Friday, August 28, 2009

Connect to WebDAV folders from the command line to avoid a Vista bug

Microsoft's WebDAV implementation has been very buggy. One issue is that Vista cannot connect to a WebDAV folder if WebDAV is not supported in the server's root. That was supposedly fixed with KB942392, which was supposedly included in SP2. With SP2, if I attempt to connect via the "Connect to a Web site that you can use to store your documents and pictures" feature, that behaviour persists. I can successfully connect from the command line (using something like"net use r: http://servername:portnumber/foldername").

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why do network applications still fail to handle sleep?

If I put a computer to sleep and then wake it, network-related applications generally try to pretend it didn't happen and then deal with the consequences. For example:
  • Thunderbird 2.x locks up for a while when I try to check my mail, and then starts working again.
  • Miranda IM shows a bunch of pointless alerts as if I lost network connectivity. These come from the KeepStatus add-on, which actually supports "Reconnect on APM resume".
  • Windows Live Messenger also acts as if I lost connectivity, waits a while to reconnect and then sometimes reconnects improperly, requiring another reconnect.
  • Putty loses the connection if the other side tried to send any data while the computer was sleeping. However, when the other side didn't try to send data an ssh connection can survive sleep. In this particular case, it might make sense to not add special suspend handling.
Sleep has been around for a long time. In Windows, the WM_POWERBROADCAST message was introduced in Windows 2000. Why not handle it and make the experience better for the user?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How I stopped hating Microsoft and concluded that Apple is worse

When I first started using MS-DOS, I didn't know any better. Yes, DOS was ridiculously primitive, even compared to operating systems which were developed decades before. However, I did not know about those operating systems at the time.

I started to hate Microsoft when I started using Windows in the 3.x days. Windows provided some appealing possibilities, but unfortunately it was an unstable piece of garbage. If it was an alpha release, I might have been impressed, but Microsoft was pretending that Windows was a finished product.

Eventually, Linux rescued me from Microsoft software. It was so much better that for a long time I didn't look back. When I got a new computer with Windows 95, it sucked so much that I laughed at it before reformatting and installing Linux. Meanwhile, Microsoft's alleged evil anti-competitive practises were in the news, further reinforcing my negative attitudes about Microsoft.

What started to change my attitudes was Windows NT 4.0 with SP6a. Much to my surprise, it seemed like Microsoft could actually create somewhat decent software. Instead of crashing on a daily basis, it only crashed about once a month. That could be bad on a server, but it was acceptable on a workstation. Later releases in the Windows NT family were even better, and soon I noticed that Windows only crashed due to bad drivers or defective hardware.

Windows opened many possibilities because so much software was available for it and practically all available hardware was supported. Microsoft truly deserved its "Where do you want to go today?" marketing slogan. In Linux I would often run into walls, such as not being able to send files or have voice chats via instant messaging and not being able to play some media. Meanwhile, drivers started to get worse in Linux. Often, devices would be supported but the drivers would only support a subset of the features and not work reliably. For example, I had to make changes to the sound driver to even get it to see my card, and then about half the time it would play beeping instead of sound, and graphics drivers didn't support all available acceleration. The Windows GUI also seemed more efficient than any Linux GUI. Simple drag and drop often accomplished what took many more steps in Linux. Sometimes, Unix command line tools were even more efficient, but that was not a problem because like so much other software, they were also available on Windows.

Meanwhile, it started to seem like Microsoft was being unfairly picked on by others. For example, the idea that the browser is part of the OS may seem ridiculous, but imagine getting a computer without a browser. With a browser, you can download or purchase practically any program. So, for example, if Windows came without other features (eg. image viewing, media playback, disc burning, calculator, defragmentation, etc.), one could easily obtain those. However, without a browser it's difficult to obtain anything. You would have to install from a disc, download on another computer or maybe download via FTP. So, Internet Explorer is useful even if the first thing you do with it is download Firefox. Also, use of HTML in the operating system seems like a sensible design choice, and that does actually make parts of the browser into parts of the OS.

I also started to notice another villain: Apple. While people were talking about how Microsoft would use a trusted platform module for all kinds of sinister things, Apple was the company that actually started doing some things. The iPhone and their recent iPods use code signing in an attempt to prevent running of modified or third party firmware, and OS X uses it for copy protection. Apple even tries to prevent iPods from syncing with third party software. They also use the legal system. Apple is trying to make iPhone jailbreaking illegal and they even go after enthusiastic fans who excitedly shared information about upcoming products!

While Microsoft's deals with PC makers were undergoing scrutiny, Apple was requiring that OS X run on Apple hardware. Yes, it can run on a variety of PCs, and if you carefully select compatible components it can run very well. However, Apple says that is illegal, even if you have a valid OS X license!

Finally, I feel uneasy about the whole Apple philosophy. Their slogan used to be Think Different, but reality makes that seem like doublespeak. Apple seems to design a very specific user experience, and to benefit from their design the user seems to have to conform to it. I very much prefer freedom. Apple actually rejects iPhone applications which don't conform to their ideals. For example, they didn't let Google release a Google Latitude application, because they feel it would be confused with the map application on the iPhone, and they routinely reject applications which duplicate some functionality that is already found on the iPhone. Because of all this, I feel that it's best to describe Apple's recent products as shiny prisons. (The term is not my idea; I want to thank the person that invented it.) Yes, their shiny prisons can be give a good user experience, but getting to that point seems almost like joining a cult.

Meanwhile, my only significant concern about Microsoft is their battle against open source. This seems like a very major evil, but even there it seems like Microsoft is changing and becoming better. It's important to consider the current situation, and not base conclusions on the past and on old news and commentary.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Playing SHOUTcast in Windows Media Player

Windows Media Player can play SHOUTcast streams without any additional software. You can save the PLS file, get a stream URL from it, and then "File -> Open URL..." (Ctrl+U) in WMP. To automate the process, install Open PLS in WMP. Then it's possible to click on a "Tune In!" button and automatically start playing the station. WMP can even show song names!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The red Four O'Clocks seem to like the cold

The red Four O'Clocks always started opening later than the others, and they didn't even fully open in the middle of the night. Today and tonight are especially cold, and they've finally fully opened. Under incandescent light they seem red:

but white LED and strobe light bring out a magenta star:

A near-UV LED does not do anything interesting.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Smartmontools now supports some common USB to ATA bridge chips

External hard drives which connect via USB often do not offer a standard way to access S.M.A.R.T. to assess their health. Fortunately, some USB to ATA bridge chips at least have a proprietary method that can work, and smartmontools just got support for some common chips. The support came after the 5.38 release which is currently available, so I got smartmontools source via SVN and compiled for mingw32 from cygwin. Then I ran smartctl as administrator, and used the "-d usbcypress" option. I was able to get S.M.A.R.T info from my Archos Jukebox Recorder v2, which uses an ISD300A1 and is doing fine.

For more info see USB device information and the list of supported devices on the smartmontools wiki.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Google Safe Browsing can be used to track users?

I was just looking at some HTTP requests using the TamperData extension for Firefox. There amongst the requests I wanted to look at was an unexpected request. It was an update request for Google Safe Browsing. In that request there was a long wrkey parameter. The server provides a shared secret key via HTTPS. Updates are then retrieved via ordinary HTTP, and the key can be used to verify that the update has not been tampered with. Unfortunately, the key can also be used to track individual users. Why couldn't they simply use HTTPS?

Four O'Clocks

This meteor "shower" makes seem like a bunch of trolls. However, I did see a few occasional meteors, and I have some neat fragrant night blooming plants I can sit next to.

Most of the plants in the picture are Mirabilis jalapa, commonly known as Four O'Clock, Marvel of Peru. When I went swimming on Ošljak, I remember seeing plants called "bonašere", a name derived from the Italian phrase "buona sera" meaning "good evening". When I arrived the flowers would be closed, but when going back to the ferry they would be open and large bumblebees would be pollinating them. When I saw seedpacks showing simillar flowers and the name "Four O'Clock" I thought I found the same plant and I had to try growing them. At first, the seeds failed to germinate, possibly because it was too cold. Then I tried again, with a 33¢ seed packet from Dollarama. Those germinated and they grew into these large plants here. Now they're starting to bloom. I'm not sure if they're exactly the same as the "bonašere" I remember, but they're certainly similar and I remember the smell.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Windows is so funny

I just updated my Sysinternals utilities and I was looking around in Process Explorer. SYSTEM is running a web server on port 2869 (icslap), apparently for UPnP. Windows is so funny.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

When is shutdown not really shutdown

I went away for a day and I shut down the power to my computer and router by turning off the UPS. When I powered them back on just over 24 hours later, Vista told me "Network cable unplugged" and corresponding lights on the Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3R motherboard and the router were off. I tried restarting and shutting down the computer, I tried reinstalling the RTL8168 drivers, and I tried several cables. Nothing helped. I was beginning to think there was a hardware failure. The only hopeful sign was that the Realtek diagnostic said all tests passed and it was able to measure cable length.

Then I realized that off was not truly off for the network card, because the lights can be lit even when the computer is off. So, I powered down the computer via the switch on the back of the power supply. Then I waited a bit to be sure that the standby power capacitors discharge. When I powered up again, everything worked.

I wonder if this has anything to do with the latest F13 (2009/06/19) BIOS.