Monthly Archives: November 2005

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How to make Outlook the default e-mail program

Today, I finally got around to rebuilding the notebook PC that I use for e-mail, blogging, web site maintenance and general home IT (I keep all my digital media work on another, desktop, PC). I’m taking this opportunity to try out Mozilla Firefox 1.5 (released yesterday) and to give the Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail client a go (of course, Internet Explorer is still installed for the badly-written sites that mandate its use, or that don’t recognise Firefox as a valid browser). As a long time (8-year) Outlook user, I needed to import my previous contacts (I took the opportunity to leave behind my e-mail) but this is where I’ve found Thunderbird slightly lacking…

Although Thunderbird does support the import of address book entries from Eudora, Outlook, Outlook Express and a variety of file formats there doesn’t seem to be any capacity to filter imports (or to import directly from a personal folder (.PST) file. Instead, the import relies on Outlook being the default e-mail client (or the use of an intermediate file).

The Set Program Access and Defaults feature within Windows XP (mandated as part of one of the many Microsoft antitrust rulings) that is intended to make it easier to specify the default programs for certain operations (such as web browsing, e-mail, media playback, instant messaging and choosing a Java virtual machine); unfortunately it didn’t allow me to specify Microsoft Outlook as the default e-mail client (nor did the option which is supposed to allow this from within Outlook). Strangely, what was needed was to open Internet Explorer and select Internet Options from the Tools menu before using the Internet programs drop-down lists on the Programs page.

Following this, I managed to import my data, but now I notice that my contacts’ addresses have been duplicated in both the home and work address fields. Thunderbird may well turn out to be an excellent e-mail client but its data import capabilities seem to leave a lot to be desired.

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Geotagging websites

A couple of weeks back, a little GeoURL icon was added the side panel of this blog (underneath the feedmap). GeoURLs are a way of encoding location information within a website.

For example, whilst I try to make the information on markwilson.co.uk applicable to a wider audience, inevitably some of it is UK-specific. Geolocation by IP address can help to match users with localised content, but it does have some issues. A DNS lookup on markwilson.co.uk tells me that it is an alias for hp.force9.net (212.159.8.1). Using the CAIDA Internet geographic database (NetGeo) to look up 212.199.8.1 tells me that this address is actually allocated to Force 9 Internet in Sheffield, UK (latitude 53.38, longitude -1.50) but that’s not much help for localising services as that’s where my ISP is registered (it may not even be the location of their servers) and I’m nowhere near there. In addition, the CAIDA database is also no longer maintained, so other tools may be more appropriate, but of far more interest is the location to which the site’s information applies.

For locating an Internet site or service (such as a location-specific web page or RSS feed), geolocation using geotags is probably more applicable. For markwilson.co.uk, the actual code which identifies the geoURL (the geo-structure tag or geotag) is found in the HTML head and reads:

<meta name="geo.position" content="52.1542;-0.7122" />
<meta name="geo.region" content="GB" />
<meta name="geo.placename" content="Olney" />

These geotags can be generated using the geotag generator (I found out the latitude and longitude using multimap). It’s also possible to use an ICBM tag such as <meta name="ICBM" content="52.1542, -0.7122" /> but geo-structure tags are newer and also include region (using the ISO-3166-1 country names and region names specifications) and placename information.

GeoURL is a location-to-URL reverse directory (although at the time of writing it only lists 211,991 sites). A GeoURL lookup on markwilson.co.uk returns a list of sites located nearby and although it’s of limited use at the moment, as more and more sites are geotagged, information like this will become more and more relevant, particularly when combined with services such as Google Maps.

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Introduction to password cracking

I just read a very interesting article on password cracking techniques on the IBM website. It doesn’t contain any information that isn’t already well known, but it’s still a useful summary of some of the issues which an administrator should be prepared for and how to prevent them.

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Free to air digital TV from Sky

In common with a fair proportion of the UK population, I can’t receive digital terrestrial television (Freeview) without investing in an aerial upgrade (as well buying a set-top box) – or at least that’s the way it seemed until I found that there is another, less well known, method to get free digital TV in the UK.

Toffa told me about getting free-to-air digital TV from Sky, who offer a freesat viewing card, plus digibox and dish for £150 (or, from deep within their questions and answers page, it seems that if you already have digital satellite equipment, all that is needed to get access to the free channels available on the digital satellite platform is a freesat viewing card which costs just £20 – although though some dealers are sell these cards online for significantly more money). After a bit more research, I found that many of the free digital channels are available from Sky without any viewing card – all that is needed is a Sky digibox and a dish.

When we moved into our house, we inherited a Sky minidish which had been installed by the previous occupants. It’s been unused for the last 3-and-a-bit years but after spending a few quid on a nice slim digibox (I bought a second-hand Sony VTX-S760U and Sky remote control on eBay) I can now get 78 free to air TV channels (plus radio) for free and if I do buy a viewing card, then I can add Sky Three, Channel 4 and Five to this list.

Some of the popular free-to-air digital TV channels

So there you go, if you are one of the 27% of UK citizens who can’t receive Freeview, the chances are that you can still get free-to-air digital TV from Sky (who quote 98% coverage) without a monthly Sky subscription.

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What do all those Outlook icons mean?

Earlier this morning, one of my colleagues asked me if I knew what a particular icon meant in Outlook. I didn’t, but some googling turned up a full list of icons on Robert Sparnaaij’s How To-Outlook site, which also features other Outlook hints, tips and downloads.

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Is someone trying to hijack my domain?

As you are reading this blog, you can see that I own the markwilson.co.uk domain. I also own markwilson.me.uk (even though the address details are out of date) but evidently someone out there thinks that they do and it’s getting kind of frustrating because I’m getting e-mails from people trying to get in touch with someone who is obviously giving out their address using my domain name!

So far I’ve had a quote for web design services (or is that a hint?!) and information about some conference (initially a declined credit card and then details for joining the event).

Because I try to be a good ‘net citizen, I advise people that they are using the wrong e-mail address (and most will update their records, or pick up the phone and call the guy – I can’t because I don’t have his details) but this is getting annoying now… could this be a bizarre method of generating spam in my mailbox?

If you think your e-mail address ends with @markwilson.me.uk, then I’m sorry but it doesn’t! Likewise if you’ve paid someone for that domain name, you’ve been a victim of fraud…

Waffle and randomness

When mapping software doesn’t quite get it right…

I heard about this whilst watching the BBC Top Gear motoring programme last night and had to give it a go… The RAC‘s route planner on their website is a great tool, but try entering a route from Nottingham to Bideford, avoiding motorways, and the system will return a 1070.9 mile (1723.4km), 42 hour and 24 minute route via Ireland and France (at least until Map24 patch their software)!

RAC route from Nottingham to Bideford avoiding motorways

Strangely enough, if you enter the same route using the Map24 site it doesn’t seem to get lost in this way.

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Some handy system utilities

Most system administrators are used to using utilities from SysinternalsMark Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell’s operating system internals site – and last year I blogged about some free network scanning tools from eEye Digital Security (although with some trepidation as for those of us who need to keep systems secure, they are valuable tools, but there are others who may wish to use them for nefarious purposes, which I’m certainly not encouraging).

A couple of days back, I stumbled across Nir Sofer’s NirSoft site which is full of freeware utilities, some of which are quite frankly frighteningly easy to use to obtain information that should remain secret (e.g. the product keys for Windows and Office installations and stored passwords for various common applications).

Of course, I’m supplying this information all with a health warning – although these utilities look useful, I haven’t checked if there are any side effects (e.g. rootkits or trojan horses, although these days all you need is to play a CD to get infected by a rootkit) and the anti-virus software on our corporate firewall is certainly preventing access to some of the utilities – highlighting them as password crackers.

You have been warned!

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Why I think copy protection has gone too far

There’s been much written recently about Sony BMG’s inclusion of a rootkit in some of their copy-protected CDs (for more information, see Mark Russinovich’s SysInternals blog). Indeed, it’s now being reported that our friendly global monopolist (Microsoft, not Sony) is going to remove the rootkit from our PCs via Windows Defender (formerly Windows AntiSpyware).

What I fail to understand is the need for all of this. Last year I had problems with a copy protected CD from BMG that wouldn’t play in my car CD player (actually, it wasn’t technically a CD as it didn’t follow the standards for Compact Discs, but was another 120mm polycarbonate plastic disc masquerading as a CD to prevent illegal copying). BMG offered to replace it if I could supply proof of purchase but I’d already shredded the receipt and anyway, I changed cars a few days later and it worked in the new player.

I buy my CDs for around £8.99 from play.com (or sometimes in the local supermarket). EMI, a major competitor to Sony BMG, is reporting massive rises in digital music sales, but at the same time says traditional CD sales are down. But consider this – most CDs in the UK have around 12 tracks. If, instead of buying a physical CD, I licensed the tracks from iTunes, that would be £9.48, there would be no media or distribution costs (and I’d be restricted as to the number of devices on which I could play them). With analysts predicting that by 2009, 25% of music sales will be online, that sounds like increased profits to me. Sure there will be some piracy eating into that, but it’s not a new problem. In the ’80s, I (like many of my peers) used to record the top 40 on tape because I didn’t have the funds that today’s teenagers do to buy records (for the kids reading this, a record is an old-fashioned term for a music disc – they used to be larger, usually black – but coloured or picture discs were very sought after – and needed a special player with a needle…).

So do we really need all this copy protection? After all, it’s only a matter of time before some hacker finds a way around it. What we need is universal (no pun intended) access to legal music downloads (no Apple iTunes nonsense whereby you can only buy from the store in the country where your credit card is registered). With sensible pricing, sensible licensing, and a reasonable proportion finding its way to the artist (i.e. not the web site owner or the record company) then maybe people will buy more music, especially with all the bad press about security that peer-to-peer file sharing networks get. Stranger things have happened…

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x64 finally comes of age

To be honest, I got a bit confused with the various 64-bit CPUs (like why didn’t Intel and HP’s Itanium take off, but AMD’s AMD64 did and Itanium 2 looks like it will too), but whatever the hardware issues, it seems that x64 software has finally come of age. Paul Thurrott reports in his Windows IT Pro magazine network WinInfo Daily Update that, at the IT Forum this week, Microsoft announced that the Longhorn Server wave of products will be 64-bit only (except Longhorn Server itself, which will be available in both 32- and 64-bit flavours). That means that, for example, the next version of Exchange Server (codenamed Exchange 12) will only run on a 64-bit platform. There’s no news yet as to what is happening on the desktop (except that it seems, like Windows XP, Windows Vista will be available in both 32- and 64-bit editions) but it looks like I’d better get saving for a new PC…

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