Freecycle

This content is 17 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

RecyclingLast week, I wrote about my dilemma as to whether or not to retain my old technical notes or to recycle them. After this my loft-and-garage-cleansing-clear-out continued but, even after recycling everything that could be considered household waste (apparently the bin men were a little surprised by the huge stack of recycling sacks at the end of our drive yesterday), I was left with a pile of old computers, 802.11b wireless LAN kit, network cards/modems, a broken UPS and a broken lawnmower.

The thing is that all this stuff must have some value to someone and to let it end up as landfill (or, even worse, being recycled in an exploitative manner) was just wrong. After a lot of googling, I discovered that my computers were too old even for charities (the Donate a PC service has published some general advice) and that the WEEE regulations have massively limited the options for disposal of such equipment; however, I did find a list of UK computer recyclers and refurbishers courtesy of Waste Online. Then, I discovered Freecycle.

FreecycleBuilt around the Yahoo! Groups system, Freecycle is a place to give or receive what you have and don’t need or what you need and don’t have – a free cycle of giving which keeps stuff out of landfills (note that it is not intended as a place to just go get free stuff for nothing). I joined my local group (in order to do that, I needed to register for a Yahoo! account) and offered my unwanted items. What amazed me is, once my post had been moderated, just how quickly I received a stack of responses for equipment which I considered to be junk. Of course, I’d been a bit stupid and hadn’t realised that those responses were going to a new Yahoo! Mail account that had been set up for me (doh!) but once I sussed that, I was able to arrange collection/delivery and feel that I’d helped someone at the same time as doing a little bit to preserve the environment (of course, cutting down on the original production of waste would be far more effective).

It is often said that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and I was only to pleased to let my old kit go to someone who could make good use of it. Next time you want to get rid of something that won’t sell on eBay (or are feeling benevolent enough to just give it away instead of selling it), check out your local Freecycle network.

Improving search engine placement (without breaking the rules)

This content is 17 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) has a bad reputation. That’s tough for SEOs but unfortunately it’s a side-effect of black hat SEO techniques.

I haven’t knowingly used any SEO techniques as this blog is really just a hobby of mine. I enjoy writing for it, find it a good place to store my notes for future reference (hence why sometimes there is detail here that would not be useful to anyone else!) and like the feedback I get when someone else finds my content useful. I’m pleased with my site’s ranking (considering I’ve done very little to boost it, other than to write lots of posts) and although the advertising revenue will not let me give up my day job yet, it does at least cover the hosting costs. Even so, I’ve been intrigued when reading SEO articles in .net magazine (it seems that SEO is not a black art – just common sense really) and recently I’ve been checking out a few tools and methods which should help anyone to increase the placement of their site (it seems that I’ve been using much of this advice purely by chance):

There are also a few more links that might be useful in some of my previous posts:

New earphones for my iPod

This content is 17 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

The standard Apple iPod earphones are okay… but they are basic. I’m no audiophile (some would say audiophiles wouldn’t listen to MP3s) but I find them uncomfortable, the foam covers fall off and get lost, they fall out of my ears and I have to turn up the volume to the maximum whenever I’m listening to a podcast in a noisy environment (like on the tube). Oh yes, and the bass on my iPod Mini “blew” the right earbud within days of purchase.

As I’m increasingly using my iPod, either on the parts of my commute which don’t allow me to sit on the train and write for this blog or on the stress-busting walks which often take me out into the Buckinghamshire countryside, I figured I’d get some new earphones. My criteria were simple:

  • Inexpensive (i.e. less than £30);
  • White (to match the iPod);
  • Comfortable;
  • Reduce impact of ambient noise (noting that noise-cancelling headphones were unlikely to meet my first criterion – i.e that of being inexpensive).

Some basic research led me to find that there are some excellent ear-canal phones available (like the Shure E4Cs) but they will also cost me many of my hard-earned pounds, so I decided to buy the white Sennheiser CX300 ear-canal phones which were on offer at the Apple Store and also received great reviews.

Sennheiser CX300 (white)They only arrived on Saturday (so haven’t been used much yet) but so far I’m impressed. I’m still working out which of the three supplied ear adapters is the best fit but they are definitely more comfortable and they stay in place, even whilst lying in bed taking a pzizz. I’ve also found that I can turn the volume way down, hopefully reducing the damage that I’d doing to my hearing, and the in-ear placement really does cut out a lot of ambient noise (haven’t tried them on the tube yet though). Of course, they will work with any audio device that uses a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, not just an iPod.

Now, the more discerning reader will notice that the link above is to Amazon and not Apple. That’s because I’ve found out that, whilst I spent £29.99 on mine (and they are back up to £39.99 now), they are only £17.80 at Amazon (and even less if you plump for black or silver). So, if you want some, please buy yours using this link and earn me some commission (albeit expressed in pence, not pounds) to pay me back for my complete lack of pre-purchase price comparison!

Manually removing entries from Windows’ add/remove programs list

This content is 17 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Earlier today, I was clearing down an old PC in preparation to donate it to a worthy cause. I remembered that installing Windows XP on it had been a long process, so I just removed the data (nothing sensitive, so no need to securely delete anything), uninstalled the applications and hacked the registry to change the registered owner/company (look for RegOwner and RegCompany string values for various products throughout the registry but the main ones I wanted to change were the RegisteredOrganization and RegisteredOwner string values in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\WindowsNT\CurrentVersion as these are the ones shown in the system properties – the easiest way to find them is to look up the registered to values in the system properties and search the registry for the appropriate string).

Although various installers had left behind subdirectories which needed to be removed manually, there was one application for which the uninstall failed but repeated attempts resulted in an error – leaving behind an entry in the Add or Remove Programs Control Panel applet. I needed to know how to remove this entry and found the answer in Microsoft knowledge base article 247501 – it involved more registry hacking to find the appropriate entry in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall but it did the trick.

Video conferencing using iChat AV on a Mac and AIM on a Windows PC

This content is 17 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A few weeks ago, my buddy Alex and I got iChat AV working through our firewall routers (with some caveats) but more recently, he mentioned that he’d been videoconferencing with a PC user via Skype but was not entirely happy with the video quality. I was pretty sure it would be possible to get iChat AV videoconferencing with a PC user via AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and I’m pleased to report that it is… sort of.

The information I needed can all be found in MVL Design’s video conference tutorial for iChat and AIM but it may also be useful to know that Ralph Johns has also republished some information from EZ Jim on Mac video chat with PCs and has contributed to an Apple discussions post about video and audio chats with PCs.

Bearing in mind that Alex and I already had the required firewall ports open from our previous iChat AV conversations, I installed Windows XP on a spare PC with a webcam and loaded AIM 5.9.3861 (electing not to install AOL Explorer or the AOL Toolbar for Internet Explorer, choosing United Kingdom GB as my location and electing not to make AOL my homepage). After this, I was able to log in using my ICQ ID as my screenname and once I’d told the Windows XP firewall to unblock AIM (when prompted) and edited my preferences to set up the camera in the live video options, Alex and I could successfully video conference. It’s worth noting that, although the frame rate was fine at the default settings, there was a slight issue with a delay between speaking and the communication being received (similar to satellite delay on an international phone call) and if I cranked up the image quality then the result was a much-reduced frame rate.

iChat AV conversation with AIM user

This image looks slightly better as it has been reduced to 50% of the original image size (note cheesy grins as the image Alex took mid-conversation made us look completely gormless).

So that’s the good news – it works. The bad news is that it won’t work soon.

As we were testing this, I received a pop-up which said:

You are currently running the following out-of-date version of AOL Instant Messenger:

5.9.3861

This version will soon be blocked. Please upgrade now to ensure uninterrupted access to AIM.

You will be upgraded to the following version:

Final Release Version 6.0.28.3

I decided to see if this all worked with AIM version 6 and it seems it doesn’t. The first problem was that AIM 6 would not accept my ICQ number as a screen name:

Invalid Screen Name or Password.

After registering for an AOL screen name I could log in but we couldn’t initiate a video chat as my buddy appeared to be offline (even though I could communicate with him using another PC!)… some more digging required I suspect. If anyone has any ideas as to what the problem might be, please leave a comment on this post.

Retain or recycle?

This content is 17 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Recycle nowIn a few months time, I’m hoping that we will be able to convert our loft to a new guest room/my office (den); however that means that I need to do some serious rationalisation of the amount of “stuff” we have accumulated. I did sort out a lot when my second son was born and my wife and I started sharing an office but there are so many things I’ve been keeping “just in case I need them”. For example, old text books from ‘uni – with the rapid pace of development in IT it seems highly unlikely that they will be relevant today but it seems a shame to let them go.

I have started to move in the right direction as, this morning, a whole load of course notes from Microsoft official curriculum courses went into recycling sacks based on the fact that they date back to the mid-late 90s and relate to unsupported technologies:

  • 687C – Supporting Microsoft Windows NT core technologies;
  • 688C – Internetworking with Microsoft TCP/IP in Microsoft Windows NT 4.0;
  • 730C – Fundamentals of Microsoft Exchange Server 4.0;
  • 758C – Supporting Microsoft Internet Information Server 2.0;
  • 973C – Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 series – design and implementation;
  • 1100B – Upgrading to Microsoft Windows NT 5.0;
  • 1267B – Planning and implementing Active Directory;
  • 1560A – Updating support skills from Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 to Microsoft Windows 2000;
  • 1561A – Designing a Microsoft Windows 2000 directory services infrastructure;
  • 1562A – Designing a Windows 2000 networking services infrastructure;
  • 1563A – Designing a change and configuration management infrastructure for Microsoft Windows 2000 professional;
  • 1579A – Accelerated training for updating support skills and designing a directory services infrastructure for Microsoft Windows 2000.

It feels good to have such a clearout but what if I need those notes? Sure, the likelihood of me implementing NT 4.0/Exchange 4.0 or even Windows 2000/Exchange 5.5 these days is pretty slim (and they’ve all been stored in boxes in the loft since 2001), but I just might want to look back at what Microsoft were recommending in those days! I’m in a bit of a dilemma here – am I throwing away a piece of IT history, or just reversing a dangerous tendency to hoard? As there is no-where at work for me to store this stuff, the only other option is to buy a bigger house!