There is one thing on the internet that is – without a doubt – causing more buzz than anything else at the moment. No, not the new Harry Potter film (worth going to see, by the way). I’m talking about Gmail.

For weeks since it was announced, the blogosphere has been buzzing about it. Some have snorted in derision, some have placed it high upon a pedestal. Gmail isn’t even fully open to the public yet – it requires an “invite”.

These invites are highly desirable, so it would seem. All over the place, I’ve seen various contests to win an invite. Some ask you to come up with something funnyOthers just want a link (so can I have my invite now? 😉  ). The slightest mention of having a spare invite prompts a deluge of people you don’t even know asking for it. Googling for “Gmail Invites” returns page after page of people pimping this strang type of gold dust.

I guess it’s this process of invitation only accounts that are making everyone want Gmail so badly. To be in an “exclusive club” is quite a draw for some.

If it’s not that though, what is the draw? Is Gmail any good? I’ve put out the feelers (ooh-er) for an invite, so I’m hoping to be able to find out for myself, but maybe someone could enlighten me?

Isn’t just another web-based email service?

Last Updated: 27/May/2004

The Samsung X10 was, for a long time, the thinnest notebook available. It’s also silver and all shiny. Obviously, I just had to have one! Specifically, the XTC1400 which boasts a Pentium-M 1.4GHz, 512Mb RAM, 40GB disk, CD-RW and wireless networking (it’s a Centrino notebook).

By default, it comes with WinXP Professional. Obviously, that just will not do! Unfortunately, it’s not the easiest laptop in the world to install Linux on. I’ve done a number of installs with several distros and have had wildly differing results – even between reinstalls of the same distro! Eventually though, Gentoo won the day…

Not that it was an easy process, mind you. Indeed, as I type this, a few features are still not working (read: ACPI). But by and large, the laptop is fully usable for day-to-day tasks. Even my Girlfriend can use it, so it must be ok!

Here’s a quick run-down:

  • Kernel – currently 2.6.6 love4. Seems very stable and relatively nippy. Edit 27/May/2004 – Now using 2.6.1 + a handful of patches.
  • Display – The biggest stumbling block for the X10 at one point. Using XOrg X11 + the latest Nvidia Kernel & GLX (5336) from Portage works a treat.
  • SoundALSA’s a bit temperamental at the moment. I had it fully working at one point, but forgot the fix when I did a reinstall. Normal users get a “Cannot find /dev/mixer” error. I know it’s fixable though, but I want to get other pieces working first.
  • Networking – The wired LAN card works a treat straight off the bat. The WiFi card took a bit of work though. Read this post on Centrino Wireless + Gentoo to get it working. I’ve had no need to use the modem, so I don’t have a clue if that works or not… From what I’ve read, it might only work with a 2.4 kernel.
  • ACPIThe major stumbling block at the moment. Some things are working, others aren’t – at the moment, only the AC adapter and battery aren’t being picked up. The problem lies with the common (missing?) ECDT error. I’ve tried adding the several potential patches to the kernel, but none have ever installed properly. Edit 27/May/2004 – fixed by reverting to 2.6.1 kernel + patches. Guide Coming Soon.
  • Speedstep – I’m not going to try the CPU frequency scaling until I’ve gotten ACPI properly working. Just in case.
  • Touchpad – Using the Synaptics touchpad driver, everything works apart from the scrollwheel/middle button. No matter of tinkering could get this to work. The driver does provide features that make up for this, but in the end, I installed a MS Bluetooth mouse instead… (guide coming soon)
  • Keyboard – Not tried to get the extra keys going yet. Last time I installed I couldn’t get them working, but I didn’t exactly try hard.

Currently I’m running Gnome 2.6 and find it very responsive. Apps load up quite fast, although I’ve not been doing anything particularly strenious with the machine since I installed Gentoo.

This page will be updated as I get more things working (and write the guides for the fixes)

Centrino is the big thing in laptops at the moment. Longer battery times despite more powerful processors and inbuilt 802.11b wireless. Unfortunately, Intel have yet to provide Linux support for the wireless component of Centrino and are a little cagey as to when it will be available.

Thankfully, the open-source community is a crafty community. NdisWrapper provides a method of loading Windows drivers to enable the wireless card.

At the time of writing, there are ebuilds in portage for NdisWrapper (latest version is 0.6-rc1). Unfortunately, they seem to be quite buggy and I’ve yet to get them to work. Instead, what I found to work best was to get the latest version from the NdisWrapper site and compile it from that source. At this time, the latest version is 0.7. Then follow the steps below to release yourself from your cat-5 tether!

Note 1: as a prerequisite, you need to emerge wireless-tools.

The Driver

  1. Download the latest source tarball to your system from the Ndiswrapper Sourceforge Project and unpack the archive.
  2. For the Intel PRO/Wireless 2100 (standard Centrino wireless card), download this driver. Otherwise, consult the NdisWrapper homepage.
  3. Open up a terminal and su to root then cd to the directory you extracted the source to.
  4. make install
  5. Unpack the Windows driver and check for a .inf file. In the above package, it should be “w70n51.ini”.
  6. ndiswrapper -i /path/to/win/driver.inf
  7. Once that’s done, type ndiswrapper -l. The name of the inf file should be listed. If not, you may have mistyped the path, so try again.
  8. modprobe ndiswrapper to load the driver. Providing there are no errors, typing dmesg should return “wlan0: ndiswrapper ethernet device…”

Configuring Your Card

The next bit will either be straight-forward or trial and error. It just depends on your setup. I had a bit of bother getting the right combination of authentication settings before I got my card to work.

iwconfig should list your card and its current settings, which will be all empty. To change this, you need to do the following:

  1. iwconfig wlan0 mode Managed if you use and access point. Otherwise, set mode to “adhoc”.
  2. iwconfig wlan0 key restricted <wifi key> will set your authentication key (hex format). Pass the -s option after key to type the key in ascii format. Depending on your setup, you may have to subsitute “restricted” for “open”.
  3. iwconfig wlan0 essid your_essid sets your network ID.
  4. ifconfig wlan0 up should now bring your wifi card online. If not, fiddle around with the settings above. Also take a look at the other options you can set through iwconfig.
  5. DHCP users should type in dhcpcd wlan0 to assign an I.P. to your card.
  6. Alternatively, to assign a fixed I.P. you need to copy /etc/init.d/net.eth0 to /etc/init.d/net.wlan0 and edit accordingly. Then type in /etc/init.d/net.wlan0 start.

If you were to ping Google or similar, you should see your connection working.

Final Steps

The tricky bit is now out of the way. All that should be left to do, is to get the card to come back up at boot time:

  1. Add ndiswrapper to /etc/modules.autoload.d/kernel-<kernel version>
  2. If using DHCP, add the five steps in “Configuring Your Card” (above) to /etc/init.d/local.start.
  3. Otherwise, you’ll probably want to add the net.wlan0 file to startup with rc-update add net.wlan0 default.

That should be it! I’ve been happily connecting with the card in my Samsung x10 since I reinstalled Gentoo about a month ago.
One point – DHCP users might want to try the net.wlan0 method of configuring/bringing the card up/down instead of using local.start. It seems to be the “correct” way to do it and a lot “cleaner”.However, I had no success getting this method to work with Ndiswrapper 0.7 (0.4 worked, IIRC). That’s not to say it won’t work for you, it just didn’t work for me… Give it a try by all means, then let me know how it went by leaving a comment.

This post was originally inspired by this thread on the Gentoo Support Forums.

It seems that SPAM is forever on the increase. Daily, our inboxes are flooded with offers of riches, pills, or other such junk. Dealing with SPAM can take a long time – time that would be better used on something more productive (like Unreal Tournament 2004…)

There are tools for helping to automate the task. Nearly all mail clients allow you to setup filters to direct messages that match certain patterns to certain mailboxes. With the all the different tricks used by spammers, this can lead to a lot of filters having to be setup! Some clients (such as Mozilla Thunderbird) have built-in anti-spam filtering. Depending on the level of mail that you receive, these might be perfectly adequate for your needs.

Sometimes though, you just need a little bit more power…

SpamAssassin is a powerful program for filtering SPAM from your mailbox. I’ve seen it used a lot on the server-side – filtering messages as they come into a mail server. It can also be used client-side, which is the method we’re going to setup today.

Evolution is the mail client/calendar/task list program from Ximian (now part of Novell). It’s a pretty powerful app, on a par with Outlook in most respects, but with none of the flub. It offers a lot of options for filtering your mail, including one very useful option in particular: “pipe message to shell command”.

Can you guess what we’re gonna do? That’s right. Use Evolution’s filters to pass incoming mail to SpamAssassin, then decide what to do with the message based on its spam score. Ready? Then lets begin.

emerge evolution

Let it churn away…

emerge SpamAssassin

More churning…

When all the compiling is done, add the spamassassin daemon (spamd) to the default run level so it starts at bootup:
rc-update add spamd default

If you haven’t already done so, set up Evolution with your e-mail account(s). Next comes the laborious part – setting up the quarantine area, the training area and the filter.

Create a new folder in Evolution, called Quarantine. This will be where messages marked as spam will be put. Now create a subfolder under Quarantine called SPAM Training. This is where we will manually place SPAM mail that SpamAssassin misses and later use it to train SpamAssassin to catch it next time.

With the folders setup, lets create our filter. Filter options can be accessed under Tools > Filters. Create a new filter called “SPAM” (or similar). The settings for this filter should be:

IF
pipe message to shell command spamc -c returns greater than 0
THEN
move to folder "Quarantine" in "Local Folders"

That should be it. Instantly, you’ll find less spam in your inbox as it gets filtered into your quarantine folder instead. You could set it to delete spam instead of quarantining it, but there’s always the chance of false positives, so I like to double-check the quarantine area every couple of days in case there’s something there that I might want to keep.

Inevitably, some spam will get through. To deal with this, we need to train SpamAssassin into a lean, mean, spam-eating machine. Remember the “Spam Training” folder we set up? Now’s when it comes in useful. When SpamAssassin misses a message, manually move it into the training folder. Then, type the following command, changing @@ with the path to your home directory: sa-learn --spam --mbox "<home dir>/evolution/local/Inbox/subfolders/Quarantine/subfolders/SPAM Training". This command tells SpamAssassin to look in the folder and that everything in it should be classed as spam from now on. After a few days/weeks of training, the amount of spam in your inbox should drop to next to zero!

If – like me – you do a lot of “tinkering” with your Gentoo installation, you’ll invariably end up typing a lot of commands over and over again.

Aliases save you from having to remember/repeatedly type in these commands. Aliases, in case you are new to them, are command line shortcuts. As such, they can save you a fair bit of time when working in the terminal.

To set up an alias, you use the alias command:
alias aliasname='command'

There are a couple of Gentoo specific aliases that I have set up:

  • unstablemerge—a shortcut to ACCEPT_KEYWORDS="~x86" emerge
  • retrymerge—saves typing in emerge --resume
  • rc-add—instead of rc-update add
  • rc-del—instead of rc-update delete

Got any more? Leave ‘em in the comments!

From The Register

Computerised lamp posts look like being the basis of the biggest data network ever, as the world’s traffic monitors set about controlling cars with wireless. And the result could be an absolute windfall for a startup company which, it seems, owns all the relevant patents.

The whole article reads like some sci-fi nut’s dream… but it could become very, very real. If an entire city or town or even a simple road was a big, internet connected wireless hotspot, you could pretty much access information anywhere. How cool/scary is that?

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is the dominant web browser out there. There’s no denying it. However, it would appear that its grip on the top spot is slowly – but surely – loosening.

Reviewing the site stats over the last two months (well, 43 days to be exact), there has been a fairly substantial increase in the number of unique visitors using Mozilla. In the first few weeks of the stats, Mozilla (and Firebird – the stats don’t differentiate) accounted for around about 12% of all site visitors. IE6 had approximately 78%, with the rest mostly going to IE5.x/Win, IE5.x/Mac and various minor versions of Opera 7.x.

However, looking at the stats tonight shows the Mozilla browsers at 18.67% – a 6% increase! IE6 is down to 71.89%. A surprise new entry is Netcaptor, which grabbed 3rd place with 2.36% of visitors using it. The rest of the top ten is still IE5.x and Opera 7.x fighting it out.

Just goes to show that IE isn’t the only browser you should consider, when you design web sites. There’s a significant number of users out there that have started using (the far better) alternatives. After all, if my stats are any indication of the web at large, that would mean that an IE only site cuts out a potential 30% of visitors. How can anyone justify a number like that..?

I’ve finally taken my first steps with ASP.NET. I’ve only done some basic research and examples and all I can say, is that it’s one f*cking powerful choice for developing web applications… It’s so far ahead of vanilla ASP that it’s terrifying. It’s great being able to use another computationally complete language. ASP.NET is so much faster as well.

Shame that it costs a lot to actually roll out anywhere. Your average Windows Server license doesn’t come cheap and IIS is pretty much the only way web server that works. Neither are most of the tools cheap. Naturally, the ideal way to develop with .NET is with Visual .NET Studio (megabucks) and use SQL Server (again, megabucks) as the backend.

However, there is an alternative. Actually, there’s 2 – but I can’t get Dreamweaver MX to connect to any databases when coding .NET pages, so I’m discounting that. Besides, the code it generates looks a bit bloated. So ignoring DW MX, the alternative is The Web Matrix Project.

Web Matrix is free. Despite this, it comes from Microsoft. Despite coming from Microsoft, it’s actually a well thought out and rather good program. It’s sorta like FrontPage for .NET (don’t let that put you off!!). It features WYSIWYG design view – which I must say that I’ve never used – that allows you to drag and drop server controls into your page. It also offers code views so you can type everything in directly. What’s really nifty, is that it has 2 code views – one for coding the (X)HTML and the other that displays only the server side code. It also comes with a compact personal web server so that you can test stuff locally without shelling out for a Win Server. All in all, it’s a dream for those of us that are cheapskates!

So that’s the coding environment sorted out, but what about the backend? Well, you could use XML, which is treated exactly like any other database. However, I dunno anything about using XML with .NET at the moment, so I’ll skip that. So what’s left? Well, Access is the one that most will tell you to use. But I hate using Access. It comes from having to use it at work. So I went down a route that some said was impossible, and others said was difficult. I say pfft to them, cos it was a piece of pish. So what am I using for my .NET backend? MySQL over OLEDB.

Putting a Microsoft programming technology alongside an open source database solution doesn’t quite sit right in the brain. But it works, and works really well I might add. What’s more, because of the nature of OLEDB in .NET, I can pretty much use any database by only changing the connection string.

So now that I have my development environment, I guess it’s time to actually delve deeper into the murky depths… I guess that’s my project for the holidays sorted then.

Internet Explorer is not known for it’s strict adherence to web standards. However, recently it’s been acting even stranger than normal.

For example, font keywords are completely screwed up. IE6 should act the same as Firebird in this area. However, no matter what I try, IE on my machine will not adhere to anything other than font-size: small or larger.

The box model is even more broken than normal as well. Weird margins keep cropping up all over the place, which is a nightmare when trying to write new e107 themes!

It’s only just started recently, so I’ll maybe spend some time investigating whether it’s the latest IE security patch that’s caused it…

Bit of a long one tonight…

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last couple of days about the site and the systems behind it. Mainly due to the lack of net access.

E107 is a great CMS – it’s fast, reliable, got a great community, pretty secure, easy to extend… but it’s grown into a system that no longer really works for personal sites. Sure, you can use the news section as a blog, but it just feels wrong, somehow. That’s why I moved on to the blogging tools for a while. Nucleus first, then MovableType.
MovableType is a great blog system – it’s pretty fast, reliable, customizable, got a tonne of features (I could not maintain this site without the XMLRPC interface), a large community… But it didn’t provide everything I wanted for the site. Plus, I could only get it installed in a subdirectory, which meant a splash page of some sorts – not something I often like.

So that led me to write MT107, the simple set of scripts that I use to interface the two systems. It’s far from ideal at it. For a start, it has no provisions for comments or trackbacks. It also has to be set up just right or the page formatting will be all to heck. Templates have to be changed and so on and so forth.

Thinking it over, I broke down the reasons why I wanted to interface the two systems.

  1. I wanted to keep my existing posts when I re-implimented e107
  2. I love using w.Bloggar to write new entries. I reckon I wouldn’t update the site if I had to log into an admin area all the time.
  3. I liked the formatted text (proper paragraphs, etc) that MT gives you, over e107’s simple parsing
  4. I wanted to stay within the “Blog Set”. That means I wanted to keep using a blogging tool to maintain a blog. Not a news system.

At first this was fine. By “at first”, I mean during the 6 weeks between development of the site starting and this week. But now I realise that I miss certain things about past blogging tools. I miss the “fancy URL’s” feature of Nucleus. I miss being able to have comments. I miss (proper) permalinks. I’m even half considering wanting to use trackbacks.

All the above, I could find a way to do in MT107. But it’d be fiddly and it would mean limiting myself and anyone who uses MT107 to having to set things up “a certain way” for them to work. I don’t want that. In the end I decided that what I want is a blog system that:

  1. Uses XMLRPC, so I can post from w.bloggar;
  2. Integrates with e107 (as a plugin);
  3. Allows comments;
  4. Can use “fancy URL’s”;
  5. Has permalinks (on a per entry basis)
  6. will let me export my existing posts to without data loss
  7. Otherwise works like MT

Guess that’s a tall order. Guess what? I can’t see anything out there that does what I want. Guess what that means? Possibly another coding project. Or maybe I should give it a rest and just be happy with what I have…

Nearly a week without an update… well, you can blame my router for that one. Let me tell the story.

About 2 weeks ago, I ordered a nice upgrade to my ADSL. A 1Mbps line – very sweet 😉 . Anyway, it took a week for the order to be processed and the regrade carried out on the server.

During the night before the new line was supposed to come online, I lost all net connection (tho I didn’t find out until the following morning). Being the not-too-fussed sorta chap that I am, I merely let this slide as part of the upgrade process. So I went to work, expecting to come back to super-fast download speeds. Uh-huh. Still no connection. My ISP’s support line closes at 5. I get home from work at 5.10. Bugger.

So anyway, the next day, I phone them up and explain what I know – that I was due to be regraded and that the line stopped working 2 nights ago and I’ve had no ADSL since. The support monkey on the end of the line reckons that BT haven’t finished the regrade properly, but as it’s a weekend, there’s nothing he can do. So no net access all weekend either.

Monday rolls by, along with another call to tech support. BT then go check my line, clear a fault and report back to my ISP. As I have no net access, I do not find this out till the next morning. So again, I go home and expect super-fast downloads. Again, uh-huh. Sigh. I try everything – resetting the router, swapping cables… basically everything I could think of.

So today, another call went in. This time a BT engineer came by my flat to check everything from my end. He was able to get connected using his own laptop and modem. So again, I come home and try absolutely everything I could think of, to get the router to connect. Still no joy. So one quick trip to PC World later and I’m back at the flat with a USB ADSL modem. Shock horror, it works first time. The jump between 512Kbps and 1Mpbs is amazing.
So my router is bust. With it goes my wireless and my network. It’s only 2 months old as well. Methinks tech support will be giving me an RMA so I can return it and get another…

On the bright side, at least now I have a chance to sort through the 180 e-mails that were waiting for me…

A few articles I’ve found interesting, on this dull Monday morning, collected by FeedDemon:

Joe Average User Is In Trouble
Nice opinion piece on security vs. the average computer user.
Friday Feast #63: Information Architecture, Standards, Best Practices
Takes a look at a new interview with Jeffrey Zeldman, A List Apart’s new site design, and user-friendly approaches to website information architecture.
Sliding Doors of CSS
Great little article on a technique that could make CSS driven pages even more attractive

After a week and a half of waiting, my new Transformers Binaltech Smokescreen arrived in the post today 😀

In case you’re wondering what that is, it’s a 1:24 scale series of Transformers that are replicas of real life cars – just like the originals. Smokescreen, for example, is a perfect replica of Tommi Makinens’ WRC Subaru Impreza, right down to the sponsors logos.

The Binaltech line also features such niceties as die-cast parts and masses of articulation.

I’ll post some photos once the gallery is up and running. This really is one cool toy!

A few days late with this one, but hey-ho…

The Mozilla Foundation released new milestones of three of its open source applications.

The Mozilla Suite – which contains an advanced, fast and robust web browser, a simple WYSIWYG HTML tool and a secure mail client is now up to version 1.5.

Thunderbird, is a development of the mail client that comes with the Mozilla Suite. It contains many advanced features, such as intuitive anti-spam controls and is far more secure against viruses, worms and other such risks than Outlook Express. Thunderbird has now reached version 0.3.

Firebird, is a development of the web browser found in the Mzilla suite. It is fast, robust and contains many highly useful and advanced features such as find-as-you-type (find links and text on a page, simply by typing. No fiddling with menu items), tabbed browsing and extensibility in the form of extensions. Firebird also offers a high degree of standards compliance.

I like Mozilla stuff. Firebird is my default browser and Thunderbird is my mail client. Both are highly capable (and, I reckon, far better) alternatives to Internet Explorer and Outlook Express. Go download now, you won’t regret it!

The RIAA is sueing a 12 year old girl, for “massive copyright infringements through file-swapping”. Under legislation, this could mean her paying “damages” of upto $150,000 per song.

Just when you thought they could go now lower, they pull this one… I hope they get seriously nailed to the wall for it. Surely it can’t be long now before they get investigated by the feds, for what they’re doing?

Either that, or people should wake up and Boycott the RIAA.

…and my home-rolled Linux build is still building…

Compiled the kernel OK (I think), now I just gotta do the graphical UI stuff. I think I may have borked this bit :S

Looks like it’s gonna be another nigth with the machine running while I try to get to sleep over the noise the fan makes…

Bah.

Italian hackers are trying to hack into my works’ servers…
Apparently they’ve been at it for a week now (I guess that’s a good sign?). Unfortunately, all their scanning and probing, etc, means that our bandwidth for getting in/out on the net is virtually non-existant.

Bastards. :S

We’ve notified our ISP, but apparently there’s very little that can be done… Which sucks ass.

Can someone explain to me, what the point in it all is? At most, they’re gonna get a few project reports. Nothing that can make them money. Nothing that will make them infamous or l33t.

Bah. Probably nothing more than a bunch of fscking script-kiddies…

What’s up wit’ dat? 🙂

Another thing that I forgot to mention, that I actually meant to post last night (but w.bloggar was playing up on my desktop) – found a kickass program for doing CG (Computer Generated) artwork.

OpenCanvas (http://www.portalgraphics.net) combines some really wonderful natural media type brushes, with some basic photoshop functionality (layers, et al). This may not sound very different to, Painter, for example… well that’s cos it isn’t. However, I found Painter quite hard to get to grips with and hard to understand. Plus, it costs a bomb. OpenCanvas may not have as many options or features, but it’s simple, fast (takes up next to no space), intuitive and above all, it’s cheap. If you hunt around, you can still find the v1.1 release, which is free. Current official version is 2.24e. Interesting features include network co-operative work (multiple people can work on a piece at the same time) and the ability to record your progress for later playback. Handy for creating tutorails, etc.

So if you like CGing and were looking for a tool to add that natural look that you were after, give it a try 🙂

(I sound like a salesman…)