A New Theme : my own !

Yesterday I stumbled across a Google Advert (funnily enough, on my own website) advertising a Windows-only program called Artisteer, made by Extensoft. It’s a WordPress theme creator that promises no-fuss, no-muss theme creation, and after downloading the demo and playing with it on my Windows XP laptop for about 30 minutes, I have to agree wholeheartedly that it delivers.

Usually I don’t bother with Windows software, but for this I bought a licence (the standard edition, less than 50 bucks, suited me just fine) and downloaded it to my laptop, which is XP.

I dug up a vacation shot of our turkish holidays, and selected it. It immediately showed me a preview. The title was in the center and clashed. Click and then drag’n change the title, solved. Then I made the page a 1000 pixels wide by clicking and selecting an option. Then I set the color scheme, the gradients, the buttons, the shadow on the buttons, the gradient background, the shadow on the page, changed the layout to a 3-column theme, set the search bar on top and it all came down to selecting a tab in the menu bar and selecting the relevant option.

The simplicity of theme creation that Artisteer offers is really astonishing – at last anybody can whip up a theme without knowing all the php code, without having to search through reams of code to change just that line. So far I have not encountered any bugs, the application is really well made, and the pdf help file was helpful for as much that I needed it.

Future expansions seem to be aimed on providing theme exports for Joomla and Drupal.

All in all, this is one piece of software I can recommend !

Bioshock – Frollick City

A smallish update for those readers who read with baited breath my Bioshock adventures – yes, you Kam !

Bioshock is really on par with Far Cry, nay, even better !!! It’s a combination of Far Cry and Deus Ex, leaving you plenty of option in how you want to kill your enemy. (By the way, you can now download an advert-sponsored free version of Far Cry and other Ubisoft titles !).

At the moment I’ve completed (I think) slightly more than half of game, I’m in Frollick City, and this is with just about every other night playing a couple of hours. Phew! It’s getting exhausting. But that’s probably also because I leave no trashcan unsearched, no machine unhacked (due to a tonic, successfully hacking something gets me extra EVE and Health) and no place unvisited; the map is really good for that, showing you stuff you haven’t visited yet. So YMMV and probably you could get a lot faster through the game if you wanted.

My psychic arsenal, because that’s what I have now, is really extensive, ranging from several plasmids (your main powers : telekinesis, wasps, ice, fire, enrage, etc) to a lot of tonics that you can use to improve your chances (more luck with hacking, armoured skin protection, a passive electric defense, etc, some 70 in all apparently, some of them improvements (version 2 so to speak)). I also bought a lot more slots to put plasmids in (you start out with 2 I have 5 now). Some of these tonics interact with the weapons you collect, there is even a whole range of tonics that you can combine to really keep up with the wrench for the more powerful enemies; I am actually hesitating in restarting (after I complete it first) and seeing how far I can get just using the wrench with the assorted tonics.

Coupled with the ‘real’ weapons that range from your trusty wrench to your flamethrower and my latest favorite, the crossbow, you have access to an extensive range of death-dealing, severely destructive means that you can combine in various interesting manners.

You know the game is good when you cuss yourself because you just used the flame-thrower to quickly finish off some splicer and then realize that you had a much more elegant manner of dealing with it (for example, you can freeze the splicer, photograph it to get some more research points -all the while hearing it chatter its teeth and complaining about the cold- and then switch to your pistol to give a coup-de-grace headshot which explodes it into pieces).Heh.

It’s still every bit as ‘dark’ as the game promises, and I still get the ‘frissons’ when I hear a spider splicer crawling on the roof and start looking for it. And Frolick City, where the mad ‘plaster-caster’ artist Cohen hangs out, is really not something for a minor… A very spine-tingling moment is when you go to a special room and
(SPOILER ALERT ! You do NOT want to read this if you haven’t played this level yet, trust me) then realize that all the statues that you passed by when entering the room are in fact splicers covered in plaster who appear in stop-motion.

Really, really scary moment there, yesterday around midnight.

Bioshock woes (2)

Tonight I planned an early start and finish on the Bioshock game, so I could get a decent nights sleep (I need it). When my bootcamped into Windows XP though, suddenly my Bioshock shortcut showed up as not linked (you know, the white square instead of the icon).

Whaddayanow, another problem running this game. Now my AVG antivirus (free 7.5 edition) says the bioshock.exe has a virus in it. This happened after it’s update today. Looking around on the 2K support forums I found one entry with lots of people having the same problems. It seems more to be an AVG problem then a Bioshock problem. Pressing ‘ignore’ does nothing, you still cannot start the game as the message pops up again.

The solution while AVG updates it’s virus list : open your AVG control center, and double-click your ‘Resident Shield’. De-select the ‘Turn on AVG Resident Shield selection’. Click on ‘Apply’. You can then start up Bioshock the normal way. Leave the window open so you get reminded to reactivate when done playing your game. This is very important, you don’t want to get hacked, now do you ?

Some more links

Oh and for those in the game : I just passed the Medical Pavillion and have just killed my third big daddy – fourth if you count the respawning one when going for the emergency access. It pays to search them, they always have a lot of dollars on them !

Joost mag het weten

They might not know it, but the name of the new p2p video over internet service called Joost (before it was called The Venice Project) actually has a meaning in Dutch. Joost is both a dutch name and part of a saying that you can use whenever someone asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to.

Joost mag het weten ! = Joost may know ! (where Joost is actually the devil).

I received an invitation by a friend yesterday (Thanks Kam!) to testdrive the new Joost beta (it exists for Mac or for Windows clients). You simply download the application and then start it up after which you register using a simple registration proces involving your email address (tip : use the email address you received the invitiation on).

If you have a firewall like Little Snitch or ZoneAlarm running on your computer, note that this is a peer-to-peer application and that it setups a mega-boatload of connections to other computers on the internet. From what I saw in Little Snitch, it certainly uses outbound tcp ports 80 (http), 443 (hhtps) and udp port 33333. You might need to open more ports, in the doc it states that if you want to use chat this uses tcp port 5223 both inbound and outbound.

You are then switched to full screen and immediately the introductory channel “Joost suggests” starts playing selections from the different content channels. There’s an anime channe (BONGO) and a sci-fi channel and a National Geographic channel and a sports channel and quite a few others.

It’s not immediately clear how to escape from the full screen mode, but if you move your mouse inside an overlay menu will popup with clearly defined icons – it won’t take you too much guesswork to find out how to window the screen or select another channel, most is self-explanatory. I proceeded to switch to the anime channel and selecting an episode I wanted to watch.

If you select a channel, it will start playing whatever is normally up next and will loop around when it reaches the end of the channel. Sorta like a normal tv, if you leave it on you get new content.

I was pleasantly surprised by the video quality – on my 24inch iMac the screen was probably to big for full-screen resolution, but it beat hands down the quality of the other video streams I received from the internet before.

When I was watching Ikki Tousen (Battle Vixen something, an anime involving a scantily dressed super-martial-arts girl showing gratuitous shots of her underwear every 15 seconds or so) sometimes the pixellation was very clear.

When I scaled it down to a window, it was pixel-perfect quality, my guess would be 640×480 size. Full-screen again in the sci-fi channel there was again some pixelation and one time some serious hiccup snowed the whole screen, but this cleared up in about a second or so.

For a free service, I can live with this. It’s not totally free, as you do get some adverts just before the episode starts (but I wasn’t sure if it was seperate from the episode itself or if it was actually part of the episode) and during the episode show. These in the middle adverts are unannounced – suddenly the screen goes black and you are thinking that the connection was cut when suddenly it starts up again and shows you the advert – it’s about 30 seconds long, so it’s tolerable enough.

The adverts itself don’t seem to have been targeted as yet. As far as I know, T-mobile is not available in Belgium (but is connected with Proximus), and the other one about candy I didn’t recognise at all.

Overall, I find Joost very intriguing and will continue to explore it (especially as I am a sucker for anime and sci-fi) but there is one caveat : it consumes up a LOT of bandwidth.

One hour of Joost video means you download about 320MB and upload (remember ? this is a peer2peer application) about 105MB.

Depending on how popular the content is, this can drop a bit but one thing is clear : anybody with a capped line (meaning that you can only download or upload a number of Gigabytes) will need to check regularly (ie. like a hawk) to see if he or she reached the limit (and stop before).

I’m in luck, since my ISP (Telenet) just consolidated it’s capping : before I could upload 2GB and download 10MB, since April they have declared that is is all one and I now have 12GB per month to do with as I please. Had I tried Joost then, I would have quickly used up my uploading limit.

One strange thing happened : after shutting down the Joost program on my mac, I tried regular surfing, and websites would load very,very slowly for a while. Either this is caused by extra traffic still trying to come my way or Telenet has implemented some traffic-shaping that limits your bandwidth after you use your line to the full in order to recoup some of the effort in sending you so much data.

Since I’m (for now) just about the only user at home, I rarely reach that capped 12GB limit. But if you have a few young un’s at home that like to download stuff or watch Joost or you yourself are a heavy p2p user, you should take care to avoid a nasty surprise and monitor your usage – almost daily.

A tip for window users : after watching, you need to shut down the Joost service in the lower right toolbar otherwise it will continue to send and receive data !

Setting up WDS between a Linksys WRT54G and Airport Express

Last monday I bought myself an Apple Airport Express (AX), which I want to set up as a Wireless extender for my current wireless netwerk so that I can connect my KISSDVD/HD recorder (a 200 GB DP-558) to the internet and so I can access the Electronic Program Guide Kiss provides on the internet.

I can very easely set up the AX as a client to join the network, with WPA or even WPA2 security. But this disables the ethernet port on it (I don’t really understand why it disables it though, except to prevent double connections), which is exactly what I need it for.

Thursday night, after a lot of struggling I finally got it to work.

For (my) further reference, here’s how to set up a WDS netwerk between a WRT54G and an Airport Express :
– on my linksys WRT54G, I use dd-wrt 2.3 SP2
– WDS is configured with the wireless mac of the Airport Express in the Linksys and the wireless mac of the linksys (there are at least 3 macs !) in the AX.
– Lazy WDS and Loopback are off
– Using WEP : create the WEP key on your linksys, but on the mac clients you need to enter in the password box NOT THE PASSWORD BUT THE HEX KEY !! You don’t need to do this with WPA, there you can use the password, but since WDS at the moment only accepts WEP encryption…
– With the later firmwares, since at least 2005 you NO LONGER need to input the fricking $ anymore ! I wish people would update their posts, because this is now causing a lot of confusion.

Extra Links :

2-port KVM switch

Belkin SwitchI have needed a KVM switch (Keyboard, Video, Monitor switch) for some time now, as it has become bothersome to switch between my pc and my mac every time.

Sure, I did install ultra-vnc on my pc, so I could fire up Chicken of VNC and get to my pc using my Mac’s screen and use it for simple tasks like Active Sync and Word processing, and it does that Very Well.
But it doesn’t show very good video and it goes haywire when you want play games, even simple ones. And my son is asking more and more to play a game on our pc so I am spending more and more time switching cables.

So I set out to find a solution that was compatible with mac and pc. As previously mentioned, I already looked a solution made by Belkin, but at the time it wasn’t out yet.

This time it was available, but not the specific mac-intel version.

I could either buy a Switch2 solution that fit under the mac mini, with no sound replication and which costs more than 110 € in the Fnac (although you can find it online lots cheaper), or I could buy the regular Belkin 2-port KVM Swith, with built-in Audio sharing (F1DL102Uea) and a max resolution of 2048×1536 for about 65 €.

After lots of comparing and running between the two product stands, I chose the latter, because
a) it was cheaper and
b) it included audio as well
It also claimed compatibility with Mac OS X. And while Belking makes a lot of noise about their latest Switch2 version for mac to be the only one that can deal with a Mac keyboard, this version has no problems with it as well – when I switch to my Windows XP, my Apple keys become Windows keys, and vice versa.

So, this solves my switch problems. All I need now is a new pc.

I’ve been mulling about buying a new iMac with built-in screen, but with lots of extra costs on our house coming up, the cheaper solution will be to continue using my mac mini and buying a new, higher performance pc. For about 1000 € you can get a more than reasonable top-of-the-line pc while a similar iMac with same memory costs close to double (of course, the screen is not included in the regular pc, but nowadays the price difference shouldn’t be that big).

Hmm. I’ll wait a bit more, see if there are any new updates to the iMac line that make it worthwhile to choose it.

Active Sync Woes : use a Bluetooth connection !

I’ve had it with the irregular, unresponsive, plug-and-pray manner that Active Sync and Microsoft in general work with USB connections to PocketPC’s. Either it’s Active Sync not syncing or ‘Unknown USB device’ for my cable, it’s just gone on too long.

And I’m not the only one – I’ve read several comments over the last few days that people are getting fed up.

After all my troubles trying to get my Active Sync USB connection going again, removing and reinstalling AS and USB drivers, even going so far as to install AS beta 4.2, I still could not get a connection. So I went the other route and bought a PEABIRD bluetooth usb module.

It was actually 0.50 € cheaper in the FNAC than the D-Link BT120 module which I knew about, plus it promised EDR – Bluetooth 2.0 instead of regular 1.1 Bluetooth that D-Link offers.

After the Toshiba drivers and utilities are installed, setting up Active Sync was a snap (well, almost). I first put both devices discoverable, paired the devices (for some reason or another, the only way that pairing works well for me is when I start the pair process from the pocket pc), and then discovered the services that were offered on each and created the relevant shortcuts for them, both on the pc and on the ppc.

Once that was done, I then set up an Active Stink, sorry Sync connection choosing to use Bluetooth to sync.

To get an actual sync working, I have to do the following steps :
1. Start Bluetooth serial connection on the pc (it has attributed itself COM40 !) using the shortcut it created.
2. Start AS on my pocketpc (making sure that Bluetooth is active)
3. Click the Sync button

and voila ! Sync auto-starts and everything works just fine.

Speed of sync is fine, although I suspect that my pc is only BT1.1 capable, it still works reasonably fast. I set both Bluetooth services back to non-discoverable again, plus only paired devices can connect. This should give some security.

All in all, it slightly more work starting the Sync, but so far all my Sync attempts have worked first time. No more install and re-install hassle (let’s hope so).

UltraVNC or a cheap software KVM switch

I was looking for a way to access my Windows XP Home Machine, which I use less and less, from my Mac. As previously reported, a KVM solution made by Belkin looked very good to me.

But while I was browsing some bulletin boards on the topic, somebody mentioned UltraVNC, the remote viewable software solution. I had previously tried WinVNC (now called RealVNCand TightVNC) but their performance over my local netwerk (100 Mbit) was very slow.

UltraVNC, however, is completely different. Very slick and polished, and when you install the mirror video driver (without any problems whatsoever, except a reboot) performance really skyrockets – it’s like you are really sitting in front of your computer, the response speed is so good as to be almost the same as normal !

As long as you use the normal vnc login method, it’s compatible with other VNC clients so I can connect using Chicken of VNC or any other mac VNC client.

Next up to try : playing a game under it (Putt-Putt saves the zoo for the connaisseurs) that Tom adores. If that works, I don’t need to buy the Belkin KVM anymore… Heck, I’ll try and play CounterStrike, though I don’t hold up much hope for that though… 🙂

Update : playing a game like a childrens game is not really bareable, everything flickers. Playing a video actually works, but it is very choppy. So I guess I’ll need a KVM after all.

Windows Mobile 5 tricks & tips

I’m going to collect some tips and tricks from other websites for managing my Windows Mobile 5 on my HP Ipaq, since it’s consistently slowwwwww.

Standard Disclaimer : Please note that, should you want to try them out, you do this at your own risk and your results may vary.

Update : for the Qtek 9100 (Wizard, MDA Vario, SPV 3000) : see my Qtips page.

We start with moving some mail and files out of the way :
Fred Pullens Blog : Low on Windows Mobile Memory? Fear Not

1. To move email onto your memory card (SEE WARNING BELOW), do the following:

Create these directories:

\Storage Card\Mail
\Storage Card\Mail\Attachments

In HKEY_Current_User\Software\Microsoft\MAPI, create the following STRING entries:

AttachPath = "\Storage Card\Mail\Attachments" (without the quotes)
PropertyPath = "\Storage Card\Mail" (ditto)

2. To move your Internet Explorer settings onto the card, do the following:

Create these directories:

\Storage Card\IECache\Temporary Internet Files
\Storage Card\IECache\Cookies
\Storage Card\IECache\History

EDIT : Do not use the Temp folder on your storage card, this seems to get locked from time to time, which means your ppc starts to use the default storage aka your main memory.

In HKEY_Current_User\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Shell Folders, edit the existing three registry entries (pointing \Windows\Profiles\guest\…) to match the folders you just created.

Note that if your card is named “SD Card”, like mine was, you need to adapt those entries in the registry.

3. You can move some other files like Pocket Informant also out of the way. A utility like MemMaid can also do this, provided it knows about the application. Very usefull !

In some other sites, there is talk about the filesys.exe using an inordinate amount of CPU, thus slowing down the pocket pc. Here is a thread on a microsoft msdn blog that discusses why filesys does what it does and why you need to put as much as possible on your storage card. Interesting !

Set ActiveSync to manual activation :

  • Launch ActiveSync on your pocket pc
  • Choose Menu, Add Server Source
  • Input ‘something’ for the server address
  • Next
  • Again, fill something in (whatever you want) for Username, Password and Domain
  • Make sure that every field is filled in
  • Next
  • Finish
  • Now, do Menu, Schedule
  • Set both Peak times & Off-peak times to Manually
  • OK
  • Do Menu, Options
  • Select Exchange Server and delete it thus removing the settings you have just entered
  • OK to exit

You can tune your own cache level :

* Boost Windows Mobile 5 performance up to 20 percent

[HKLM\System\StorageManager\FATFS]
CacheSize = 0x1FA0 (8096)

EnableCache = 0x1 (1)

[HKLM\System\StorageManager\Filters\fsreplxfilt]
ReplStoreCacheSize = 0x1FA0 (8096)

* The following entry does not exist – you need to create two new DWORDS here

[HKLM\System\StorageManager\Profiles\MSFlash\FATFS\]
DataCacheSize=0x1FA0 (8096)
Flags=0x28 (40)

* Boost your icon cache – this used to be 8192

[HKLM\System\GDI\GLYPHCACHE\limit=0x8000 (32768)

* Soft reset for changes to take effect. Default values for all keys are 0

Update :

  • there’s a ROM update for the HP iPaq hx2000 series
  • Why Flushing the memory is important
  • Filesys.exe throttler for the hx2xxx models (try each one until one works, then copy that one to the startup folder

Active Sync 4.1 (read: Active Stink)

I recently upgraded my Ipaq hx2410 pocketpc to Windows Mobile 5.

I didn’t want to have the same problem a collegue of mine had, which was that he had waited so long to upgrade his Pocket Loox from Windows 2002 to 2003se that he no longer could find the appropriate upgrade software.
The upgrade went well, but since then I’ve been unable to get Active Sync 4.1 running on my Windows XP (Service Pack 2) box at home and reinstall my pocketpc applications.

The only way so far to install them is to download them as .cab files from the internet and install them locally on the handheld. But of course, most apps aren’t available as .cab files.

Apparently, if you can get Active Sync to work on another machine, you can extract the .cab files from a temporary folder that AS puts them into when you install them. However, I don’t want to do this on another machine that is not my own, I want my applications to be on my box !

I’ve tried everything, going as far as uninstalling Microsoft Active Sync, uninstalling Zone Alarm, cleaning out the /Program Files/Microsoft Active Sync directory, cleaning out the registry and reinstalling Active Sync. Nothing, nada, zilch, nikske.
Nothing so far has worked, even though the pc seems to see the handheld – as when I put the handheld in the cradle, Active Sync activates its self and starts ‘Connecting’… forever. And I am not the only one looking for a solution.
It seems to be a networking issue.

[Update]

I finally, finally got it working, after two weeks of puttering about. The solution, of course, was really simple (in hindsight). Simply uninstalling my Cisco VPN client (which had refused to work anyway) resolved the problem and after a reboot my PDA was recognised toot-sweete ! Any vpn client installed looks at your network traffic and in this case seems to be the source of corruption.
Installing my apps at last !