10K fundraising 2013

I'm raising money for St Faiths Preschool, by running the Lincoln 10K on Sunday 7th April 2013.

For more information and to sponsor me using the nice shiny PayPal donate button, visit 10k.slickhouse.com

Thanks!

comments Posted: Thursday 28th March 2013, 22:41pm
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Where am I

I've not written a blog post in many months now. This isn't because I've tired of the pastime, but more that I've not dedicated the time to it recently.

Don't fear, I have plans.

comments Posted: Wednesday 11th July 2012, 22:41pm
Categories: Slickhouse
Tags:

Windows 8 dual boot and initial impressions

Matt's step-by-step guide to dual booting Windows 8 Developer Preview alongside Windows 7:

Items you will need:

Create a partition to install Windows 8 onto:

  1. Start > right-click on Computer > Manage
  2. Go to Disk Management
  3. Locate the partition that Windows 7 is installed on
  4. Right-click and you should get the option to Shrink Volume
  5. Choose a new volume size, to allow you at least 20GB of free space for Windows 8
  6. Confirm and wait a few minutes for the Volume to be resized
  7. You can now righ-click on the new unallocated space and create a new Volume
  8. Assign it a drive letter, name it and format it to NTFS (Quick)

With the partition created, it's onto setting up Windows 8 on the USB drive:

  1. Download the relevant ISO (preferably 64-bit with Developer Tools)
  2. Download 7Zip (free, open-source, highly recommended)
  3. Extract the ISO file to the same place you downloaded it to
  4. Format your USB drive to NTFS
  5. Copy the contents of the extract ISO to your USB drive
  6. Open a command prompt (Start > Run > cmd)
  7. Navigate to the folder you extracted the ISO (e.g. cd \Users\Matt\Downloads\Windows8)
  8. Navigate further to the boot folder (e.g. cd \boot) within the extracted ISO
  9. Run the command "bootsect.exe /nt60 E:" where E: is the drive letter of your recently formatted USB drive

You will now have a partition to install Windows 8 onto and a USB drive with the Windows 8 ISO contents on, ready for installation.

The next stage is relatively easy:

  1. Restart your computer
  2. Hit F2/DEL to enter Setup (BIOS)
  3. As long as your computer is fairly new, you should see an option to specify the USB drive to boot from
  4. Re-arrange the boot order so that USB drive is the first device
  5. Save and Exit Setup (BIOS)
  6. You'll then begin to see the Windows 8 installer do its thing
  7. Follow the instructions when prompted and sit back, whilst it installs
  8. The installer will restart once it has completed, so you will need to enter Setup (BIOS) again
  9. Change the boot order once again, so that your hard drive is the first device
  10. Save and Exit Setup (BIOS)
  11. The installer will continue and you'll eventually be presented with a new Windows 8 style boot menu
  12. Choose Windows 8 Developer Preview, or leave it be (it'll default to Windows 8)

You'll then be asked a number of questions to setup your new Windows 8 Developer Preview install - allowing you to enjoy Microsoft's latest operating system.

I've had a few hours play with it so far and am highly impressed. Initially I started with it running within a Virtual Box VM, but I found it to be too restrictive. So I opted for the dual boot scenario as outlined above. This allows me to try Windows 8 on the raw hardware, but keeping my existing Windows 7 installation intact. Once the Developer Preview expires or if I find any incompatability issues, I can simply boot back into Windows 7 and continue.

Performance wise, the operating system feels a lot snappier than my Windows 7 install. But that's probably due to the crap it has accumulated over the past year - and the lack of software installed on Windows 8. Dare I say it: Internet Explorer 10 feels quicker than Chrome; yes it does. My only gripe would be the lack of mouse gestures via a laptop's touchpad - having to use the scroll bars on the main Metro UI is awkward and fiddly.

Also, I'm unsure as to why there is Internet Explorer 10 with the standard Aero UI and then there's the full-screen Metro version. They both have their purpose, but users may get confused and not know what tab they have open in which. Speaking of tabs - I'm lost in the Metro version with multiple tabs open, as there's no visual indication of which tab you are currently on and how many you have open, due to the lack of tool/status bars.

Overall, for a Developer Preview (pre-Beta?) Windows 8 is outstanding. The initial discussions surrounding the release are positive and it seems Microsoft have learnt from both its mistakes and also its competitors successes. A single operating system for all devices - Phones, Tablets, Netbooks, Laptops, Desktops, Servers makes complete sense and is what Microsoft has been striving to achieve with the whole Windows thing since, well forever. Hopefully they can get it right, keeping the device specific features at the forefront on the relevant devices, rather than a one UI for all.

Update: I've uploaded a few screenshots to Picasa Web Albums.

comments Posted: Thursday 15th September 2011, 22:41pm
Categories: Computers and Technology
Tags: microsoft

The Problem with relying on Google

I've used Google's search engine and most of its products for a good few years now. The clean interface and the search results themselves initially drew me in, having previously used Altavista.

Since I studied GCSE IT, I've had a hotmail.com email account - but after receiving an invite to GMail from a fellow Star Wars Galaxies player, my use of hotmail started to decline. My domain email is all sent to my own mailserver, powered by hMailServer but is then downloaded by GMail periodically, as I couldn't find any free and open-source web mail interface that would rival GMail's. Since then 14,000+ emails have made their way into my Inbox. GMail revolutionsed email - no longer did you have to label and organise your email into sub-folders or delete them altogther. It's simply a case of read the email and archive it - letting Google's powerful search functionality retrieve it at a later date, if required.

Bookmarks are handled by Google too - I tried a PHP/MySQL self-hosted solution, but found the UI to be too clunky and the project appeared to be abandoned. With bookmarks, I like the way that Google integrates it into the search results - so that you can instantly see those you've previously starred.

As for Calendar, I have a few entries - but have never been much of a user. The same can be said for Docs.

Then there's Reader. It's a slightly different story - I have 117 subscriptions and often stumble across another RSS feed to subscribe to. I find it an addiction, checking feeds several times a day to ensure I'm up-to-date on the latest.

I also have data in Google Analytics for 10 domains; 1 purchase using Google Checkout; Chrome is synced to my Google Account; Feedburner has burnt 5 of my feeds; and Web History has proved useful in the past - as a better alternative to a Browser's own History.

Then Google went and launched its own Social Network, Google+

I'll admit that I don't use it as much as twitter or facebook - I've found each serves its own purposes. I read somewhere that facebook is for keeping in touch with the people you know, but don't like and twitter is for following the people you don't know but do like. Something along those lines. There's some truth in that - depending on who you follow/are friends with. I find facebook a way of keeping up with people I know: what they're up to and twitter as a way of hearing about the latest before anyone else. Google+ has carved out its own sector - detailed, intelligent technical discussion. Perhaps it's because the majority of the users on there are geeks at the moment, but I find each post on my Stream to be worth reading - all signal, no noise - whereas twitter is more noise than signal, requiring effort to find the gems.

Google+ is here to stay and with more people joining each day, it'll soon rival twitter and facebook for market share.

Then Google went and released Google Music. It wasn't long ago that I was looking for a cloud based music provider, that I could store my 1000's of MP3's on to listen to whilst at work. Previously, I relied on FTP to my server at home, to grab albums I wanted - and then import them into iTunes. This isn't too bad, unless you consider how bad iTunes has become over the years - Apple surprises me with each update, as the software appears to be worsening. As soon as I saw a tweet asking if anyone wanted an invite - I jumped at the chance. During registration, I was told that the Beta was currently US only - but was pleased to find that it worked for me in the UK, using a UK ISP.

I have around 120GB of music on my server here, but after installing Google's Music manager app, to begin uploading MP3s to the service, I started ignoring the shite and picking out the best albums instead. It was refreshing to find that I only actually liked a small portion of the collection - 4374 songs to be precise. Uploading it didn't take long either, thanks to a 50MB down/5MB up Virgin Media connection. The downside is that work's Internet connection is ~4MB at best, shared amongst 25+ users - roughly 164KB each if you think about it. This equates to a stuttery experience, which has meant that I barely use the service. Still, at least I know my music is there, waiting to be played.

I probably use a few more services that Google offers, but the above is the majority of my Google time. However, today I realised that relying on one provider for so many services can be a problem.

Take, for example, the Google Translate API. We use the translateth.is plugin to provide an easy interface into the API for Users to translate websites into their desired language. Google recently decided that people were abusing the API so much, that they are removing it completely by December 1st 2011. And it's not the only Google product to be axed.

Google recently announced that they're restructuring and focusing their priorities on 3 distinct areas of the business. Off the top of my head:

Search is a given, as it is the core of their business. Advertising is where most of their revenue comes from - which leaves the high traffice services. Anything that doesn't fit into these 3 key areas is being discontinued. APIs that 3rd party developers and businesses rely on; Services that many found essential in their daily lives; and Google Labs - the birthplace of many of these new ideas.

From a business point of view, it makes a lot of sense - they've spent years having fun, creating what they could and testing different markets with new services. But they've now decided to focus on what makes them money.

From a user's point of view, it's worrying. Each time I hear of a new round of cuts - I wonder if a service I count on is going to be discontinued. They've spent time switching the high traffic ones over to the new Google+ style interface, but haven't yet touched upon Bookmarks or Reader to name a few.

There's a saying - don't put all your eggs in one basket. I've pretty much done that with Google.

I recently closed my Yahoo, Flickr and Hotmail accounts - instead using Google Picasa and GMail as alternatives. Today I logged into GMail to find an email from Google Apps, to say that my account had been updated to support all of the non-Apps services. I had setup Google Apps when it was first opened to the public, with the intention being that I would use it for all @slickhouse.com email. However, I didn't like the idea of changing MX Records to point to Google, when GMail was still in its infancy - and the fact that I couldn't use all of Google's products with the same Apps account.

However, as part of the update, Google removed the association of my @slickhouse.com email from my @gmail.com account and placed it with the Google Apps account, without prompting me. After reading the email and realising the problem, I immediately signed into the Apps account and deleted it. The trouble is, the deletion process takes up to 5 days and I cannot re-associate my @slickhouse.com email to my @gmail.com account. It's a minor annoyance, but suggests the whole process and system is flakey - with so many services, Google has created a fragmented account/login solution, which they're only now trying to piece back together.

I'm confident I'll get it back to how I want it - no more stale Apps account, but a single @gmail.com account with my @slickhouse.com email associated with it.

Therein lies another problem - my @gmail.com address was setup in a rush as I wanted to use the invite and try out this new GMail thing. As my domain email was forwarded to it, I never really noticed it - until Google+ came along. Google doesn't offer a way of associating more than one @gmail.com address to another - one feature that hotmail/live does allow for. So if I do decide that I can no longer live with my current @gmail.com address, I'm stuck with having to manually export my data from each of the services that allow it and then import it into the new account. Not all services allow this though - Google+ being one of them.

Maybe this is all the result of Google developing lots of small projects and purchasing startups, without any uniform way of tying them altogether. Now they've realised that they have too many products and not enough focus to move forward - that they're starting to claw back and tighten up integration between each of the products.

I'm not against Google in anyway - I'd even go as far as saying I'm a fan. But I've come to realise that I shouldn't be relying on them for everything - even though their products are reliable, fast and intuitive. At least as a Web Developer, when the time comes - I can develop my own alternative(s).

comments Posted: Wednesday 7th September 2011, 22:41pm
Categories: Web
Tags: google

Codemasters Hacked

Continuing on from the recent Sony hacks, Codemasters has admitted being subjected to an intrusion themselves. Interestingly, it's taken them a week to admit it:

Important information regarding your account

Dear valued Codemasters customer,

On Friday 3rd June, unauthorised entry was gained to our Codemasters.com website. As soon as the intrusion was detected, we immediately took codemasters.com and associated web services offline in order to prevent any further intrusion.

During the days since the attack we have conducted a thorough investigation in order to ascertain the extent and scope of the breach and have regrettably discovered that the intruder was able to gain access to the following:

  • Codemasters.com website
  • Access to the Codemasters corporate website and sub-domains.
  • DiRT 3 VIP code redemption page
  • Access to the DiRT 3 VIP code redemption page.
  • The Codemasters EStore

We believe the following have been compromised: Customer names and addresses, email addresses, telephone numbers, encrypted passwords and order history. Please note that no personal payment information was stored with Codemasters as we use external payment providers, meaning your payment details were not at risk from this intrusion.

Codemasters CodeM database

Members' names, usernames, screen names, email addresses, date of birth, encrypted passwords, newsletter preferences, any biographies entered by users, details of last site activity, IP addresses and Xbox Live Gamertags are all believed to have been compromised.

Whilst we do not have confirmation that any of this data was actually downloaded onto an external device, we have to assume that, as access was gained, all of these details were compromised and/or stolen.

The Codemasters.com website will remain offline for the foreseeable future with all Codemasters.com traffic re-directed to the Codemasters Facebook page instead. A new website will launch later in the year.

Advice

For your security, in the first instance we advise you to change any passwords you have associated with other Codemasters accounts. If you use the same login information for other sites, you should change that information too. Furthermore, be extra cautious of potential scams, via email, phone, or post that ask you for personal or sensitive information. Please note that Codemasters will never ask you for any payment data such as credit card numbers or bank account details, nor will Codemasters ask you for passwords or other personal identifying data. Be aware too of fraudulent emails that may outwardly appear to be from Codemasters with links inviting you to visit websites. The safest way to visit your favourite websites is always by typing in the address manually into the address bar of your browser.

Unfortunately, Codemasters is the latest victim in on-going targeted attacks against numerous game companies. We assure you that we are doing everything within our legal means to track down the perpetrators and take action to the full extent of the law.

We apologise for this incident and regret any inconvenience caused.

We are contacting all customers who may have been affected directly.

Should you have any concerns or wish to speak to a member of our Customer Services team, please email them at custservice@codemasters.com.

The question is, who's next?

comments Posted: Friday 10th June 2011, 22:41pm
Categories: Games
Tags: hack