Comment spam crazy

by Matt 27. February 2007 18:28

Now, I really didn't expect to have to do this on my little blog here, but I've just spent the last few days deleting loads of comment spam. So, I've enabled CAPTCHA on the comments. I don't really like CAPTCHA, but it's better than nothing...

Boo. Bad spammers.

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Missing Vista features #4 - WinFS

by Matt 20. February 2007 19:03

Oh yes. The WinFS Post. Dare linked to a previous post of his while commenting on Microsoft focusing on vision, rather than shipping, which reminded me that I hadn't gotten around to writing about it.

Here's the link to the more interesting post, and if you've been living under a rock and don't have a scooby-doo what I'm talking about, here's a great Wikipedia article about it all.

I didn't get to play with any actual bits, so I'm not about to shoot my mouth off about the technology, but I loved the concept. I was very disappointed to see WinFS go. It was the most exciting of the original Three Pillars of Longhorn (WinFS, Indigo and Avalon).

On the surface, it was all about search. I think we've nailed that one without needing WinFS. There were some advanced searches that we were promised (as Wikipedia says: "the phone numbers of all persons who live in Acapulco and each have more than 100 appearances in my photo collection and with whom I have had e-mail within last month"), but I wouldn't bet against Windows Desktop Search being able to handle something like that, especially when you see the surprisingly-off-by-default natural language search.

I think a lot of people unfairly dismissed the more interesting part - the data store. To me, this was the killer app. WinFS stored any data you wanted it to, in a structured manner, with relationships between items and properties and allowed you to search over the lot. This was huge.

It had a bunch of built in schema, so you could store contacts, emails, IMs, documents, pictures, videos, music and more. But as Dare points out, many people felt there was a chicken and egg situation. Most apps already had massive investments in their own data store (e.g. Outlook) so why would they throw that away and migrate to WinFS?

As I understood it, the architects of WinFS had already thought of this, and you could promote metadata from your custom data store into WinFS, and get back notifications when the WinFS data store changed. Bingo. No need to rewrite your app.

The really big thing about the data store was that it totally blew open the data silos. It effectively normalised all data formats. Yes, I can search for all contacts with Windows Desktop Search, but once I've got the results, there's not a lot else I can do, because some are stored in Outlook, some in vcard files, some in Vista Contacts, some in IM, etc. With WinFS, you just have a contact. You manipulated the WinFS Contact datatype and saved the changes back. That's incredibly powerful.

This post by Brandon Paddock of the WDS team is great - read the comments. He points out that WinFS would still have to store music in different formats - WMA, MP3, etc - so is this unified API viable, or just a little too idealistic?

Even if the unified data store is a step too far, WinFS is still a killer app from a dev point of view. Just about every app you build has to have local storage, and you always have to roll it yourself. You've got a whole heap of options, none of which are ideal. Xml files means reading the whole of each file into memory (like Sharpreader and RssBandit do - hence the large memory footprint), you could use a database, such as Access, SQL Server (Express), SQL Server Everywhere, SQLite, etc. But these have their own limitations - is the data you want to store suitable for a database (RSS feeds or email messages in a SQL database?) Is client/server appropriate? Is an in-process DB robust enough? You could even roll your own solution, which is fraught with peril. Or you could just let WinFS worry about it and get free searching to boot.

Ah WinFS, we hardly knew you...

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Windows Desktop Search | Vista

Power management, Vista and me. Group hug!

by Matt 20. February 2007 17:44

In case you were wondering, the ongoing saga of my laptop display not working when coming out of sleep is finally fixed. Turns out, a simple BIOS update works wonders. I can now even display stuff on a projector, which I didn't know I couldn't do until I needed to do a presentation the other day...

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Vista

Sharpreader and IE security zones

by Matt 15. February 2007 18:13

A little while ago, I pontificated that the simple way to solve security problems with feeds containing scripts and activex controls was to display the feed content in an IE browser window set to the security zone of the url of that item. I also noted that the latest version of Sharpreader displays items in the restricted zone.

Tonight, I just happened to be spelunking in the Sharpreader code base (don't ask - Reflector is just too easy a tool to reach for) and came across the method used. Instead of setting the zone of the IE control, it instead sets all URLs that come from 127.0.0.1 as being in the restricted zone. This affects all programs for the current user. A little heavy handed, but it gets the job done.

It's all done through registry settings, a method I hadn't seen before. So, for future reference, here's the knowledge base article that describes what's going on. (Sharpreader sets the Ranges value.)

(Incidentally, there's a rather sneaky flaw in my original argument. Unlike a web page, where the URL is an intrinsic value, an RSS item's URL is given to it in the RSS feed. Since it's not intrinsic, you can't necessarily trust it. You'd want to make sure that an RSS feed coming from evil.com that sets the URL of each of its items to update.microsoft.com - a default trusted site - doesn't get into the trusted zone. Similarly, an RSS feed coming from update.microsoft.com that has items with a URL of evil.com (for whatever reason) also shouldn't get the trusted zone. The algorithm to choose the URL to use for display would have to be smart about this. Perhaps get the zone of both URLs and pick the most restrictive? I'm not sure what the answer is here.)

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Newspaper Headlines Bow to SEO Demands

by Matt 3. February 2007 17:08

Hallelujah. 

prostoalex writes "News.com.com says the art of writing newspaper headlines is changing due to reliance on search engines for traffic to newspaper archives. Forget about clever puns, double entendres and witty analogies: 'News organizations that generate revenue from advertising are keenly aware of the problem and are using coding techniques and training journalists to rewrite the print headlines, thinking about what the story is about and being as clear as possible.' One big winner for now is Boston.com, The Boston Globe property, which 'had training sessions with copy editors and the night desk for the newspaper" to enforce Web-optimized keyword-rich headlines suitable for search engine queries.'

This is another on my growing list of personal bug-bears. It's a symptom of the way current media editorialises and sensationalises the news rather than reporting it. It's dumbing down. It's disrespectful - of the subject, and the audience. And it's worse than that - it's just lazy.

I work for a company called Egg. The company's been going for 8 years now, so it always makes me wonder what the journalist thinks of when they file their report. Do they think nobody's thought of using the word "poached" in a headline about us before? Does it make them proud of their work?

This kind of thing always reminds me of a newspaper that was in the window of an old fashioned barber's shop I used to walk past. The headline ran "The King died peacefully in his sleep last night". You just know that if it were reported today, it would simply read "KING DEAD".

And yes, I know I've got plenty of pun based titles on this blog - the keyword there is "blog". This isn't jorunalism. I'm editorialising like all get-go.

I sincerely hope this trend is on its way out (Egg got bought out last week, and the number of normal headlines was way more than normal.)

Besides, this kind of thing just makes me look like a grumpy old man.

Source: Newspaper Headlines Bow to SEO Demands

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Easy (OSX) tiger!

by Matt 2. February 2007 18:53

See what I did with the title? Geeky jokes are just the best.

Do you reckon Apple might be over compensating a little?

Check out the Get A Mac campaign page. A couple of new Mac/PC ads (mildly amusing) that are starting to get a bit defensive personal about Vista, and comments such as this, further down the page:

No other operating system, Vista included, offers the rich features and simplicity of Mac OS X. And just as Vista tries to get closer (emphasis on “tries”), Mac OS X Leopard is right around the corner — ready to leap even farther ahead.

Hyperbole to be sure, but it just seems to be getting more and more snarky. The Apple reality distortion field is hotting up. This is wandering very close to OS advocacy, but I do like the way the spin the facts. Take this snippet from the security page:

By the end of 2005, there were 114,000 known viruses for PCs. In March 2006 alone, there were 850 new threats detected against Windows. Zero for Mac.

Glad they chose March, and not January - the "Month of Apple Bugs". (I know, 31 to 850 is still a good ratio - let's not facts get in the way of a good argument.)

And a quick kick to User Account Control:

Mac OS X was designed for high security, so it isn’t plagued by constant attacks from viruses and malware like PCs. Likewise, it isn’t plagued by never-ending security dialog boxes like those in Vista. So you can safely go about your work — or fun — without interruption.

Funny then that Apple users have complained about a similar feature in OS X. Joel, Apple called. They want to borrow that "disingenuous" word.

Even Bill's getting a bit grumpy at Apple's sniping.

Conspiracy theorists could have a field day with the fact that at the same time as Apple are being very negative about Vista, their flagship Windows product iTunes apparently doesn't work with the new OS. So much so in fact, that they recommend that you don't install Vista! Perhaps Apple didn't know Microsoft were releasing a new OS?

(OK, this is a little tongue in cheek analysis of the Apple hype. I don't know who came up with which feature first. I know I've seen most of the Vista technologies evolve and develop either in the five years it took to ship, or in the many releases since NT4. But then I also know who was first to market, which is usually all that matters. And I know that I'm getting quite a few comments that "Microsoft have really made it look like a Mac" when I demo Vista stuff. I don't see it myself - I think the two interfaces are very different, and I wonder how much is just bashing Microsoft because that's what the cool kids do.)

PS. My iTunes and iPod work fine on Vista, thanks.

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