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Feeding My Wife's Addiction

July 13, 2008

My wife is a huge Tetris nut. I'm not saying she enjoys Tetris, I'm saying that she has a hardcore addiction to the game. She started playing it when it was first introduced on the Nintendo GameBoy and her love for the game was re-ignited when we bought our Nintendo DS last year. She plays it every night before bed, always online, and doesn't accept defeat. So, when I heard that someone was making Tetris ice cube trays, I knew they would be the perfect gift. They are made by a company called Mystake in Russia. I contacted them last month to order a pair of trays but was told they aren't available yet. I pleaded my case and Dima agreed to ship me 2 trays. Well, they finally arrived a couple of weeks ago and I've had a chance to try them out. My first attempt at using the trays proved to be a huge disaster. I tried to make Tetris shaped Jello pieces, but the Jello just stuck to the silicone Tetris trays and I couldn't get it out. Does anyone know how to prevent Jello from sticking to silicone? I sure don't. So, on my next attempt I stuck with making ice cubes and they turned out perfectly. My wife was pleasantly surprised to find Tetris shaped ice cubes in her drink one night - the present was a huge success.

Tetris Ice Cube Trays by 'Mystake'

On a side note, if you think you've got the necessary Tetris skills to put my wife in her place, please let me know. I've been trying to beat her for years and have never been able to. So, I figured that if I can't beat her I'll just find someone who can. Any takers?

ShockDraw v1.0 Released

July 13, 2008

ShockDraw is a proof of concept program that I wrote to learn how to read the accelerometer in notebooks. Just start up ShockDraw and tilt your notebook to draw on the screen. Tilt it left and the line on the screen will move left, tilt it back and the line will move up on the screen. It isn't meant to be a full game or anything other than a tech demo. I have provided both an executable and the source code if you are interested in seeing how it works.

If you are interested in the nerdy details, here is pretty much all you need to know. This is the Win32 method and the struct layout that you need to read the Accelerometer data in your notebook. Either this is poorly documented or I'm terrible at Googling, but all the example structs I found were incorrect. Most of the documentation I found didn't have enough properties in the struct, which caused the ShockproofGetAccelerometerData method to overflow the struct and start writing over program memory. A buffer overflow in all it's glory. Some other examples didn't have the correct data types, which also caused some crazy problems. So, for future reference, here is what the struct looks like in C#:

[DllImport("sensor.dll")]
public static extern void ShockproofGetAccelerometerData(ref AccData accData);

[StructLayout(LayoutKind.Sequential)] public struct AccData { internal int status; internal short x; internal short y; internal ushort xx; internal ushort yy; internal sbyte c; internal ushort x0; internal ushort y0; }

Presto, now you're rolling. Enjoy!

Update: I have changed the video from being hosted on my site to being hosted on YouTube for anyone that wants to share it.

FileSeek v1.5.1 Released

July 10, 2008

FileSeek v1.5.1 has just been released into the wild. This release is a quick maintenance release aimed at fixing a few minor issues. Here is a quick rundown on the changes:

  • Now shows an error if the path to search doesn't exist
  • Status bar now says "x matches found" instead of "x lines found" (more accurate wording)
  • Now properly finds files with no extension
  • Fixed an issue with Windows Vista that prevented the registry entries from being created properly for context menu support
FileSeek

If you have auto-update notification enabled in FileSeek you will be prompted to download the new version, or you can just head over to the FileSeek page to download it.

I Can't Dance, But My Wife Can

July 9, 2008

I can't believe I forgot to write about this, as it was a pretty big event in my wife's life. Last month my wife tried out for the TV show So You Think You Can Dance, the Canadian version. We woke up super early and left our house around 4:30am, arriving in Toronto at about 6:30am. It was a very early start to a very long day. The audition process got underway around 9am and wasn't done until after 9pm. I wasn't allowed inside the actual audition building so my day was full of sitting on the sidewalk waiting with all of the other supporters, and walking around downtown Toronto. My wife had been training and practicing for months and months leading up to the audition and was out pretty much every night dancing at the dance studio and dance clubs. Unfortunately she didn't make the cut, but she had a blast trying out. She says she doesn't want to go through the stress of the auditions again next year, but I'm sure by the time the auditions roll around again she'll get the dance itch. Anyway, here are some pictures of what I saw during the auditions, which is pretty much just waiting in gigantic lines and hanging out all day. Unfortunately no cameras were allowed inside so there aren't any actual auditions shots. Enjoy!

So You Think You Can Dance Toronto Audition 2008  So You Think You Can Dance Toronto Audition 2008
So You Think You Can Dance Toronto Audition 2008  So You Think You Can Dance Toronto Audition 2008
So You Think You Can Dance Toronto Audition 2008  So You Think You Can Dance Toronto Audition 2008
So You Think You Can Dance Toronto Audition 2008  Downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada
CN Tower, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Pirating Microsoft Software?

July 2, 2008

Not too long ago I purchased a rather expensive MSDN subscription so that I could expand my testing efforts to operating systems other the basic versions of XP and Vista. At first I was very pleased with being able to get all the versions of Vista, XP, 2003 and 2008 for testing. However, I recently tried to put more of a focus on testing with older versions of Windows as well, like Windows 2000. When I tried to download a Windows 2000 ISO I was surprised that I can't get anything older than Windows XP using my MSDN subscription. It really makes the large amount of money spent on the MSDN license seem a bit less justified. This is where the story takes a bit of a turn for the weird. This is the message displayed as a placeholder where the Windows 2000 ISOs should be:

This product is no longer available from Microsoft in any form, but may be available through third-party resellers or Web sites.

It's available from websites? Which websites? Thanks for helping me out Microsoft. At this point I decided to talk to one of their online support agents and I was shocked by his advice. Here is a snippet of that conversation, with the agent's name removed:

Jon: I see the operating system listed in my subscription, but it says it is no longer available for download. How can I test my software to ensure it works on older platforms?
MS: Your MSDN subscription is: VS Pro w/ MSDN Professional.
Jon: Correct, which covers operating systems as well.
MS: Since the products have been listed in your subscription, you will have the authority to use those products. You may find that you could not download the media of Windows Server 2000 from MSDN download center for a very specific reason. But you may try to borrow the CD from a friend, or from other channels.
Jon: If I do that, where will I get a license key from? I don't seem to be able to get those from the MSDN site either.
MS: That's right, we have removed the media of Windows Server 2000, as well as the product key. Let me locate you the toll free telephone number to contact our fulfillment center. You may get a product key from them. By the way, may I know your location, please?
Jon: Canada
MS: You may contact MSDN Customer Service Center at (800) 759-5474 (toll free). They are open from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Pacific Time, Monday - Friday, except holidays.
Jon: Would it be ok for me to download Windows 2000 from a torrent site and use it?
MS: Yes, we will not suggest you to do that. But you may download the media from a public website. We apologize for the inconvenience this issue has caused you at this time.
Jon: Ok, I'll give that a try. Thanks.

So, apparently in order to fully use my MSDN subscription I have to either borrow the software from a friend, or use bittorrent to download a cracked version. Great, thanks for helping me write software for your ecosystem Microsoft. You really know how to treat your developers.

Website Downtime Monitoring

June 30, 2008

For the longest time I haven't really done any official monitoring of my hosted server. However, over the last few months I have become more and more dependent on my server being available 100% of the time. A little over a month ago I got a tip from Andrew, a buddy of mine, that he had just started using a service called Pingdom. I signed up for the 30 day trial and was very impressed with the polish and ease of use of the service. For under $10/month you get the basic service, which allows you to monitor up to 5 different services. It is highly configurable, allowing you to specify how long a service has to be down before notifying you, how many times to re-notify you and many other options. Pingdom can notify you by email or SMS text message. Along with the uptime monitoring they also provide response time monitoring as well. This allows you to see how responsive your site is in a given date range. Here is the average daily response time for this site for the month of June:

Pingdom Response Time

As you can see, I need to work on the response time. The reporting is great, the service is rock solid, they have a blog where they openly communicate with everyone and they even have an API to get at your data in case you need to do some extra reporting. In my short time using Pingdom I haven't experienced any issues with the service at all, and I can easily recommend it to anyone who is serious about uptime monitoring.

A Dream Come True

June 26, 2008

This evening I received an invitation for iRacing from one of the fine gentlemen in the rFactor league I run with. When I first heard about iRacing a few years ago I was very excited. I ran in a Grand Prix Legends league for a couple of years, and it was my introduction to online sim racing. iRacing is made by the same people that made Grand Prix Legends, and they've been working on it for around the last 4-5 years (maybe more). iRacing is so radically different from every other racing sim, I don't even know how to properly describe it. Let me put it this way: if you're not a hardcore sim racer then stay away from this. It has a monthly subscription fee starting at $13, and it comes with very few cars and tracks to choose from. When you first purchase the game you start with a rookie license, and only 2 cars to choose from.

My iRacing License

When I first found this out a few weeks ago I was appalled that you don't get more for your money. But after spending the last 3 solid hours with this game I can fully understand what they're doing here. This isn't Project Gotham Racing. This isn't Forza. This is a tight community where you have to earn your right to race. This works just like any form of real racing. If you constantly smash up your car you're never going graduate to the next license level, and you won't get the faster cars. You can purchase more cars and tracks, but that's not the point of this game. This really is a simulation. With only 2 cars and a handful of tracks to start with it gives you the chance to figure out how each car works on each track, without being overwhelmed with dozens of cars to learn. Speaking of cars, this is my baby in iRacing: the #32 Pontiac Solstice.

iRacing #32 Pontiac Solstice

So far I have only participated in 1 full race event, but it was intense. Every time you drive off the track, or make contact with another car you get points taken off your license. You need these points to progress through the different licenses, so you need to drive as cleanly as possible. My race took place at the Lime Rock Park circuit. It's a decent beginners track with a short lap time of just over a minute and not very many corners. I managed to qualify 2nd and started on the front row. When the lights turned green I got the jump on the field and was in the lead by the first turn. I managed to hold the lead until I spun a couple of laps in. Oops, a spin cost me some points... time to ease off and finish in one piece. Once the dust had settled and the race was over I finished in 3rd place. I spun a few times and had a few excursions onto the grass, but I managed to earn points towards my license, so it was a net gain. I learned a lot from this first race, and I can't wait to play again tomorrow night.

FileSeek v1.5 Released

June 24, 2008

I'm very happy to announce the release of FileSeek v1.5 today. This release includes some important fixes, and a couple of new features. Most notably, the exclusion pattern is now applied to folders as well as files. For the complete list of changes I invite you to check out the change log.

FileSeek

I encourage everyone who is running an older version to update today. If you have auto-update checking enabled in FileSeek you will be prompted to update next time you use it.

New Website Design and Future Design Plans

June 23, 2008

After using the Vertigo theme for the last 7 months I've decided that it's time to freshen things up a little bit around here. My biggest problem with my previous theme was the poor page navigation. I have too many pages, and listing them all on the right-hand sidebar was getting a bit unwieldy. This time, I have settled on a theme called Fresh News. It condenses the navigation into drop-down menus along the top of the page, which leaves the right-hand sidebar much cleaner.

The new theme is the first step to creating consistency across all of my applications. I have also picked up a fantastic icon set called Icon Experience: V-Collections which will be used in all future application releases. I will slowly be re-releasing all of my applications with numerous bug fixes, new icons and fully signed executables for full Windows Vista support. This is not a small undertaking, but I am hoping to release 1 application per week.

As always, if you find any problems, or if you have any suggestions please contact me. I welcome any feedback you might have.

Firefox 3 Default Windows XP Theme

June 19, 2008

For those of you who are still running Windows XP on at least one of their computers (like me) and have upgraded to the latest version of Firefox, you may have noticed how ugly the default theme has become. It has a mix of green, red, yellow and blue buttons and seriously lacks consistency. Yuck! Well, courtesy of LifeHacker, I discovered a theme called Vista on XP. The theme is marked as experimental so you will need to login, but that's a small price to pay for this glorious eye candy. You can go from this abomination:

Firefox 3 on Windows XP

To this:

Firefox 3 on Windows Vista

Fantastic!

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