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Scribe: Stuff to delete and clean up for v2
Date: 28/7/2008
I've been inspired to clean out some cruft for Scribe v2 so that the UI and design is clean and easy to understand. The things that are going to be cut so far are:
  • The "default" identity. Currently InScribe has a default identity that is carried over from i.Scribe so to speak. This tends to confuse people a lot. So I'm removing it and going with just the identities in the individual account's. This should map over to i.Scribe ok, in that it has one account and therefor 1 identity in that account.
  • The C++ versions of the misc tools. The scripts should be fast and self documenting now. I will remove the C++ utilities in the Tools menu.
  • The "Add Recipient" window. The search as you type drop down on the add recipient line is good enough for everyone now. I see no point duplicating functionality. If there is some missing functionality in the search as you type box I'll bring it up to speed.
  • Some options will be moved into the advanced tab's tree control, which will go "live" soon. This will de-clutter the options dialog. I'm hoping to drop the tab count down so that they never need "scrolling" even with large fonts.
  • The recipient entry edit box will be merged with the recipient list. Not sure on the details on this but it needs to be done.
  • I'm thinking about removing email "Templates". I'm not sure they get used enough. Feel free to correct me if you think they should stay.
  • The "security" options for folders and settings. I want to delete it and replace it with file system based permissions for folders/email and maybe an idle password if you havn't used the app for a while.
  • Make the help html viewable in the built in HTML renderer, instead of relying on the host OS's web browser. Sometimes the host's HTML association is broken or pointing at something dumb (like MS Word!). So I can remove that pot hole by just rendering the help myself.

Which are all fairly tame I think. However there is one change that I'm considering thats a little risky. And that is the default location for settings and folders. Currently the default is in the same folder as the application install. Which works for single user Windows quite well. But it's been several years since Scribe has run on Linux and Mac OS X and well things just don't work that way on unix based operating systems. Their main concept is that the app sits in a central location and saves all it's user specific data somewhere in the user's home directory. A definate separation of application and data, and in Linux enforced with permissions so that users can't modify the application. Modern Windows applications follow the same model as well, the app sits in the Program Files hierarchy and the data is saved in the user's Application Data folder.

By default I think Scribe should move to this model. However Scribe has prided itself in being able to by portable so I'm considering making the install ask the user for a "desktop" install or a "portable" install and locate the settings and folders appropriately. That way people get the best of both worlds. There are some edge cases that will need smoothing over but I think it'll work in theory.

Backup/Copy: the user can no longer assume that operating on the app's folder will backup, copy or move their settings and email. So I will probably make some sort of menu for doing that manually. Maybe in the form of converting between desktop and portable storage post install. I'll probably get a fair bit of feedback about that in the next few v2 builds.

What else needs to be cut from v2?
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The Reinstall
Date: 27/7/2008
So every 2-3 years I have to reinstall windows. It's part of life. This week it's my turn to face the dreaded reinstall to get XP running on a new faster HD with way more space. Anyway the install went something like this:
  • Put new drive in.
  • Put XP pro cd in drive, boot machine.
  • Drive doesn't read disc. Wow great start.
  • Make copy of disk using Macbook
  • Boot copy of disk. Install.
  • Wait for 2+ hrs while it formats the drive.
  • Boot up, no network.
  • Download nForce4 drivers on Macbook, sneaker net.
  • Install them and reboot.
  • "Pci.sys" missing. Oh great... here we go.
  • Boot into repair mode, decompress pci.sys from i386 and copy into place (using Macbook for reference info)
  • Boots... *sigh*
  • Install the latest nVidia drivers.
  • Install other apps, drivers, HD's etc.
Now at this point I have a working machine with most of the apps we use day to day working well. Seems fast, hasn't crashed... looking good.

Of course it's not good is it.

TV out doesn't work. Here we go. I have painful memories of getting this working last time.
  • Open nVidia control panel.
  • Select TV format PAL/B
  • Select show video on TV monitor
  • "Apply"
  • Nothing works.
  • Repeat all those steps.
  • Still nothing, watch the settings as I do them and each time I set "PAL/B" as my composite output format it reverts to "NTSC/M". Nice.
  • Ok so I poke around on Google, and it seems the regional settings matter. So I set my regional settings correctly and reboot (just to be sure).
  • Then try nvidia control panel again. Same results.
  • After a few minutes of clicking around I pressed apply and the screen went totally desktop blue. Somehow it had decided that 640x480 was good for my main LCD... almost like it had swapped the resolution settings between TV and the LCD.
  • I managed to get the nVidia control panel up again and reset to 1280x1024, but all the task bar and icons were gone.
  • I turned off dual view mode hoping to get my desktop back with "Single Display". Guess what nVidia decided I meant by doing that?
  • It shut down the LCD completely and output to the desktop to the non-functional TV out. So I had 2 displays dead in the water.
  • Some nice descriptive words came to mind for nVidia.
  • After uninstalling the driver, I sorted through my little collection of drivers from past installs. I'm somewhat of a pack rat and sure enough in my nVidia drivers folder is a file called "84.21_forceware (really good).exe".
  • Lol that looks good, so I install it and bang... the TV out is working perfectly. No thanks to nVidia, they must hate their customers with a special sort of evil malevolence to release their current series of drivers.
Needless to say my days of buying nVidia are well and truly over.
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Last one out turn off the lights.
Date: 8/7/2008
In my travels I've had reason to play with custom memory managers for tracking leaks. My particular flavour outputs a text file on exit with each leak and the stack frame of the allocator, including file and line numbers. Very useful.

Initially I ran the dump code using an atexit handler. This seemed to work well, but then I noticed that some global objects were being destroyed after the dump handler was called AND to top it off the handler would not finish. The process would exit WHILE the dump was mid stream. So you get some of the blocks but not all.

So I've been playing with other methods of calling the dump code in the right place. The best so far that I've come up with is this:
#include <process.h>
#include "MemTrack.h"

int main()
    char *buffer = new char[256]; // leak something

    // normal main code..

    #ifdef TRACK_MEMORY
    return 0;
Or something like that. The call to _cexit calls all the global destructors so that their memory is freed before you dump your blocks to disk. Then the ExitProcess is the neatest way to end the process right now without any more cleanup code being called. I played with _exit, but it didn't really exit right now... it wanted to call all the global destructors again. Not cool.

Anyway there you have it, an insight into calling code after all the global objects have been cleaned up.
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Electric Vehicle Technology
Date: 3/7/2008
Just thought I'd mention some technology developed in Australia that could put a serious dent in the argument that electric cars, motorbikes and bicycles aren't good enough yet.

Redox Gel Batteries

Farnow Pty Ltd, see this PDF for some more info, but it's basically a higher density gel battery that can be made cheaply, has a fast recharge time and can deep cycle.

Gemini Electric Motor

Gemini motors are using both ends of the magnets for better power output and efficiency.

Put both of these technologies together and you might get a vehicle that can compete with the gas guzzlers.

Except the technology is protected by the patent system. Which means that we won't see anything happen for another 15 years when the patents run out. In the meantime the human race is running headlong into extinction. All because a few companies need to make a buck. Or not.

Patents are overwhelmingly evil, there is no good side to them. Just stifled innovation to the detriment of human kind.

Previously. Previously.
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The "No files were found to look in." saga continues...
Date: 25/6/2008
Visual Studio 2002, 2003 and 2005 all have a delightful little bug where sometimes the keyboard state can get messed up so that find in files stops working with the error message:

No files were found to look in.
Find was stopped in progress.

Which I've blogged about before. The commonly held solution is to press Ctrl+Scroll Lock and everything is dandy again.

Well until yesterday that is. Where upon that error message appears in my Find Results pane. I dutifully look up the key press on my own blog (who remembers these things?) and press the key combo. And...? Nothing. Still the same error. Huh?

So back to dearly beloved Google, and I'm searching around. And ran into an alternate solution.

Yes, a different key combo.

For the same problem.


I present to you: Alt+Pause/Break.

Yes... believe it. If the first combo doesn't work, try the 2nd. I suspect by now there are "n" different combos that might need to be invoked to pacify the raging Visual Studio, and that getting you hooked on Ctrl+Scroll Lock is just a gateway drug to a whole swath of arcane key combos that you have to know. I expect that this would make a good interview question.

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Debugging Linux GUI apps.
Date: 23/6/2008
When you are running X windows apps in gdb and they grab the mouse and then crash or hit a breakpoint your console is locked out, you can't do anything except quit the app from a text terminal (i.e. Ctrl+Alt+F1).

However there is a better way. Add these lines to your X11 config:
Section "ServerFlags"
    Option "AllowDeactivateGrabs" "true"

And restart X, now you should be able to use Ctrl+Alt+NumPad / to "ungrab" the mouse at any point and debug the issue in gdb.


But it begs the question, why is it not on by default?
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