desktop.

Email is a more difficult issue. The solution chosen is to continue to have the desktop as the master machine for downloading email where it is backed up regularly and provides an audit trail for the business. Any email downloaded on the laptop is left on the server and any replies from the laptop need to be blind copied back so they can be read on the master desktop to give an audit trail. Now much as I hate to admit it I believe that Microsoft Outlook 2003 (and later) are the best email/time management packages available but at a price. Outlook however has an important shortfall for this application in that it lacks the ability to set up an automatic blind copy. I have therefore chosen my other favourite Email package, Thunderbird from the stable that produced the Firefox browser. It is perfect for economic email collect whilst operating away from home via a mobile phone and I have used nothing else on my laptop away from home for a year now. It has considerable control over the amount of email downloaded and how it is stored on the server as well as having an automatic blind copy. There is some control in Outlook and on the account shared with the laptop I have set it to leave emails on the server for 60 days or until deleted from the deleted mail folder which allows mail to also be collected on the laptop. A new account has been set up for the blind copies sentmail@xxxxxxxx.co.uk

File Transfers between machines: Vista has much greater protection against outside access to files and I needed a simple mechanism for my client to transfer files. I therefore used the folders provided in XP and Vista for sharing and enabled them for access across the network. Under Vista they are called Public Folders whilst under XP they are called Shared Documents (and are in a Folder called Shared). This is very confusing to me and even more so to normal users so I have set up Links to these folders on the desktops of both machines. To transfer a file from the Desktop it is dragged onto the OUTGOING link and then when one click on the INCOMING link on the Desktop it will be in the folder ready to drag to wherever required. In the future I think I would use LOCAL and REMOTE as the designations.

Extra Software Loaded on Laptop: The software I have loaded is all free, cross platform and Open Source where possible:

  1. Firefox browser with Googlebar Search bar
  2. Thunderbird - Email set up to leave copies of all emails on the server and to copy all outgoing emails to sentmail@xxxxxx.co.uk
  3. OpenOffice 2.3 - Word processor, Spreadsheet, Presentation graphics etc. which are compatible with Microsoft Office with links to the Word processor and Spreadsheet on the desktop
  4. TrueCrypt - Encryption Software set up to give an encrypted virtual drive of one Gbyte for secure data storage when used away from home
  5. Google Earth - offers maps and satellite images for complex or pinpointed regional searches. (Free and cross platform but not true Open Source)
  6. Picasa - Google's software to find, organise and share photographs. (Free and cross platform but not true Open Source)

Security Software on Laptop: Currently the Security (Antivirus, Firewall etc) is using the free 90 days of Norton Internet Suite which does not slow the machine down as much as I expected from previous experience.

CD/DVD Software on Laptop : No extra software has been provided by Toshiba for CD/DVD writing and the software built into Vista Home seems adequate - I tested with a DVD -RW. There is DVD playing software included (WinDVD)

Summary of Changes made on the Desktop Machine

  1. A new Outlook Account to download sentmail, saved on server for 30 days as a backup mechanism
  2. Other accounts shared with the laptop set to save mail for 60 days or until deleted from the deleted mail folder
  3. Thunderbird Installed and mail and address book imported to allow subsequent export for transfer to the laptop.
  4. File and printer sharing enabled and Shared Documents folder shared with a shortcut to it on the desktop.
  5. A shortcut to the Remote Public Folders on the laptop (requires login with the laptop account name and password) and to the Local Shared Folders

Summary of Transfers of Information from Desktop to Laptop

  1. Address book exported from Thunderbird to a .ldir file and imported into Thunderbird on laptop
  2. Favourites and cookies transferred from Firefox on desktop to laptop

Outstanding actions:

  1. Provide list of passwords for WiFi WEP access, email accounts, router access machine users and put in Truecrypt encrypted vault to client.
  2. Set up a dial-up connection for access to email and the internet for emergencies and whilst away from home during flood restoration.
  3. Transfer existing emails from the desktop currently stalled because of a possible virus infected email on the desktop machine - a full heuristic AV scan should be carried out by the client before continuing.
  4. Set up a backup procedure for client for the two machines.

Overall: The Toshiba Satellite L30 seems a first class machine entry level laptop and has adequate processor speed and memory to run Vista Home and the Open Source software I have installed. It has been successfully been set up using a Wifi connection for internet access round the house, file sharing with the desktop, printing on the desktop and collection of email. The work on the sorting out the Desktop will be covered separately.

19th October 2007

Windows Vista - Some Notes on differences from Windows XP

Mozilla Profile locations: Vista has the Thunderbird and Firefox Profiles in a different place to XP. You can navigate directly to your profile folders at paths C:\Users\ <Windows user name> \AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird\Profiles\<Profile name>\ and C:\Users\<Windows login/user name>\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\. The AppData folder is folder is a hidden folder; to show hidden folders, open a Windows Explorer window and choose "Organize -> Folder and Search Options-> Folder Options -> View (tab) -> Show hidden files and folders". See http://kb.mozillazine.org/Profile_folder_-_Thunderbird#Windows_Vista

19th October 2007

The Authors curse - Autoformat in Microsoft Word and OpenOffice Writer

Both Microsoft Word and OpenOffice have powerful automatic formatting and correction built in. This is fine when writing ordinary documents but can be a real problem when authoring documents for publication. One example is the automatic creation of clickable hyperlinks whenever a URL is detected. Both Word and OpenOffice Writer have two modes of action, both of which are normally on - autoformat and autoformat as you type. In both OpenOffice Writer and Microsoft Word these can be changed by Tools -> AutoCorrect -> Options. To remove an accidental hyperlink in OpenOffice put the cursor in the link and use the drop down style box (far left on bottom toolbar) to select Clear Formatting. In Microsoft Word 2003 hover over the link and then you will find a little bar at the far left, when the cursor is slid down over it a drop down menu will open which allows you to remove the formatting.

19th October 2007

Disabling Suspend and Hibernate for Laptops in Ubuntu Linux

I had problems when testing suspend and hibernate on a laptop which resulted in some very peculiar happenings and my having to recreate a swap file. The following terminal commands create the swap file.

fdisk -l # List all partitions - look for the one marked as a Linux Swap
sudo mkswap /dev/hdxn # Create swap file system on disk x partition n (deletes contents)
sudo swapon /dev/hdxn # Add to running system
sudo swapon -s # Make sure it is live

I therefore looked for a way to prevent them being activated. GNOME contains a database for storing your preferences called gconf, which is a similar database to the Windows registry. There is a Configuration Editor Program for Gnome which can be accessed via Applications -> System Tools -> Configuration Editor to easily make changes for the current user. To make global changes it is best called in a terminal by:

sudo gconf-editor

Navigate through the left hand tree to applications -> gnome-power-manager. Find the options named 'can_hibernate' and 'can_suspend' and uncheck them both.

Right-click on each in turn and click Set as Mandatory to make sure that it applies to all users then exit the Configuration Editor. Changes will not appear until after a reboot.

27th October 2007

Extracting High Resolution Pictures from Adobe Acrobat PDF files

It is often difficult to extract high resolution pictures from an Adobe Acrobat PDF file. A quick and dirty way I have found works in an emergency is to increase ones screen resolution as high as possible I can get to 1920 x 1440 on a normal monitor - it is difficult to read but you will not be doing much. I then open Acrobat and zoom until the picture just fits within the screen then do a screen dump - this gives me an image of about 1300 in height which is acceptable for screen work and printing up to say 6x4 inches. I use the screen grab in an old copy of Paintshop Pro which has a setup under the capture drop down menu which can be triggered by a key such as f11 or a right click and has an option to select the area which saves tripping later. You can then save it as JPG or carry on working on it first if you can work at that resolution on the screen! You can also use the snapshot tool in Adobe which also grabs to the clipboard at the screen resolution and then paste into your graphics program.

This may not work on a low resolution LCD screen where you may be limited to only a height of 750 but you can always do the top and bottom and put them together (use a high zoom in PSP when you merge them to get the alignment perfect.

27th October 2007

A New Machine - HP Compaq DX2250

This is the story of the search for a new machine and the choices finally made for machine, operating system and software. The requirement to update was finally brought to a head by my starting to edit a lot of video which is stressful on machines at the best of time.

My 'desktop' set up at present comprises a venerable Dell XPS700, a powerful machine when it was bought seven years ago which has been much updated and has proved very reliable. It started with a Pentium III 700 Mhz Coppermine processor, 64 Mbytes of memory and a 15 Gbyte drive and ended up with 320 Mbytes and two hard drives of 160 plus 80 Gbyte. It started with Windows 98 SE and had a clean install of Windows XP.

In addition I have a home build round an Gigabyte Triton motherboard with Athlon 2500+ processor, 758Mbytes Memory and two drives of about 250 Mbytes. They share a common keyboard optical mouse and Dell 19 inch monitor via a Belkin KMB switch which also switches audio.

The Dell is the reliable workhorse which is used for email (with a long audit trail) printer (accessible over the network), and the master set of our documents, photographs and audio recordings. It only runs Windows XP SP2. It is the central machine in our network and acts as the file server for the master documents. The network is a mixture of Wifi for our two laptops and hard wired Ethernet to my pair of desktops although the home-build also has Wifi.

The Athlon 2500 home built machine is used for demanding work and a test-bed so has less valuable data. It is triple booted to Windows 98 SE for legacy peripherals, Windows XP SP2 for Video Editing and scanning and Linux - Ubuntu 'Dapper Drake' for most of the time. It has always been a bit cantankerous and has a habit of not finally shutting off the power supply when halted and not suspending well for long periods – other random problems resulted from a poor power supply connector to one drive. The side of the case normally stays off! On a good day it is adequate for Video editing but the combination of occasional hardware related problems and the habit of Pinnacle Studio 10 freezing at the slightest provocation does not make life easy. A better video card than the on-board video and more speed would be a big help – the final transcoding and adding titles when making DVDs is done in Nero 6 (because Studio has too many bugs) and takes about twice real time and is best left overnight.

It was obvious that in the long term both machines need to be replaced so the new machine will probably end up filling both slots at some stage. I thought long and hard about Vista versus XP and in the end decided not to make it a factor in my choice. My machines tend to be made to keep going by upgrades etc so one would probably end up being forced to Vista but short term I felt it would be no advantage. It would also end up being dual booted to Ubuntu for most of the time in one role. Everything other than processor power can be upgraded and I thought the right point on the power/price curve was at about twice what the home-build offered ie an ~5000+ class machine which implied a dual processor AMD Athlon between 4400 and 5600 or equivalent Intel dual core Pentium.

I have always had Dells, both at work and home and many of my 'clients' have the same but recently they have come with so much preloaded rubbish that they almost need a reinstall before being put into service. The quality and generosity of build may also have fallen a bit so they were a candidate rather than an automatic choice. I looked at some of the Maxdata machines which Ebuyer sells which were obviously capable of upgrade - one was very attractive as it still had Windows XP, lots of expansion slots and lots of memory (2 Gbytes), disk (500 Gbytes) and an Intel Core 2 Duo E6420 2,13Ghz processor all for £400. It had 55 reviews, mostly enthusiastic and had been run with Ubuntu. The matching Dell with Athlon 64 5600+, 250 Mbyte drive 2 Gbytes Ram came out at £470 with a 19” wide screen (monitor which I did not really want) in the bundle.

Whilst brooding the merits of these two I came upon adverts for HP Compaq business oriented machines at very favourable prices. I have always liked HP and still have an original HP35, the first scientific calculator and HP95, the classic palmtop which was only been replaced in everyday use by a XDA Executive last year. The HP Compaq DX2250 which caught my attention was £302 for a AMD Athlon 64 5000+ processor, 2 Gbytes Memory and a 250 Gbyte SATA drive. It only seemed to have a CD writer with DVD reader and, like the other candidates, no modem. The on-board graphics was ATI 1150 based, this is a chip set which is based on a slightly improved ATI Radion 200. Expansion capability was small but adequate with one PCI express, one PCI Express 16 and two PCI slots. The final decision was made by the home-build falling over yet again as I was looking at an offer on the screen for the HP at DABS and realised it had a HP £50 cash back offer with a couple of working days to run.

I am currently delighted with the hardware and Dabs usual excellent service. It was delivered with a day to spare and the actual specification was much better than on their web site. It included a fancy label printing fast double layer DVD writer, a PCI modem and an extra Gigabyte PCI Express network card, all for £262 with cash-back and including delivery. Software includes a preloaded WinDVD, a DVD of Roxio Sonic and a CD of Symantec AntiVirus corporate edition with 60 days of updates. There are unfortunately no source DVDs for Windows Vista Home Basic but there is clever reinstall system entered from the bios on an additional partition and yet another partition with diagnostics. You can make a single set of recovery DVDs but I have not investigated what is on them. I think in both cases it is a reformat and back to factory style 'recovery' although there is also some backup software I think. It is very much a business machine set up which suits me. The only preloaded software was WinDVD and a test and enable copy of Office 2007 which I would not want, even if I could afford it, so I uninstalled before running it.

This article is really about setting up and software issues with Vista, in particular Home Basic, which is the version without Aero. The written set-up instructions were almost non existent with a few generalised pictures and a paragraph put in by the Health and safety people. The HP material on CD and the web site is however of a very high standard – again it shows it is a business machine for professional to set up by the hundred so why fell trees. I have still not found out why all the extra goodies but I am not complaining, maybe Dabs had not opened a box or had one returned to find out.

The initial stages were easy, the machine was easily connected up with a nice action basic slim keyboard and optical USB mouse. I turned on with an Ethernet connect to the socket on the board and it fired up quickly without the need for a CD key and the updates came down quickly and without any problems so perhaps the trouble I had last time with a laptop were a one-off. I downloaded and installed the AVG Free Virus checker and the Zone Alarm Firewall with no problems and then Office 2003 (student edition as my wife is with the OU). In practice I only need Outlook 2003 which I think is still the best email etc package – for the rest I have shifted to the OpenSource OpenOffice 2.3.

It got more complex when it came to the Network – this was to be the reliable, always up machine with the shared printer and master file system serving the other machines. Initially I thought my problems were because there have been many cosmetic changes on the surface to find ones way through but much of the same old stuff inside. The fixes to enhance security are acceptable with much blocked of you are not an administrator and lots of cross checks even if you are if you want to do any setting which is system wide. What I gradually came to realise was that you could not always drill down to what you needed and things that were easy in XP were sometimes impossible or difficult in Vista Home Basic, my understanding is that more is possible when you work up through the versions to Vista Home Ultimate.

Sharing was where my problems really started. It is no longer a 5 second job on a right click and I am not sure how I actually achieved some of what I did. My existing Home Network is behind hardware and software firewalls so I was usually happy to work with additional password protection, especially for the printer, but that seems impossible. Even when the little indicator 'buttons' show that password protection is off you seem to need to log in from other machines. This has proven impossible to do from Linux. I spent far too many hours trying to sort out problems before finding indications on the web that Microsoft have enhanced to version 2 of some of the protocols – they still work from other Windows boxes but not Linux – what a shame for Microsoft if the allegations are true!

I was now keen to get the printer installed and check that side out. It is an Epson C66 bought less than two years ago when Vista was well advanced in its development. The Epson web site was not very clear but there was a list of printers which were supposed to work out of the box which included the C66 but web talk said that was not the whole story. The driver software loads but it includes a separate but integral program for monitoring the printer, ink levels and paper flags etc. That failed to load so none of those facilities were available including the ability to turn off monitoring from remote printers. Local printing is therefore fine if you are prepared to wait for the ink to run out but remote printing from my XP boxes immediately threw up error boxes every time although they did still print. You also have to log in for the printer once every session. This was not looking so good for the new machine with Vista Home Basic to act as a central print server. There are reports that the install program can be run with the compatibility options set to XP but it did not work for me - I think the actual program needs to be extracted from the installer wrapper for this to work.

It was time to see if there were any more incompatibilities in programs. In the Video editing role it needed to run Pinnacle Studio 10. There web site had shown version 10.8 was Vista compatible but looking more carefully it could only be reached by a series of patches rather than a single patch and in the small print it added that the only way to do that was to reload XP, load Studio and patch it to 10.8 then upgrade to Vista, fine if you were upgrading rather than changing it to a new machine or doing a clean install which is always recommended. In the event I did an install of Version 10.0 , rebooted, an install of the patch to 10.5 without running it, a reboot and the final patch to 10.8 when it was only run after another reboot. I could see no additional problems or lock-ups but there were always so many with Pinnacle software it is difficult to be sure! I did however make several minutes of trial video and it does seem much faster, perhaps by more than a factor of two, so the better graphics and lots of memory must be helping.

It was then time to install the capture card which was always a problem with drivers. The DV input - via Firewire – was fine but the AV input was not found despite all the usual tricks of reinstalling and removing and rebooting. Back on the Pinnacle Web site I found a new set of drivers called Bender (27 Mbyte download) which I installed and eventually the AV input on the PC 500 card appeared after a number of what looked like abortive attempts. Video capture looks rock solid and there seems no need to kill everything else running and in fact I did a program install whilst capture was running in the background and using the same drive – 2 Gbytes of memory must help. Unfortunately the same things caused the same crashes so my hopes some were video card related were not true.

As I said earlier I tend to do the last stage for a DVD of adding a menu and title in Nero as Studio falls over if you work in DV format up to making the DVD image. One can capture in MPEG 2 which then works at the end but one loses all the associated information such as time stamps and the on-the-fly transcoding on capture loses a lot of quality and then there is another potential second quality hit at the end on recoding to fit the DVD. Nero allows single and double pass recoding for higher quality and has a simple but adequate mechanism for adding a menu and titles. Nero 6 does not run at all under Vista and even version 7 has problems. It looked like an upgrade at 49 Euro to version 8 say £35. Another utility I have found indispensable has been Partition Magic 8 which does not run under Vista and I suspect did some damage even when accessing drives formatted for Vista when I was using XP.

I then tried some other pieces of software I use and found that WS_FTP which goes back many years needed some special privileges to install but worked in the end. I did a trial install of an old version of Dreamweaver MX which looked OK. I had already used OpenOffice, Firefox and Thunderbird so no problems there either. Yet to try are Winzip although Vista has a cripplingly slow ability built in to unzip. Aida32 also runs fine. I did not load it but there is an upgrade for my Canon Camera Software – Zoombrowser in particular. Paintshop Pro 4 should be OK as it can be copied to the directory and run. My feeling is that software which requires a reboot will show up with problems.

Overall I had spent several days and was no closer to having a working network with access to everywhere from everywhere regardless of operating system or having a working printer over the network. It was also clear that some Windows software was going to need to be upgraded at a significant cost when I have been increasingly trying to go to OpenSource and reduce my dependence on Microsoft. I was increasing thinking that Vista was not the solution – at this point in time a return to Windows XP, possibly as a dual boot looked in need of investigation.

It was also time to have a better look at the hardware. As I said the build standard is excellent and the box opens up in seconds if you have one of the odd screwdrivers with a multi point end to hand – I did and one also needs it inside. It is all very solid and there is plenty of space and easy access to everything. There are built in bays for a second hard drive and another 5 inch bay and 3.5 inch bay for a floppy drive. The cables for power for the 4 SATA devices possible are present and there is an unused standard EIDA cable (two devices) with power connectors and a power connector for a floppy. The data cables are not supplied nor are those for the two unused SATA interfaces but that would be too much to expect as most will never be upgraded. There are 2 PCI slots, one PCIe and one PCIe16 slot. The unexpected modem used one of the PCI slots and my DV/AV Video capture card has the other. The PCI express slot has the Gigabyte network card which I do not need so a Video card upgrade is possible.

The CMOS Bios is an Award one but with more options than I am used to for booting up and it also seems to handle the extra recovery partition, at one point I saw the Grub bootloader flash onto the screen. Vista is difficult to dual boot especially without a CD to run the recovery program to reinstate the boot loader to the MBR. Another caution is that the Restore ability is compromised in a dual boot configuration as Vista [and XP] see and make restore points on the partitions which do not belong to them if one does not take special care in configuration, in particular those from the other operating system if one dual boots XP and Vista. One interesting feature of the setup as the machine was delivered was that the boot order was CD, USB disk and then the hard drive. This hangs the machine if you reboot with a USB drive or dongle plugged in. It took me a while to realise this as it looked as if I had lost the hard drive which is bad for the blood pressure.

I therefore decided to find an old drive to try out loading XP. As the DVD/CD was on the SATA bus I could not just kill it in the Bios so I unplugged the SATA hard drive and plugged in a 15 Gbyte PATA drive with a spare cable – power was ready. The XP system install took the usual 40 minutes with a reboot in the middle where I was careful to manually choose the reboot drive. To cut a long story short I did not initially follow my own instructions in my Howto Article Install or Rebuild a Windows XP System and had not done my research on drivers. In this case Windows found enough to get a system running, some built in and some from the internet but it was obvious the video needed attention and there were about 6 little warning boxes when one looked in the Device Manager (Start -> Control Panel -> System -> Device Manager).

I went to the ATI site and found the driver page very easily for the ATI Radeon Express 1150 motherboard and it gradually dawned that it was installing drivers for the motherboard as well in the overall 'Catalytic Control Centre' package. This gave problems as it put up an error saying it needed required Microsoft .net 1.1 then .net 2.0 installed after which some well known problem with conflicts between .net and the Catalyst control centre gave further error messages and the Control Centre would not run. In the end un-installing the control centre but leaving the drivers worked. I thought I was home and dry until the following morning when I realised no sound and I had a proper look at the HP web site. Again no problem to drill down to drivers and find a page with all the drivers and links to information. There were 9 which I ended up downloading – most important were a couple which were for the South Bridge support on the motherboard and for the access to the on-board audio. The on-board video on the HP site looked like a copy of the overall Catalyst suite. The audio driver set up for the built in Realtek audio, a comprehensive support package which required a reboot. There were also proper drivers for the two Network interfaces. I found the driver install programs activated the new drivers without manual updates, although sometimes a reboot was required.

It now looked very promising so I installed Pinnacle Studio 10, again as version 10.0 from the CD, updated to 10.7 and then 10.8 from patches downloaded from the net – it was not run until patching was complete. The patches totaled 200 Mbytes! This seemed to run just as on under Vista above and on my other machine, but faster. I did a number of trials – the only problem was when I captured video on the same small drive but it was fine without any dropped frames using an external USB drive.

It was now time to try to work out a way ahead. It looked sensible to move the copy of Windows XP off the old Dell 700 and run XP on the new machine until:

  1. Printer drivers became available for the Epson C66, a work-round was found, or the printer was replaced (£60)
  2. A way of Networking using Vista Home basic was worked out so it could be used by our other 4 machine for Printer Sharing and as a master for our filling system (Documents, Pictures and Audio) preferably without having to log in.
  3. Video editing was possible either using Pinnacle Studio end to end (update Version 10 to version 11 cost ~£35) and/or we updated our version of Nero to run under Vista (update Version 6 -> 9 cost ~£35)
In parallel I wanted to be able to experiment and work towards using Vista without taking the box apart and unplugging drives.

I therefore plugged the SATA drive with Vista back in and tried using the option to choose the boot source offered by the BIOS – on start-up you have a list of options which includes a temporary change to boot from a different drive, CD, Network or removable drive. I found I could swap back and forth easily but I found Vista loses all restore points if you start another system which it can see. I tried turning off monitoring of drives other than C: in both cases but never solved that anomaly. It is not a show-stopping problem as an automatic restore is done at first start of the day and before any risky activities so you can go back for long enough.

At some point during all this I also tried out Ubuntu Linux LiveCDs. Dapper Drake works although the video driver has to be changed to ati in the X system otherwise you get a default vga screen with no way to get a good resolution. One edits Xorg.conf and restarts X with a Cntr-Alt-Backspace. Latter versions hang at an early point reading the CD which I have not resolved as I would want the LTS version anyway. It is worth noting that even taking into account an hour rumbling the need for a driver and how to change it and test, getting Ubuntu running with all the drivers and sound was much shorter than XP.

So what did I decide on as the way ahead:

  1. Do another install of Windows XP onto a 80Gbyte drive removed from the Dell.
  2. Take the existing XP licence from the Dell to the HP
  3. Set up with a generous NTSC partition for XP (21 Gbytes) and a FAT32 partition (55Gbytes) for data which could be shared over local Network from any operating system using partition magic with SATA drive disconnected.
  4. Use my external drives (250 and 500 Mbyte USB drives) for Backup on FAT32 partitions
  5. Repartition the SATA drive (250Gbyte) to have an extra NTSC partition which would be used for Video work using the Vista inbuilt disk management. Start -> ????
  6. Use my external drives (250 and 500 Mbyte USB drives) for most of the video capture, intermediate files and output on NTSC partitions
  7. Use a third internal drive mounted in the spare 5 inch bay if Ubuntu is added.
  8. Work out a good naming convention for drives as there are so many it could be confusing.
  9. Look into a Partitioning package which will work with Vista.

I did a fresh install onto the 80 Mbyte drive and it all went very quickly now I had all the drivers to hand. I kept to the ATI Catalyst drivers for the Video from the ATI site but used the HP ones for everything else. It was now the point to get some software loaded. Where there are sensible OpenSource or free alternatives they will be chosen and the number of packages will be kept as low as possible.

  1. Virus Checker: AVG Free
  2. Firewall: ZoneAlarm Free
  3. Spyware protection and detection: Microsoft Defender and Spybot 1.5
  4. Browsers: Firefox, Internet Explorer and Opera
    Email: Outlook 2003
  5. Email management and transfer: Thunderbird and IMAPSize.
  6. Office Software and Microsoft Office 2003
  7. Encryption: Truecrypt
  8. Printer Software for Epson C66
  9. [Scanner Software for Epson V200]
  10. Photographic: Canon Zoombrowser and Picasa
  11. Video Editing: Pinnacle Studio
  12. DVD mastering: Nero 6 OEM suite and updates
  13. Graphics: Paintshop Pro 4.2, IrfanView and Gimp
  14. Web Editor: Hotdog 6.6
  15. FTP: WS_FTP LE
  16. Audiograbber and LAME MP3 decoder
  17. Palmtop Synchronisation: Microsoft ActiveSync (Needs a firewall change)
  18. Utilities: Winzip, Adobe Acrobat 8, Partition Magic 8
  19. GoogleEarth
  20. Skype

The loading of the software was relatively straight forwards. Cookies and favourites were collected from the 'profile' on the Dell and the email and contacts just required the outlook .pst file being copied across to the new directory then opening. The next step was to change the destination for the emails to the 'personal folders' moved across and then remove the empty set of 'personal folders created when the program was first run.

Too many drives present making it very confusing so logical names were adopted and then a mechanism was sought to hide the system and restore drives. Found that TweakUI is still in existence as are the power tools set it was part of. Downloaded TweakUI and used it to hide some of the drives and also to turn off the infuriating autostart functions when a USB drive is plugged in. I downloaded it from http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/powertoys/xppowertoys.mspx. It does not officially run under Vista but there are some reports that if the .exe is extracted from the installer it can be run with the compatibility settings for XP and some of the functions work – treat with great care and back up before experimenting as it will be making registry changes – also set a restore point.

I have rather too many programs being run at start up and in the background/tooltray but it is still much faster than my other machines.

27th October 2007

Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon on Dell XPS 700

I have now set up the Dell XPS 700 machine which used to have the XP system I reused on the HP 2250 to run under Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon. I had to configure it to use a monitor similar to the very old Dell 17 inch monitor I had lying around before I could get all the resolutions and I used the new facility to use restricted drivers – even so it was all very quick to install and the new configuration tools made it very easy to set up sharing of files over the network and access the other partitions on the machine. I also found an article on how to share a printer from Ubuntu 7.10 over the network for Windows machines at https://help.ubuntu.com/community/NetworkPrintingFromWinXP . This seems fine for setting up the Ubuntu machine but I found the easiest way on the XP end was to open network places and then View Workgroup computers and open the Ubuntu machine which should have a printer displayed and click connect which opens the setup Wizard with the Printer identified correctly after which the instructions work although the printer always shows as access denied. At some point I had to allow a program through the firewall.

11th December 2007

XDA Executive - WiFi on QE2 Cruise Liner.

I was initially unable to use a WiFi connection on my XDA Executive - I could easily make the WiFi connection but got errors on the login page. I have not had the problem with other Hotspots and I initially suspected this was because the Cunard system is trying to open a popup page or using some other JavaScript which is not supported by the Windows Mobile 5 browser. Many people write code and do not test it on anything other than Windows Explorer. Worse still Windows Mobile 5 'Pocket' version of Internet Explorer did not give useful information on the problem but just an enigmatic Windows error message. I gave up but then had a chat with a new Computer Manager who tried a few new lines of attack and eventually we found a combination which worked.

Firstly the address was changed to an absolute address so that a Domain Name Server was not required until the connection was made. This may be a trick worth noting for other difficult WiFi connections. Normally a Wifi Connection is set up by the WiFi system intercepting a DNS request from a new connection and returning the address of the login page instead. This is where the Windows Pocket PC (aka Windows Mobile 5) gives the error messages. If one can bypass the DNS call and go straight to the login page and hopefully after a successful login the interception is no longer required and the machine is recognised (by IP address??) or perhaps by some clever mechanism using a cookie and is then permitted to access the DNS server. So the way ahead is to find out, either using another machine - or directly from the computer manager - the login page address. If one uses a different machine then one may still have problems as the page may be specific to a PDA as is the case we found on the QE2. The best route to login on the QE2 on 11th December 2007 was via the Status Page as this seems to set up the cookie and then open the Login Page whilst a direct call to the login page stalls. One also needs to be able to log out without depending on a timeout which may not work in a timely manner. The status page checks if you are logged in (via a cookie) not only provides a current log of connected time and costs but also a link to use to logout. Note the logout gives an error message but re-accessing the status page shows that the logout has taken place. It is essential this page is added to Favourites on your PDA before starting so you can quickly logout and check your actual status.

19th December 2007

Huxley's Brave New Worlds Web Site

I have been asked to assist friends in setting up a web site for a new restaurant in the Kingdom of Cambodia called Huxleys Brave New World which is due to open on 4th January - an interesting challenge giving less than two weeks to complete the site.

I have based the site on the principles laid out in Secrets of Web Site Design Part 1 and Secrets of Web Site Design Part 2 including the template provided. The main change is to use Cascading Style Sheets instead of the <FONT> tags and attributes for background images. This means that it is even easier to make global changes across the site and is 'better' HTML as tags such as <FONT> are 'depreciated' in HTML 4.0.

The contact form uses the techniques in HTML Forms and How to Handle the Output from Forms which explains about the use of scripting, in this case PHP to send the form input to you by email. The important fields are validated using the techniques used in the Howto Page on Form Validation. This shows how to use JavaScript to make sure the important fields are filled in and, in particular, that the email address is valid, before the the form is submitted.

Provision is also made for 'popup' images using the techniques covered in JavaScript Popup Windows for Images which provides JavaScript code to open larger images in a single new window of the correct size when one or more thumbnails are clicked. The actual code is that used on the pages on my own site and is covered in Advanced JavaScript Popup Windows for Images which features more advanced techniques for Popup windows which can be resize for different images, allow titles to be displayed and the background colour specified and even be set by the visitor to open to different sizes depending on the bandwidth and screen size available.

Validation is critical and every page has a link to the W3C consortium HTML validator so the pages can be checked after uploading. You can try it out at the bottom of this page.

By drawing heavily on existing and well tested and documented material I have been able produce the main 'templates' in about 4-6 hours per page and pages based on them take an additional 2-4 hours. This is using text provided to me in Word files which have to be hand converted to get clean and consistent results and existing images which only need scaling.

The hosting package which is with the ISP 01Creative Solutions had already been provisioned uses a Linux based server which has PHP available so the form handler, normally the most difficult part of a site, was relatively easy to set up taking a few hours to get working and tested. The control panel for configuring the hosting package is produced by cPanel and is very easy to use and probably the most versatile I have used. It provides several webmail packages, all the usual pop mailbox facilities including spam filtering, web statistics using the powerful Matrixstats package and so on. It also has a very good built in online help system or there is a PDF version at iV HOSTING you can download if you prefer to read offline.

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Content revised: 2nd August, 2020