Steve's blog

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

Heli Fun.

Some weeks ago I (and three others at my day job) purchased a ESky Lama V3 Helicopter, if you are thinking about trying remote control helicopters then this one is just so much fun you should go for it!

This is one strong and fun helicopter, you are best off flying indoors, in an area with some reasonable space and nothing valuable around. The battery charge lasts about 10 minutes but that seams like a long time and whilst you are learning to fly most of the time you will be picking the heli off its side and placing it back in a position you can fly it from.

I have repeatedly crashed the Lama and it’s incredibly strong, so far I’m on my second set of blades (both A and B !), fortunately it comes with a spare set in the box and I’m also on my second tail, this didn’t come as a spare but only cost about £8.

BuzzFlyer do a great range of spare parts for the V3 Lama and with their being 4 of us at work I just see what every body else needs and do a big-ish order which helps with the postage.

Various connectors for the blades, balance thingy and what not take some serious grief but these just pop back into place without to many problems, I expected these to be the first things to break but they have done amazingly well. Just moments ago I hit the ceiling with the heli, which landed badly on the sofa, the balance hammer on the top came out and was actually bent, but all connectors are in one piece and I was back flying again 20 seconds latter.

The Tail broke some time ago and was a similar crash, I was trying to back away from the window when I got it all wrong and the heli came down backwards from the ceiling and hit the rowing machine on it’s way, so no great surprise the plastic tail broke! This was easy to replace, just 4 small screws.

If you are looking for a fun present for someone this x-mas then look seriously at the LAMA, I put some serious thought into the purchase and wasn’t sure if Id done the right thing, until I started flying it, then it instantly became my favourite toy!

Unfortunately the manual’s not to hot for getting started, but it’s quite simple. Switch on the remote control handset, set the throttle (left hand lever + trim) all the way down, place the Lama on a flat surface, plug in the battery, don’t touch it until you see the red flashing led go solid green. Pick up the controls and start flying. You will need to adjust the trims and these change with battery charge, I find getting it a few inches from the ground to get the coarse adjustment then fly it properly and you can then get an idea of the fine adjustment.

One big tip I was given and I would suggest the same, keep it pointing away from you, it gets very confusing working back to front and the Lama reaches the scene of the accident very quickly normally but if you have the controls back to front you end up making it even quicker!

There are some good RC forums around with more tips on flying the Lama.

Partial outage of Analysis UK web sites.

Apologies to all those effected earlier today by the outage of a number of the Analysis UK websites, including and Dollars2Pounds as well as the other exchange rate sites.

This outage occurred on the main web server and was caused by a power supply failure. The hosting company were quick to get the problem identified, however unfortunately their was significant delay in finding a replacement power supply, hence the sites were off line for a number of hours.

All sites are now back up and running.


Dinner Timer Lite

I am pleased to announce the release of Dinner Timer Lite and the web site.

Dinner Timer Lite can be downloaded, for free from

Dinner Timer Lite is as the name implies a timer to help with the timing of cooking, although it doesn’t have to stop there, it can be used for any application that requires a count down timer.

Dinner Time Lite in action

Dinner Timer Lite is the first of a few Dinner Timer applications to come from Analysis UK, however these are still in development and there are more features to be added to Dinner Timer Lite as well so please keep an eye out on

Dinner Timer Lite features a flexible notifiers architecture, it currently ships with bubble and sound notifiers so you can get a pop up bubble from the system tray or play built in, or custom sounds on specific events.

A number of different events are supported when running the application, these naturally include start and end events but also a timer end close event, two timer over run events which can be configured to suite your own style of cooking.

A novel feature is the over run timer, when the time is complete the timer keeps running, telling you exactly how long over the completion time you have gone, no need to scramble around resetting the timer just to get an extra minute for the peas.

The transparency/opacity settings of Dinner Timer Lite can be used to allow the timer to be visible as well as what ever (TV on the PC?) happens to be underneath it, the transparency changes with the events of the timer, so when your dinner is cooked the timer is fully visible and when it’s not running it can be practically invisible.

You may well be asking why you need a PC based timer when you have a stand alone one. I have two stand alone timers and I still use Dinner Timer Lite regularly. Often I return to my PC to carry on working on the various projects and realise that I have not set the timer, Dinner Timer Lite is only a click away at this time and becomes very useful, especially as it would typically be 5-10 minutes before I got around to returning to the kitchen to set the timer and I would end up burning the dinner.

I wrote Dinner Timer Lite to solve the problems of me returning to the PC to carry on working and forgetting to start a timer, so I could easily see how the time was going and because I didn’t find the two normal timers I had to be particularly use friendly.

Even if you are using a normal timer, Dinner Timer Lite can still be very useful, it’s easy to see how long remains, or if you want to put something extra on a set time after you started dinner you can put Dinner Timer Lite into elapsed time mode.

Maybe like me, you’ve set the timer for your Pizza, returned to the PC to get a little bit of work done but you know full well you want to be back for the Pizza early, just start the timer, it will warn you just before the timer is complete (1 minute by default), you can also keep an eye on the time remaining with out having to be in the kitchen to watch the timer.

This is the first release of Dinner Timer Lite and I am keen to get feedback, so please use the support page or comments here to let me know what you think and what extra’s you think a timer should provide. I already have a big list of bits to add to the full Dinner Timer and Dinner Timer Lite.

More SmartStamp pains.

It always amazes me how worse a product can become over its life time, Royal Mail appear to have perfected making SmartStamp annoy it’s customers on a frequent basis.

With home based business increasing thanks to sites like and eBay stamp printing applications such as SmartStamp are going to become a crucial tool.

Today all I wanted to do was print a single stamp for a small parcel to the USA.

Naturally I had to alter the printer and label when I started the application, see my previous post about the default label and printer, and then go through more pain to find the postage.

Having finally got the postage I wanted I hit print, enter my password and found out I have to do an update. It waits until I’ve spent ages setting it all up to do this. So the update happens, quite a big update, fortunately I have a fast internet connection so not to much of a problem.

Naturally being an important part of the computer I have to restart the PC to get the updates installed. However it did print my stamp for me. Wrongly! Up until today the one thing that’s always worked for me is the stamp has been well positioned. Not any more, 99012 label + stamp on a Dymo 320 looks something like this

So next I restart my PC incase the s/w needs to be updated like it asked me for. I wasn’t to happy as I was part way through downloading Vista RC1 from MSDN and the download program is a pain to find to get it to continue if you stop it part way. Actually I have no idea how to restart it I always end up back in MSDN and start another download then cancel that, but that’s another story of an annoying app.

Well after the restart which took an age (which if you are like me and trying to run an micro-ISV in your free time after work is time wasted you really could do without) the label is still positioned wrongly. Fortunately there are some confusing controls in SmartStamp to position it, so after a bit of guess work the label now shows the price like it used to.

Now for the next issue, I have to find my stamp again, USA, near the bottom of a long list of countries, I expect quite a lot of people post to USA, you would think that like most web sites and software they would have a few at the top that were very popular. But no. Then I find the stamp type, AirMail, then select the weight. Next I realise the one I wanted was actually Small Packet AirMail. Guess what, it’s decided not to keep my weight, so I have to go select one of them again.

Now I know it’s not all that easy to make the weight thing correct it’s self as there are different bands. BUT, this is really annoying every time you change stamp type it changes the weight to the min. Maybe I could just enter the weight in a text box, or use the selector, and if I’ve entered it manually then it can choose the best weight band for me. After all the one thing that’s not going to change is the weight of my parcel, but stamp choice, now that will change as I try to find the most appropriate one.

Personally I’m hoping the cheap postage scales will have a RS232 or USB interface one of these days, that would be really nice.

One day I am going to end up with the wrong stamp because of the resetting to default. Actually I just printed the stamp whilst writing this and if it wasn’t for the big SU on the label instead of the A I would have got the wrong one and the wrong weight. It’s to easy to do that. The stamp doesn’t say what weight it’s valid for either so that’s no help.

Now I have a stamp for Airmail Small Packet , I have to put a Airmail sticker on the packet and a customs declaration. Not to difficult. You can download a CN22 from Royal Mails web site and I can fire you the Dymo printer to print an Airmail sticker I have already made.

Did you make the same mistake I made. Thinking that as a label printing application designed for postage SmartStamp would include labels for Airmail and Customs declarations. Odd really, I have to print out a PDF on my laser and cut it down to size, then with a different labeller application I have to print the Airmail label. 3 Applications to sort out the stuff that has to go onto a parcel. I just don’t think anybody at royal mail has actually tried to use SmartStamp for real.

Before you correct me, yes I know that there is an Airmail logo I can use on the stamp, but not as a label by its self, and it won’t fit with the postage onto a 99012 label. So someone has clearly put 2 seconds of thought into it and stopped at that. And it’s not for small packet either. Maybe when you select an airmail stamp that has extra label requirements their could be an option to include these in the list of labels it’s about to print.

One more thing that really bugs me, and this was common in VB3 days, is the "are you sure?" exit message, that’s so old and annoying. If I’ve printed my stamp and pressed X then I certainly want to exit, don’t annoy me any more! All it tells me is the application development is still thinking VB3 style and it doesn’t really know what state it’s data is in.

Now I know I rant on about this annoying little application (which isn’t all that cheap at the end of the day), but as someone who uses it I feel I have to make my views known in a desperate hope someone may take notice one day…

Come on Royal Mail sort this product out. Please put a little effort into this, you may have won a best use of technology award for it, but it still needs a lot of attention to make it customer friendly and usable technology.

Update: As I continue to write this I’ve just tried a few more things and guess what, it’s remembered my printer and the label positioning (V3.0.0.10), I selected another label and it looks like that would also print wrong, but at least it’s remembered my settings, sad how something so basic should now cause me to be happy. Now I don’t know if that’s because of the update that just happened or because I just saved my label as a template in the hope that it would keep the label positions.

Well I’m off to search around the Royal Mail website to try and get a refund for the badly printed label. Guess what, that’s not part of the application either. I’m also firing up Napster for some music, theirs another application that continues to irritate me immensely, can they make it any more difficult and slow to play some music!


SmartStamp Hacks.

After my other post talking about wishful improvements to SmartStamp, I realised I have one little “hack” that I should share.

If like me you sell your books (CD’s, DVD’s etc) in the evening after you’ve completed your day job printing a stamp only really gives you the option of sending the parcel the next day, where as if you use SmartStamp during the day (9-5 style) you can post the item that day or the next.

The simple work around for this is to print your stamps after midnight, I appreciate not everyone is a night owl like my self so maybe print them the next morning, but ideally don’t print them between getting home from work and midnight.

This gives you an extra day in which your stamp will be valid. Ideally we all want to post our parcels the next day so the buyer gets them as soon as possible, but on the odd occasion we don’t get to put them in the post that day, when this happens your stamp is invalid and you have to do a new one, and apply for a refund. By printing after midnight you get an extra bit of grace to get your parcel in the post.

Hopefully one day RM may update SmartStamp so you get an extra day after 6pm or so, but for now wait till midnight +1 min before stamping!.


SmartStamp feedback.

Isn’t this typical, I don’t post for ages then I post twice in one day!

This is a call out to all SmartStamp users who like me are disappointed with the application and feel a few simple improvements would make a massive difference and reduce a lot of frustration.

Royal Mail are conducting a survey to get feedback on the product and on the SmartStamp web site. Please take the time to visit the SmartStamp Website and fill in the questionnaire (you should get a pop up asking if you wish to take part in the questionnaire if it’s still running).

Don’t let me put you off SmartStamp though, if you are selling books, CD’s, DVD’s etc then it is a great way to avoid the queue at your local post office which can be a huge time saver, just launch the application, after some fiddling hit print and you have a little stamp all ready to put on your package then drop it in the post (or skip the queue at the post office and drop it at the counter or in the bag).

The SmartStamp application has some great potential with the ever increasing eCommerce market and the increase in home based businesses. Being able to print a little stamp is a huge benefit, even if it does require me to alter a multitude of settings every time I launch the application just to be able to do the same thing I do every time and create a simple stamp.

I have to say I’m still hugely disappointed that Royal Mail choice to charge so much to rent the application, I believe it’s cheaper than franking but then at least you get some discount on the postage with franking. This is after all just another way to allow you to purchase Royal Mail’s main product, postage.

You also have to watch out when you post your package as the stamp has a short life and if you miss the post your stamp may not be valid the next day.

SmartStamp is a registered trademark of Royal Mail. All views expressed in my blog entries are personal views and do not represent the views of Analysis UK Ltd or anybody/business related to Analysis UK Ltd other than my self.

What happened to .ws domain names?

Sincere apologies to all trying to access, or

Something appears to have gone badly wrong with the .ws dns system. Sites such as and have been effected as well.

It’s not a good thing when an entire domain name extension disappears from the internet!

When I try and run a DNSReport on them some DNS servers return empty name servers and others are reporting nothing at all (

It appears over the last 2-3 hours things are starting to return to normal. Hopefully I can stop pulling my hair out now. still returns nothing for but the other servers are returning the correct nameservers.

I’ve always wondered why I was able to get some really good domain names easily with the .ws extension, Guess I know one of the reasons now!

The good news is that I updated et al over the last few nights with a new code base that I’ve been working on for ages, this sees some background improvements to the sale transaction handling which was needed for future plans, improved pages for sale transactions management and some other smaller updates. More updates to come soon.

Electricity issues all around!

Apparently I’m not alone with UPS problems, looks like even the big boys over at have been having more than their fair share of UPS issues. It’s only when you need the UPS you really find out if it’s up to the job!

I have to take my hat off to them and complement them with the amount of feedback they are providing letting every body know what’s going on. Great work!

Todays issue of Computing ran an article on the Power Shortages in IT, whilst it’s great to see the IT arena (and especially eCommerce) taking off so well after all we have been through since 2000 it is alarming to think about the amount of juice we are using. Something tells me with all the electric being consumed in London my self and won’t be the only ones blogging about UPS problems.

So if you are relying on a UPS go give it a test now and if it’s not been exercised in a while (6+ months), go give it a deep discharge (when your computers not to busy), charge it up again then test it again. Do it whilst you don’t need it – next time you may just have spent an hour writing your blog for the electric to fail and the UPS to shut down with it!.

I should probably mention that whilst my UPS let me down just recently, it’s been good for about 3 years now and saved me a numerous times, the power in my part of Cambridge has been somewhat unreliable, I bought the best of the consumer market devices, it runs 3 machines and 2 monitors with about 60% load – and if the power stays off for more than a blip I know its going to be off for hours so everything gets shut down cleanly and I plug the TV into the UPS! – that’s assuming it’s to dark to read otherwise Id be reading one of my many books, ok, maybe Id also be heading off to the pub - for erm, food you know!

Note to - Great name!, just somewhat of a nightmare for us dyslexics that can’t spell! You can only imagine the attempts I have at entering the URL! Odd how I can spell dyslexia though.

My thought for today - it's when things go wrong that you really find out who you are dealing with.

Does the issue get covered up? Does it get swept under the carpet? Do you get a run around? Or are you dealing with a great company that knows how important it's customers are to take the time and write blog entries to let you know what's going on and communicate their pain with you.

The company I previously used for hosting are know offering a great deal on bandwidth (odd, they had a totally terrible deal before, now it's gone to unlimited - from one extream to the other!), still I know their business practices are anti-customer and the customer support is truly poor so no chance of me returning to them, on the other hand EV1 Server have just been fantastic!

When Backup systems bite back.

I’m a firm believer in backups. Data backups, spare part backups, uninterruptible power supplies, raid disks and stuff that should sit around in the background and help you when things go wrong. However the last thing I expect of these systems is to introduce major failures.

I got struct three times with this just recently with backup systems that decided they needed more attention.

All the web sites I run are basically data driven, all the exchange rates for Dollars2Pounds are in a database, all the page impressions are logged into a database, all the used books for sale on are all in a database so the backups for these sites is a backup of the databases (which is stored on a separate machine or two), the actual application code doesn’t need regular backups.

The other week after the server had a bit of a hiccup I figured I’d give the automated backups for the web sites a try, after all, if I needed to move to a new server this may save me some time. I only set up 3 sites as it’s a slow process, I’m so glad I only did 3 as two backup attempts latter I had to stop these. I set the backups to occur weekly – as I said, nothing really changes on the actual front end so very little need for backups anyway.

One of the things the web site control panel’s automated backup does is to take the site off line – now I can kind of understand this if data is being changed but really, most websites are static files (html, php, dll’s) so you’d think these could be just copied.

Have you spotted the snag so far, backup are really important, keeping your web site on line is also important – I don’t think being offline for 30mins every day to do backups is all that acceptable for global eCommerce sites.

So what happened, well the backup for started, the site was taken off line, then, well, the backup appears to have failed and the site never got put back on line. No details of this in the control panel for the site and I even had to go as far as editing the setup to kick the site back online. It was a very evil situation that I was VERY unhappy with. When I realised what had happened I canned the automated backups immediately.

Then 2 weeks latter I found out the secure server part of was off line, this meant transactions, "my account" and member login were all unavailable – not a funny situation. Guess who had setup automated backups and forgotten to disable them on this account!

Having finally got rid of the web site automated backups (remember the database is backed up separately!) the websites have been up and running without any problems since.

The next thing I know I’ve wandered into my home office and it’s all very quite – not normal as I usually have 3 PCs running, this particular day no PC’s were running, a quick look at the UPS – looked OK but the only reason all 3 should be off is a power fail. About a month before we had a major outage that drained the UPS.
Well, I kept an eye on the UPS and it all looked OK, no battery fail light or anything (it’s supposed to be Smart). Then two weeks latter all the PC’s go off again. This time the UPS goes off and complains big time about being switched back on. This time indicating a battery failure.

I got my self a new battery for my UPS from UPSBattery, a great deal and delivered the next day - fantastic. Installed it without any problems and the UPS is now up and running.

I decided to have a go at installing the software to manage the UPS again, last time I tried it was a nightmare (about 3 years ago) and I gave up. Well the software doesn’t appear to have changed much, but fortunately it has the option to remember User/Password details as I always forget that stuff (one feature of FireFox and IE I love).

Naturally I installed the business edition of the UPS software – not because I’m running in a business environment and need the software on my server and to be able to connect remotely to it. Not because I plan to get more UPS, but because the personal edition wouldn’t install without a UPS on the system and it didn’t detect the one that was connected on the USB port. Windows had it, the business edition (which you have to install 3 apps for!) had it, but the personal edition, nope useless.

Once up and running I ran the self test a number of times, all appeared OK, It wouldn’t let me calibrate the battery without it being 100% full. When I did finally get there the UPS died and took down all the PC’s connected to it – when I got them rebooted the UPS control software didn’t have the intelligence to realise it killed the UPS and reported no events – nice!. Mental note – when running UPS cal/self test don’t rely on power from the UPS to drive the machine you are using to monitor the test.

With it being a new battery I think the previous settings in the UPS memory were reporting an incorrect charge level, hence the battery wasn’t all that well charged when I tried the calibration – hence it didn’t survive the calibration!.

I also run a daily backup on my development PC to backup the source code every day, the application for this is nice and simple, but when it kicks in that’s it, the PC’s unusable for an hour – the backing up takes about 5 mins, but 55mins is spent pre-processing – talk about a pain, I’ve got a decent PC with a few spindles and lots of memory but still the backup app needs to hog 100% of the CPU.

So I’ve the backup set for 2am so I’m forced to go to bed then, but also forced to leave the PC on over night – hopefully the new version of the app has the ability to run in the background as I work – maybe I will write to them and ask, after all they keep emailing me to get me to upgrade but don’t bother to tell me any special reason that the new versions is better than the old!.

I’ve not posted any links or named the products that bit me, I don’t want to give them any free advertising or inbound links for products I’m not happy with!

Well, it’s 1:55 am here in the UK and I need to get some bits done before the backup takes over and the PC becomes unusable.

Any backup tips would be much appreciated…


Just how is it that computers know

It seams like every time I set up some new advertising something on the server knows and decides to throw a wobbly. I recently set up two new adverts for and as I submitted them, the server decided to fall over. Before you even think it, they hadn’t even gone live, so it wasn’t due to a sudden rush of traffic!

Fortunately the host providers did a great job of detecting an issue and sorting it out without me having to do anything, apparently there was a network issue that caused the server to fall over and resist attempts at rebooting. This appears now to be fixed.

As I write this and logged into my EV1 Servers account I see an announcement of some outages apparently caused by a linux worm exploiting a php issue. I guess this is probably what happened to my server.

Then the day after that, one of the configuration files for’ web server appears to have been corrupted which caused the default server page to be loaded as if the site was off line.

I do wonder if this was caused by an issue with automated backups because it only happened to one site on that server, the one I had a few hours before configured automated backups for!, or, perhaps it was just because it was Friday 13th.

I don’t usually run the automated backups provided by the web server application as this takes the site off line and is a real pain to configure - everything about the site is data driven so the database gets backed up regularly to a different server and the rest is code that doesn’t need backing up anyway.

Apologies to anybody effected by the recent server problems, hopefully these are now sorted out, I will be keeping a close eye on the situation.

As you’ve probably noticed I’m not all that good at posting, you have to wonder why when this short entry has taken me about three hours, and with some of it’s original content missing, mind you, it nearly didn’t get posted at all.

All I wanted to do was paste some simple text into the word processor I’m using (no prizes for guessing which famous one I’m using!). Because the text was from a certain web browser the word processor decided to connect to the internet – why I don’t know, so I naturally blocked it when Zone Alarm told me it was accessing the internet. So that locked it up for ages, I was hoping it would time out, but an hour latter I had to end task it, fortunately the auto save had saved much of my work, but I had still lost more than I wanted.

I have to say I really hate the way paste works in most of the Office product now days, all I wanted was a simple bit of text, no formatting etc, I wanted the data with MY format, not the format from the web page, Ahhh – and don’t get me started about the way a certain spreadsheet handles cut/copy and paste, when I copy something I want it to stay on the clipboard - it’s almost as bad as it’s graphs, come back Q-Pro all is forgiven – well, I actually liked that app so not to much to forgive!.

Being the webmaster of a book site I decided I should share what I’m currently reading with you in my posts.

At present I am reading Vincent Maraia’s The Build Master, I’m only about 2-3 chapters in, although I have cheated a little and read a few bits at random. Basically it’s about the Windows NT build team at Microsoft, it’s very interesting and I would certainly recommend it, especially if you are remotely involved in the build process for software products, managing source code or managing a software department. Being dyslexic I really have to like a book to keep reading it and this is certainly one of those, who knows, when I finally finish it I may well write some more about it – don’t hold your breath though as I’m a very slow reader.