Useful Links: March 2009

A list of items I’ve come across recently that I found potentially useful, interesting, or just plain funny:


As I put more and more of my portfolio onto Flickr, I’ve been looking for a decent Flickr application for my iPhone and my friend Karen recommended one last week.

Cooliris iPhone application browsing FlickrCalled Cooliris, the application is available both as a browser plugin and as an iPhone application and is actually far more capable than just a front-end application for a single website as it can be used to create a “3D wall” for searching and viewing media from a variety of sites.

I’m not so convinced about the full application (it looks nice, but a couple of quick searches failed to come up with content that I know exists); however it’s a pretty impressive as an iPhone application to browse my Flickr photostream!

Establishing parental control: easy when you know how

This week, Channel 4 is running a series of sex education television programmes looking at how young people today are gaining their sex education from Internet porn – and as a result are exposed to some disturbing content on the web.

I like to think that I’m fairly open-minded but my eldest son is reaching the point where I am considering giving him his own computer and, whilst I’d like to think that his computer time will be supervised, that will not always be possible as he grows up, or when he uses systems at friends’ houses, school, Internet cafés, etc..

One of the points that Channel 4 is highlighting is the lack of awareness (and knowledge, based on visits to a PC World, Sony Store and Micro Anvika stores) about the parental controls that are available in modern operating systems so, in this post, I’ll give a quick rundown of how to set up parental controls on your child’s PC – without resorting to additional software like that listed on the Kids’ safety advice on GetNetWise.

First up, the operating system on most of the world’s PCs – Microsoft Windows. Windows XP may not have any parental controls within the operating system but Vista and 7 do – as long as you are not running in a domain! Yes, that’s right – no parental controls on domain-joined PCs. I suspect this is something to do with the prospect of being hauled up in front of the United States Department of Justice or the European Union Competition Commission by the vendors of content filtering solutions if businesses relied on the controls built into the operating system to stop their employees from visiting the less salubrious portions of the web but for me, with several domain-joined PCs in the home, this effectively means my children will have to use their own PC. Not necessarily an issue but nevertheless an unnecessary constraint, particularly for those who have a single PC used for both home and business activities and also joined to a corporate domain (perhaps in a small business environment).

Assuming that your Windows Vista or Windows 7 PC is not joined to a domain, it’s parental controls are accessed via Control Panel and include limits on web content, limits on computer access times and games, as well as the ability to block access to specific applications. More information on Windows Parental Controls is available on the Windows help site and it’s also possible to view activity reports.

Over on the Mac, it’s pretty much the same story – OS X 10.4 (Tiger) and 10.5 (Leopard) include parental controls in the user account properties. In addition, OS X can display a simplified Finder window for young or inexperienced users, only allow access to certain applications, hide profanity in the dictionary (yes, I used to look up rude words in a paper dictionary when I was a boy!), limit website access (including the ability to create allow and deny lists) limit the users with whom mail and IM can be exchanged, enforce computer time limits (with different limits for weekdays and weekends!) as well as bedtime on school nights and weekends (I should try setting this on my own account).

The principles are similar in Windows and on the Mac but I’m using the Mac in these screen grabs (because my Windows machines are domain-joined). If I search for the first thing that a schoolboy might think of when given Internet access, it’s blocked:

Parental Controls preventing website access in Safari on Mac OS X 10.5

Unless I happen to know the administrator password:

Parental Controls requesting authentication on Mac OS X 10.5

Similarly, if I try to open an image, using an application that’s not allowed (in this case the OS X Preview application)… computer says “no”:

Parental Controls preventing application access on Mac OS X 10.5

And, assuming I’m not watching over my child like a hawk, I can keep an eye on their computing activities from a distance using the logs:

Parental Controls logging activity on Mac OS X 10.5

By now, you have probably got some idea of what’s possible on the mainstream consumer operating systems. Over in Linux-land it’s a little more complicated but still possible using a combination of IP filters, third party applications and limited DNS (e.g. OpenDNS). I’m sure I’ll write more as I become exposed to child computing habits but, for now, hopefully this has highlighted the ability to easily put in place some controls to protect your children from the Internet, whilst simultaneously allowing them some freedom.

HP ink ripoff

I used to have a great printer – an HP LaserJet 2200dn. It was a workgroup-class laser printer with a duplex unit and it happily printed many pages for me until one day it started banding. I changed the toner cartridge but that didn’t help – it seemed that the printer needed more specialised attention than I could provide so, as they had enjoyed the benefits at no cost for the last few years, I asked the company that I work for to either a) fix it or b) replace it. The company chose option b and, supplied me with an HP OfficeJet 6310 all-in-one device that doesn’t print on both sides of the paper, often picks up multiple sheets when printing large documents and drinks ink at an alarming rate.

You may have realised by now that I’m no fan of inkjets but I do at least use the HP339 high yield black cartridges (this printer can use 336, 337 or 339) so I don’t have to change cartridges quite so often (and I keep on printing until it runs out, rather than changing the cartridge when low ink warning first appears). Applying that model to the tri-color cartridge, I decided to try the 344, which appears to be the same as a 342/343, except with more ink inside… but the printer was having none of it:

Cartridge Error: Cartridge on left is not intended for this printer

HP Vivera 343 ink cartridgeI swapped it for a 343 (which looks the same, costs slightly less, but only has 7ml of ink instead of 14ml) and was greeted with:

Genuine HP Tri-Color print cartridge installed.

Rip-off merchants! It seems that HP, in addition to having different numbers for similar cartridges in different markets, is preventing the use of high-yield cartridges in certain devices. Interestingly, if I had an OfficeJet 6210 instead of a 6310, it could use either the 343 or the 344. I know I could use third-party inks but that would void the warranty and, after all, this is the company’s printer – not mine (so it’s not my choice to make).

It really annoys me that, in the throwaway society we live in today, the printer doesn’t cost much more than the consumables. The real answer of course is to print fewer pages… but with more and more companies opting for the “green” benefits of electronic billing (it’s not green – the tax authorities still want paper documents and sometimes its just easier to read documents on paper – it just shifts the printing burden from the supplier’s bulk-printing facilities to the reciever’s crappy inkjet) things are only going to get worse.

Using the Nikon Scan 4.0.2 plugin with Adobe Photoshop CS3 on an Intel Mac running OS X 10.5

Tonight is my local camera club meeting and it’s competition night, which meant I needed to make prints from some of my recent images. After an emergency trip to HobbyCraft last night to buy some mats to mount the prints (unfortunately it was too late in the day to catch the local picture framer), I set to work on tweaking the images before printing them (hence the requirement to buy some extra ink yesterday!!!). The digital files were fine but two of the images to enter in the competition needed to be scanned from film, which meant setting up my Nikon Super Coolscan 4000 ED with my MacBook (running OS X 10.5.5) and Nikon Scan 4.0.2 as a plugin Adobe Photoshop CS3.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about installing Nikon Scan as Photoshop CS2 plugin on my Mac Mini but things have moved on since then. I hadn’t realised that the Nikon Scan plugin is a PowerPC application (and my Macs have Intel processors) and under CS2 (which ran on OS X’s Rosetta emulation layer) this wasn’t a problem but I couldn’t get CS3 (which is a Universal application) to recognise the plugin (incidentally, my original advice to copy the plugin to the Photoshop plugins folder works, but there is an alternative – simply add the path to the legacy plugin in the Photoshop preferences):

Enabling Nikon Scan in the Photoshop preferences

Select Rosetta emulation for Photoshop CS3The answer is to adjust the file information the Photoshop CS3 application to open it using Rosetta (information found on a forum post). After this is done, Photoshop CS3 is happy to run the plugin, although the interface is not at all Mac-like (and Nikon have stated that they will not be updating Nikon Scan for full OS X 10.5 compatibility). I could use alternative scanning tools (like VueScan) but, despite the awful user interface, Nikon Scan serves its purpose and includes support for the ICE features of my scanner.

It’s worth pointing out that Rosetta is limited to accessing 1.5GB of memory for all non-Intel processes. As I have 4GB of RAM in my MacBook, that’s starving Photoshop of resources, so it’s worth turning off Rosetta when Nikon Scan is not required. Alternatively I could run Nikon Scan as a standalone application but I prefer to run applications like this as plugins.

Incidentally, for those who are interested, these are the pictures I’ll be entering in tonight’s competition:

Silverton HotelTornadoSt Pancras International (2)Basilique du Sacré-Coeur from Musée D'Orsay

(These images are ©1993-2009 Mark Wilson, all rights reserved and are therefore excluded from the Creative Commons license used for the rest of this site.)

[Update 22:30: the St Pancras International image was awarded third place in the open category! The others didn’t make the cut]

The Ink and Toner Shop

I live in a small market town with a population of around 6000 people. Unlike the larger towns nearby, we don’t have an identikit high street and are fortunate to have a number of independent shops – a butcher, a baker (no candlestick maker!), a saddlery, gift/card shops, florists, restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques, antiques, a toy shop, sweet shop, picture framer, etc. We also have a weekly market and a monthly farmer’s market, several banks, a post office, a small supermarket (but sadly a few too many estate agents and charity shops) and, somewhat inevitably, the all-too-powerful retail giant that is Tesco is in town (not content with a One Stop store at one end of the high street they recently opened a Tesco Express store right next to the market square… and now they have their sights on ripping the heart out of the neighbouring town).

So, what’s the point of this ramble? The point is that we have a thriving local community, good schools and local facilities so, wherever practical, I like to shop locally and support the independent traders in the town (i.e. not Tesco!). As a member of the camera club, I’d been alerted to the existence of one business in the town that I hadn’t used until today – The Ink and Toner Shop.

As the name suggests, The Ink and Toner Shop offers a variety of printer-related consumables at competitive prices with friendly service and free delivery (even for those who don’t happen to live around the corner, as I do!). So, next time you’re looking for “printer food”, rather than buying from the local supermarket/Staples/PC World/Costco, please check out The Ink and Toner Shop website and support my local community!

Another Microsoft internal tool makes its escape: RichCopy

My colleague Keith Robertson sent out an e-mail this morning which highlighted the release of a Microsoft tool that was formerly for internal use only – RichCopy. There’s more information in Joshua Hoffman’s article in the April 2009 edition of TechNet magazine but think of it as RoboCopy on steroids:

“RichCopy is a multi-threaded robust utility to copy files between locations. Importantly, it is multi-threaded and can recover from broken links and file locks etc. It also supports file masks – making it great for copying a users directories – but not their MP3 and movie collection…”

I can see that this could work well on a LAN but, for those looking to move large files across a WAN (or even t’Internet… where the tubes may be a little blocked at times), it may be worth taking a look at using BITS for scheduled transfers, together with Mads Klinkby’s BITSync tool.

Identifying power management issues in Windows 7

A few weeks back my friend and colleague Garry Martin alerted me to an enhanced battery indicator for Windows Vista and 7 (BatteryBar). Normally, I wouldn’t want to use something that installed a big button in the notification area but this is actually a pretty useful enhancement over the standard power icon (and better looking than many of the OEM-provided versions). Not only can I see how much battery charge I have left but BatteryBar shows information such as capacity, charge rate, battery wear, etc.

It’s worth knowing though, that for tweaking power settings, Windows 7 users have another tool at their disposal – the powercfg.exe command line tool. This tool exists in Vista too but in the Windows 7 beta there is a new switch (/energy) that generates a Power Efficiency Diagnostics Report (saved to %systemroot%\system32\energy-report.html).

In addition to providing details of the system used to generate the report, the report highlights errors, warnings and information about a system’s current state to identify: USB devices that are not suspending (and therefore preventing the CPU from managing power effectively); processes that are requesting a small timer resolution; processes with high CPU utilisation; as well as information about the power plan, battery and processor power management capabilities.

Tracking down the source of my overheating MacBook

My home office is a warm place. I don’t have a thermometer in here, but there is a fair amount of IT kicking out a fair amount of heat. Even so, there are two machines that make a noticeable difference – the Fujitsu-Siemens Lifebook S7210 that I use for work, and my Apple MacBook – both of which have 2.2GHz Intel Core2Duo CPUs (T7500 “Merom”) and 4GB of RAM. Admittedly, the MacBook has also been upgraded with a 320GB disk but Apple now offers a similar, if not identical, option in its current MacBook White model.

It’s quite normal to hear the fan blowing on the MacBook, and iStat Menus regularly suggests temperatures of 50-60°C, but last weekend it seemed the fan was running almost non-stop, and I saw reported CPU temperatures in the high 80s (even peaking at 90°C). After shutting down many applications to reduce the load on the system (iTunes, Photoshop and Bridge CS3, VMware Fusion) and ejecting my external hard disk, it still wasn’t coming down, so I began to have a look around on the ‘net.

The best advice I found was on a Mac Rumors forum post which suggest running up Activity Monitor to see which process was driving up the CPU utilisation (and therefore making the machine run hot)… sure enough, it was a Norton AntiVirus process!

It may have been co-incidence that the product doing this was one which has such a bad name as a resource hog (I’m told the 2009 products are not as resource hungry as their predecessors but this is Norton AntiVirus 11 for Mac, which, according to the copyright notice, dates back to 2007). Whatever the cause, killing that process dropped the CPU utilisation and within seconds the machine was back down to a more normal level.

Microsoft releases Windows Internet Explorer 8

Microsoft Windows Internet Explorer 8 logoAt this week’s MIX09 conference, Microsoft announced the availability of Internet Explorer 8, which features new tools and better support for web standards (full details are available in Microsoft’s Windows Internet Explorer 8 fact sheet). I’ve been using IE8 on my main computer for a few months now and, although far too many sites need to run in compatibility mode (including this one… which is supposed to be standards compliant), it seems to be a vast improvement on earlier versions of IE (and I’m looking forward to the day when I no longer need to support the various quirks of IE6).

Rather than just repeating news that’s available all over the web, I wanted to highlight some resources that are available relating to IE8:

For those running the Windows 7 beta, it’s worth noting that the version of IE8 included in the Windows 7 beta is not the same as the version available for earlier operating systems (it includes Windows 7-specific features). I don’t have any specific information for Windows 7 users, but would expect the Windows 7 release candidate to include the final version of IE 8 (with the additional Windows 7 functionality).

Internet Explorer 8 is available for download from the Microsoft website.