Steve's blog

A blog about what's going on in Analysis UK...

Dinner Timer Lite V1.1 Released – and it's Huge!

Literally, huge. Below is a photo of my 22” wide-screen monitor with Dinner Timer Lite running. As you can see it fills the screen nicely with a big font – now you can easily see Dinner Timer Lite from the other end of the kitchen or further.

Photo of large Dinner Timer Lite

before you ask, yes you can make it smaller!

Just in-case you are wondering, yes that is the snowman build indicator on the left and it's not lit up because the build machine wasn't running (saving a little electricity and reducing the heat in the office!).

There are a few other cool additions to V1.1, these include :

Added Twitter notifier – now notify your friends and family automatically when you start dinner, when it will be ready, tweet notifications when it's about to be ready, when it's ready and through Dinner Timer Lite's unique overrun timer tweet when the dinners burnt.

Here's screen shot of setting up the Twitter notifier to send out a message when the timer has overrun :


Here's a screen shot of my Twitter tweets. You can also follow me as BookSwapSteve on Twitter


I've also improved bubble notifications – Bubble and twitter notifiers now support text template replacements. Include any of the following for them to be replaced with the appropriate values when run : {{RunMins}}, {{StartTime}}, {{EndTime}}, {{MinsRemaining}}, {{MinsOverrun}}.

Additional sounds for the sound notifier including : Cow moo, Air horn, Alarm beep, Alarm clock beep, Alarm ring, All clear, Ambulance, Aooga horn, Boat air horn, Boing, Boing2, Boxing bell multi, Bullet ricochet, Buzzer, Buzzer 2, Buzzer 3, Buzzer 4, Buzzer 5, Buzzer heavy, Buzz through loud, Buzz thru and Chainsaw.

The time options available in the drop down list is now user configurable and includes the ability to name the times. e.g. you can enter a timer called "Pizza" and have it set as a 12 minute timer, the list will then show Pizza which can be easily selected and when the timer is started it will run for 12 minutes.

Here's a sample of modifying the time option to show pizza :

Setting the time options.

Selecting the pizza time.

The options boxes have been resized for the default Windows Vista font size.

I've also added warnings for opacity settings where the timer may not be visible and a extra context menu item has been added to the notification area icon to reveal the timer if it is difficult to see. Both myself and a few others had managed to get Dinner Timer Lite to be so transparent that we couldn't find it to restore it.

I've also changed the installer to be a single exe so no unzipping required and the binaries and installer are digitally signed so you know their genuinely from me (Analysis UK).

Their are also various under-the-cover improvements to facilitate some new features in the next release, including the first stage of splitting out of the notifiers from the main application with the intention of allowing developers to create their own notifier plugins, but thats going to have to wait for a future version before it's fully implemented.

Moving from .NET 2.0 to .NET 3.5 on Plesk - welcome to Server Application Unavailable errors

I just uploaded a new version of which moved from being a .net 2.0 site to a .net 3.5 site, the server has .net 3.5 installed and every thing went well until I navigated to

I was greeted by :

Server Application Unavailable
The web application you are attempting to access on this web server is currently unavailable.  Please hit the "Refresh" button in your web browser to retry your request.
Administrator Note: An error message detailing the cause of this specific request failure can be found in the application event log of the web server. Please review this log entry to discover what caused this error to occur.

The error message in the event log was :

Exception: System.IO.FileLoadException

Message: Could not load file or assembly 'System.Web, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=b03f5f7f11d50a3a' or one of its dependencies. Access is denied.

This struck me as a little crazy as all my other sites on the server are .NET 2.0 and the previous site was .NET 2.0.

After much searching on the net and trying a variety of things (including giving permission to the various IIS accounts to .net 3/3.5 folders in windows folder and setting up a dedicated 3.5 App pool for the site) I finally added IIS_WPG permissions on the "Web Sites" folder in IIS manager and the site magically appeared. Now I just have to wonder what the security implications are and if that broke any other sites.

You have to love simple upgrades! I'm not sure if this is a general issue with IIS or because I'm running plesk which uses different security & user settings to a normal IIS setup.

Analysis UK email problems

Apologies to anybody that's tried to email me in the last week but my emails been broken.

It turns out that the email service I use as a front end had an old personal email address in their billing information for me, so when my annual subscription was due I didn't get a reminder because I no longer have the personal email address I used (I finally ditched Demon and sadly lost the email address I had with them since about 1998 – my advice is don't get an email address tied to your internet provider – better yet, get your own domain name and use that for email so you are not tied to any company – but be sure to remember to renew your domain name!).

Having had lots of spam recently I through that the reduced level of emails was just because the spam was slowing down – the automated status emails from my web sites were still coming through because they went directly to the mail server and not via the front end thing, so it looked like I was still getting emails on that account, hence it wasn't until I sent my self an email from a separate account (I know – I need to get out more) and it bounced that I realised something was wrong.

Hopefully all fixed now.

The irony of the situation is that I signed up with the service so that I wouldn't loose emails if my email server went down. They provide 2 front end mail delivery servers that forward it onto the real mail server when it's running. I think I've lost more email because of it than I ever lost because my server was down.

Vista 64 Blue Screen Hell

I recently updated my development box to a nice new quad core processor and with it stuck in 8Gigs of ram. I would have been more than happy to stick with Windows XP as I had on my old dev box but the 32 bit version is limited to 4G (more like 3.5G) of ram so all that extra goodness would have been wasted, hence I crazily decided to opt for Vista 64.

What a mistake! It's like using Windows ME all over again and we all know what a terrible product that was.

So to start with the motherboard an Asus P5Q PRO for some reason doesn't support sleep which is a big thing with Vista, I would go off to have dinner and come back to find the PC rebooting because it had gone to sleep. Sadly I wasn't always that lucky – it would often corrupt the CMOS and loose the date/time. If I had one of my Arduino based projects such as the connected it would also be frozen at the Bios Legacy USB detect stage.

I can't really blame Vista for what is a motherboard problem so I've disabled the sleep function and replaced it on the Start menu with Shutdown. When I wrote LazyLoad I didn't think it would be useful on Vista because of the improvements Microsoft made – It hasn't taken long for me to realise LazyLoad is still well worth running on Vista!

So onto the real big problem I'm having, almost daily blue screen of death's. This appears to be caused by the ATI graphics card – a Radeon HD 3650, just great. I regularly get a blank screen followed by Vista telling me it's recovered from a stopped graphics driver. However almost daily the screens start blinking darkness and then when I've had enough time to glimpse at the work I'm about to loose it all goes blue claiming an ati driver failed.

Just to really annoy me when the machine reboots Vista prompts with it's “Windows has recovered from an unexpected shutdown” and gives me a “Check for solution” option, it then appears to do something, followed by quietly hiding it's self never to be seen again, not a sorry we couldn't find anything, or a try the vendors web site for the latest drivers, or a yep we know another ati driver problem, nope, it just disappears as if it's embarrassed and wants to quietly leave the room having wet it's self.

Windows has recovered from an unexpected shutdown

I've had ATI cards before and not liked them, I really should have known better. Whilst looking for the link for the 3650 on the ATI site the search summed ati up for me. I entered hd 3650 and hit enter to search, not realising I had to change the “Select Site:” drop down. I got a JavaScript box saying “Please select a site.” and they kindly cleared my search text so I had to enter it again (whilst not making the same mistake of hitting enter) and then select the ATI site. How could something so simple be so unfriendly?

And what's with the improved TCP/IP stack in Vista. I though networking with Vista was supposed to be much improved. If I watch a movie that's on another machine one of two things happens, either the file explorer will freeze and show the green progress bar whilst trying to browse the folders or when I finally open the file my whole PC will freeze whilst Windows Media player opens the file. And if the other machine is busy doing something like a backup I really know about it on my Vista box (BTW – often the other machine is a Vista box!). I thought with 4 cores a gigabit network and an improved TCP stack Vista would still be usable whilst it tried to sort out connections with networked machines. My old XP box with it's single processor was is so much better for networking.

As for the new “improved” windows explorer, I so hate it, I mean really hate it. If I'm trying to copy files or folders with Explorer in details view (which I prefer) from one location to another I regularly end up with them going into a sub folder of the destination because of the change in the way the hover selection works as it's really difficult to get exactly between the folders when dropping. As for default view (list view) that's just to annoying, You've got loads of extra column headings and if you have a long file name it's often obscured, it looks like you can resize the columns but that doesn't work – you have to change to details view to do that – it gets me EVERY time and annoys me intensely every time.

Is it just me or has the audio stuff got worse, my last box (XP) pushed out the audio via the SP/DIF and headphones socket at the same time, I can't see how to do that in Vista, so if I want to switch from headphones to speakers I have to stop what I'm listening to, change the default or use something like WinAmp's settings to change the output (not easy to get to) then change to the RCA Digital output. What a pain in the ****, I want both outputs together – is that such a stupid requirement? I wonder if that's another Asus special.

I'm so very glad FireFox remembers the pages I had open, all to often I've been part way through reading an article for the PC to blue screen on me and by the time I'm back up and running I've forgotten where I found the article. Fire up FireFox and restore - magic! I so wish IE did the same, especially as it's a lot less stable than FireFox and crashes it's self frequently.

So in conclusion, it's really great so much effort has gone into the Aero to make Vista look nice whilst introducing whole new instability issues, revaming Windows Explorer to take annoying to a whole new level whilst totally defeating usability and that the TCP has been speeded up to the point that Vista to Vista networking freezes the machine and browsing a file share regularly messes up, that's on top of the slew of security measures which resulted in me being unable to browse my NAS without having to get into the depths of Vista settings.

I appreciate most of the problems are actually hardware (MB/Graphics card) but it's still annoying to have seen so much effort go into making the thing look nice only to have it fall over, I've seen it all to often with various products where the manufacture has put lots of effort into making the thing look really nice but failed to make a usable product (more on that and my home automation problems latter). Take for example software products that have their window an unusual shape - I know instantly that I'm not going to be able to use it, all to often I've tried software where the products a funny shape and the functionality and usability of the product are just so poor – please please please lets get back to making usable products and get over our obsessive desire for things to look pretty whilst not worrying about being able to use them.

Well the good news is in the hour it's taken me to write this the machines not blue screened!