I’ve decided to go “old school” with some of my free time this year.  For some time, I’ve had (in storage) an Amiga A4000T computer – the top spec with Cyberstorm PPC card, CyberVision graphics card, some SCSI disks, 128MB (remember when you could run an O/S in that??) and so on.

Although the Amiga was always designed to work with analogue video standards (NTSC / PAL), the prevalence of VGA monitors in the 1990s meant that the old “miggy” had to adapt.  One of the great features of the CyberVision card was that it could redirect video from the integral AGA graphics chipset and display Workbench (or anything, it would seem) through the video card instead.  This was no small feat of engineering and, in my opinion, is partly what made computing in the 1990s so interesting; ingenuity, innovation, invention.

Above, AmigaForever© screenshot showcasing OS 3.1.

Left: The Amiga’s Kickstart, prompting for a boot disk.  

My 4000T has seen better days, granted.  Certainly as far as the operating system install and configuration is concerned – the video above shows that I can look forward to the pleasure of installing OS 3.9.  Or perhaps I might investigate OS4 which will harness my PowerPC chip, thanks to the hard work at Hyperion Entertainment.
Whichever, I am still surprised that for a 15 year old machine everything seems so, well, reliable!  The fact that the phase5/DCE CyberStorm/Vision hardware is operational, and the system starts up acceptably, is really testimony of the longevity of ancient hardware.
I’m really looking forward to exploring this machine again, and seeing what has recently been uploaded to Aminet.
Old habits die hard.  Happy New Year 🙂

ThinkPad T420.  Shiny and new.

It is with incredible reserve that I discuss my new Lenovo ThinkPad T420, such is my excitement.  As a natural born geek, software developer and sysadmin, there is something about a ThinkPad which is “just right”.

The lure of a ThinkPad is unquestionable.  It’s the promise of your best bit of code ever.  It’s the idea that it’ll be with you for years; your faithful companion.  It’s the reassurance of industry-leading build quality and top-spec engineering, using high quality components.  But it’s more than that too.  It’s an identity, a bit like that of Apple users – but thankfully in more self-respecting way.  You have a ThinkPad, you join an elite.  It’s everything you want.

You want this so badly that it comes as a bit of a surprise when all is not quite what it seems.

Branded accessories – one of those indulgences.

Better the devil?

As Lenovo only offer such spiffing hardware bundled with a throwaway operating system, you must suffer the wasted hours and ridiculous horseplay that ensues from such choices being made for you.  We are all too familiar with this scenario… so, I’ll continue!

Here is my experience, abridged:

  • Unbox, connect battery, plug in power, switch on.  It switches itself off.  And then back on – phew! 
  • Windows 7 starts up and completes its install process.  You are prompted to answer a few questions along the way:

  • Do you wish to use Norton to protect your PC?  I choose No.  
  • It prompts again: “Are you really, really sure you don’t want to use Norton???”.  I really, really confirm that yes, I don’t want to use Norton, thanks all the same.  
  • Further into the installer, you are prompted to accept the Windows EULA (end user licence agreement).  At the same point, you are also prompted to accept the Lenovo warranty terms.  You cannot proceed if you choose only one.  I imagine that this is another Microsoft “initiative”, a bit like Restricted Boot, which attempts to force people (through fear, usually) into sticking with Windows.
  • Finally, it finishes setting up Win7 and loads up the desktop.  On the offchance that there is a warranty issue, I decide to make a backup using Windows Backup.  Unbelievably, the Windows partition (C drive) contains 26.39GB of data.  WHAT??!!  This is a freshly installed operating system.  How on earth can it consist of so much… bloat?!  There is also a system partition (1.6GB, of which 900MB or so is used) and a Lenovo recovery partition (17GB, of which 9GB is used).  So, I have 36GB of disk space used up for a fresh install of Win7, plus some Lenovo utilities and Google Chrome (installed by default – the only good software choice made by Lenovo so far).   Hesitantly, I begin the backup process to Verbatim DVD+R discs.
  • 3 hours later, now on the 4th disc, the back-up process fails.  The error given is unspecific.  I now have a collection of 4 shiny new drinks coasters.
  • I dig into the Lenovo software and find that I can install “Rescue and Recovery” software, presumably from the Lenovo recovery partition into Win7.  I install it, which takes about 4-5 mins on this core i7 2640 machine.
  • Oh, wait a sec, what’s that?  Some pop-up just appeared above the clock in the right hand corner.  Something about Norton doing something, was that?  Oh, it’s gone.  So, despite being really, really clear that I did NOT want Norton installed on my machine, er, there it is.  Installed on my machine.  Poor Lenovo, poor.  And it gets better.
  • Creating recovery media fails.  Classic.
  • I fire up R and R and find the option: Create Recovery Media.  This looks more promising.  I fire it up, stick in a DVD+R (still have 6 left, hopefully that’s enough..).  It starts off, “extracting files”.  And then stops, and fails.  Apparently, in this instance, I may be able to expect Lenovo to ship me out some recovery CDs.

  • Not to be

    So far, any reasonable, sane person would not feel very confident using Win7 on this machine.  The dream probably wouldn’t be shattered, but clearly the software configuration is dysfunctional, ignoring user preferences and showing some worrying reliability issues out of the box.

    Luckily, being part of an elite means that you don’t follow the masses.  The throwaway software, bundled with the machine, is designed for people who don’t, won’t or can’t think.  It’s also designed for those who blythely accept it, probably “because it’s safer”.  Well, luckily for Windows users it must be a lot safer now that Norton is installed, regardless of your wishes!  Phew!

    To be

    Fedora 16 live CD, running on this T420.

    The alternative, as always, is to not accept what you are given.  Instead, seek a better solution that you can feel confident in.  For this ThinkPad T420, the better solution is GNU/Linux, Fedora 16 flavour.

    Here is how easy Fedora is:

    • You download a live CD, burn it to disc and restart the computer.
    • The CD boots up into a “live desktop” (this doesn’t affect any data on the hard drive).
    • From the live desktop, you run software (e.g. Firefox) as if it were installed on your computer.  On the ThinkPad, all hardware is automatically recognised and usable immediately.
    • From the live desktop, you have the option to install this software to your hard disc.  How refreshing: choice.

    But don’t take my word for it, try it yourself.

    If, that is, you have the mind to.

    Tux, as originally drawn by Larry Ewing 
    Tux – your faithful free-software friend

    It might seem a long way off, but Saturday 5 April 2014 represents your best, last opportunity to ditch that ageing Windows XP and upgrade to a modern, capable, free and secure operating system: GNU/Linux.

    Microsoft are dropping support of Windows XP on Tuesday 8 April 2014.  After then, the numerous security issues that XP will face will go un-patched.  Anti-virus vendors, firewall software writers… basically everyone in the proprietary software world will no longer support Windows XP.

    In the meantime, Microsoft is doing its best to urge businesses to migrate to a newer version of Windows(1).  Note that the term used is “migrate”, not “upgrade”.

    It is claimed(2) that Windows 7 has overtaken XP as the most widely used Microsoft desktop operating system.  Whether this is credible or not, Microsoft is not one to pass up an opportunity to tell companies on XP not to wait for Windows 8(3).

    This is perhaps the best advice they have given:  there are so many freely available secure operating systems available right now, which will run eficiently on current PC hardware, that there really is little point waiting for anything.  There is, of course, an enormouse number of free applications to run on them too, of which here is a highlight.

    Of course, you would wait until Saturday 5 April 2014 to update your computer software but, actually, why wait at all?  You can install Linux alongside Windows to dip your toes in before committing fully.  All you need to do is visit one of these and follow the installation documentation:

    Don’t worry – Microsoft is far more afraid of you getting your feet wet than you are.   If you have any questions, there are loads of resources available to help.  Try a Linux User Group (usalug.com / lug.org.uk), or maybe start on a forum (www.linuxforums.org, www.linuxquestions.org, www.linux.com/community/forums).  Of course, as a business user you may want to opt for enterprise support.  You can find that here: Red Hat Enterprise Linux – and here: Ubuntu for Business.

    Choosing to upgrade from a proprietary operating system to a free operating system can seem hazardous, but rest assured – you are not the first to try!  Millions have gone before you, and millions will come after.  With open source software, there is strength in numbers and these numbers increase daily.

    Come and join in – and try not to have a lot of fun! 😉

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    [ Originally posted here:  http://web.archive.org/web/20130918070911/http://onecool1.wordpress.com:80/2008/09/19/microsoft-outlook-2007-imap-exchange-and-moving-those-special-folders-back/ ]

    As a Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 user, I have the option of using either Microsoft Outlook for native Exchange mail server connectivity, or using another, open standard protocol such as IMAP.  So, in my finite wisdom, I decided… why not?!

    Why not indeed.  The reason for using IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) is so that I could use….. wait for it… a non-Microsoft email client with my Microsoft server.  The very notion.  Well, actually it’s not too bad.  You enable the IMAP service on the server, set up the mail account in Thunderbird, and hey presto – log in!

    Unfortunately, my client (Mozilla Thunderbird) then seemed to have done certain things which – only now – take my slightly by surprise.
    An Exchange mailbox, as standard, contains some basic top-level folders, such as Calendar, Contacts, Deleted Items, Drafts, Inbox, Outbox, Sent Items and Tasks (this is probably not an exhaustive list).  In contrast Thunderbird, by default, contains Inbox, Drafts, Sent, Deleted, Junk and Trash.  So, what’s in a name?

    Well, after using Thunderbird/Exchange via IMAP (and not actually noticing this at the time of doing so), a couple of the Exchange folders had disappeared.  I only noticed this later when using Outlook again, and couldn’t locate my Sent Items or Deleted Items folders.  I then found them lurking within my Trash folder.  Ok, so this has got very messy.

    It sadly got worse.  Now that these “Special Folders” in Microsoft parlance have been moved, they could not be moved back in Outlook.  When trying to drag “Deleted Items” to my top-level Mailbox, I would be told “Cannot move special items.  Special folders, including the Inbox, Contacts, Calendar, Notes, Tasks and Journal folders, cannot be moved.”  Oh, I see.   Although I tried various methods within Outlook to achieve the same thing, I failed miserably.

    So what is the solution?  Ironically, going back to Thunderbird and simply dragging the folder from Trash into the top-level mail account/box did it.  It re-sync’ed over IMAP and everything gets copied correctly.  How ridiculous.

    The solution is not to run scanpst.exe or scanost.exe, or to start up Outlook using the “Safe” switch, thus:
    C:Program FilesMicrosoft OfficeOffice12OUTLOOK.EXE” /safe

    It’s not even starting up Outlook with “Reset Folders”:
    C:Program FilesMicrosoft OfficeOffice12OUTLOOK.EXE” /resetfolders
    … or the combination of both.

    This is one of those annoying, inexplicable problems that you somehow just get used to.  I hope this helps someone else out there who has suffered the same issue.

    Well, I actually feel the need to thank Microsoft.  Crazy.

    But yes, thank the maker that Redmond has finally decided it’s time to end support for IE6.  Who, in the web design world, won’t miss it, I wonder?

    Internet Explorer 6 has been the bane of web development inasmuch as IE5.5 before it.  Given its age, though, it could be forgiven.  IE6 was a lot better than IE5.5, which was also a huge improvement over IE5. 

    So, now that web designers can concentrate on better serving their customers and perhaps being more profitable too, this surely is a good thing for the industry that has for too long supported an browser incapable of basic standards-support.

    In Windows Explorer :

    Click Organize / Fold and Search options / View [tab] / Files and Folders section / untick "Always show icons, never thumbnails"

    Seriously - what ****-head, numb-nut set this as default ??????

    Oh and you need to close and restart Explorer to see the effect.
    That's like washing your car and having to get into & out of it before you see the clean car. (:
    (from a friend, reproduced with permission) 

    /lib/ld-linux.so.2 missing? libXext.so.6 can’t be found?

    I recently [at the original time of writing] installed Fedora 11 [x86_64] on a test machine, to see how the development desktop build of my favourite Linux distribution is doing – and it’s very nice indeed.

    I tried to install Zend Studio 5.5 and soon came across problems, which I found out related to not having 32-bit versions of Xorg and glibc installed. To remedy this, ensure you follow these steps:

    su -c 'yum groupinstall Java'
    su -c 'yum install glibc.i686 libXext.i586'

    Once installed, I was able to fire up the Zend Development Environment:


    .. and it was running on the native (OpenJDK) 64-bit JAVA runtime! How’s that for progress!

    I confess: this is a problem without an obvious solution.

    As a server administrator managing tens, possibly hundreds, of domains via Parallels’ Plesk control panel system, you may be forgiven for getting frustrated, from time to time.  It happens.

    While Plesk is a big time-saver for many tasks, there are occasional quirks which only help to irritate.  One of these being SSL certificates.

    Security warning in Chromium

    The Plesk control panel comes with a standard SSL certificate which is used to encrypt all HTTPS connections to/from the server by default.  Most server administrators will probably want to replace this with a certificate that correctly identifies their specific server.

    The usual route, through Plesk 9.5.x would be to log in, click Settings, click SSL Certificates, and then create / delete certificates accordingly until you have a new default server certificate.  The final step would be to tick the checkbox next to the new default certificate and click “Secure Control Panel”.

    This gives you the impression that the new certificate is now used by the control panel.  It isn’t.

    So, the next morning, you’ll probably receive one of these by email:

    ################# SSL Certificate Warning ################

    Certificate for hostname 'plesk', in file:

    The certificate needs to be renewed; this can be done
    using the 'genkey' program.

    Browsers will not be able to correctly connect to this
    web site using SSL until the certificate is renewed.

    Generated by certwatch(1)
    "Hmm", you think, "this should have been updated when I 'Secured the Control Panel'".  Yes, it should.  So, the next logical step would be to edit httpd.pem and replace the Key and Certificate values of this file with those displayed through Plesk's SSL Certificates section.  Then simply restart the web server.  Ha ha! Fail!  Browsing to the control panel still results in the security warning. What gives?!! 
    After you have restarted the web server many times, both via the operating system's /etc/init.d method and via /usr/local/psa/admin/bin/websrvmng, you conclude that, actually, this is also not the certificate that requires updating.  So, which certificate file stored on the system is the one being served by Plesk?

    Good question.  While you're searching for an answer, try checking/editing /usr/local/psa/admin/conf/httpsd.pem  and  /usr/local/psa/etc/httpsd.pem.  Nope?

    Oh well, how about just resorting to a reboot and taking down everyone's services for a moment? ... Not ideal, but it works.  But this is not the right way!!!  :-(
    ********* UPDATE 23/11/2011 ***********
    I have stumbled upon the right way to do this.  In a shell: 

    cd /usr/local/psa/etc/
    mv httpsd.pem httpsd.pem.old
    cp /usr/local/psa/admin/conf/httpsd.pem .
    service psa restart

    Well Apple-lovers, you sure do choose interesting products. Like the iPod; a “revolutionary” portable audio player, being probably the first to have a non-replaceable battery. I might be wrong, having done no research on the subject, but this was enough to turn me off. Let alone the insistence of using iTunes.

    Or the iPad; the computer-but-not-a-computer consumer device that let’s you do anything you want with your media.  So long as it is on Apple’s terms.  I don’t get why someone as apparently intellectual as Stephen Fry gets so excited about it. Yes, it’s so exciting, in fact, that I’d go immediately to iPad.com and check it out!

    The iPad. I mean, for goodness sake, it’s a laptop without a keyboard, but with potentially harmful restrictions, a proprietary operating system and about as much appeal as a colonoscopy. According to Fry, it also has no “multitasking, still no Adobe Flash. No camera, no GPS”. But it does have a touch-screen and 3D desktop effects… Perhaps that’s why the Free Software Foundation dropped “Freedom” Fry’s video from their homepage: who’d want to appear as hypocritical as that?

    And then there’s the iPhone. This is the biggy. Apple are using typical Microsoft-like tactics here.  Make an “irresistable” upgrade, probably for free or very cheap, and subtly attach some conditions to it. This time, as exposed in Giorgio Sironi’s blog post, The Apple of Sin, the condition is that you must only develop iPhone applications in languages prescribed to you by Apple.

    The reasons, given by Giorgio, are pretty clear: Apple want to kill any chance of Flash appearing on the iPhone, else it might be inconsistent with the new iPad policy.

    So, Mac users, be aware that your choice of platform may well come to haunt you in a year or two, when Apple extends this anti-Flash policy to OS X.  There is one nice aspect of this, though: Apple might just force Adobe to open-source Flash.  Then will follow a review-and-embrace process, where Flash gains recognition as an open standard.

    Then we’ll see if Apple is embracing open standards as it “seems” to be with its current policies.  If not, then you’ll get more choice of hardware and software if you choose Windows. And even more if you opt for Linux and, not only would that be cheaper, you would also retain your right to choose what you do with it.

    Sorry about that. 😉

    Apple’s attempt to sell me an iPad
    (the image has now been deleted, but depicted Apple’s QuickTime-only web site with the plugin not working – or failing-over nicely, in my browser)

    So, I can’t quite work out why I might want or need an iPad. Amusingly, a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to Apple’s “TV” adverts on its website.

    What I saw was the image, opposite.

    Hmm, strange. Is this product only for people who already use Windows and/or a Mac? Being unable to install QuickTime (which is for a “PC” or Mac only) means I am unable to view this product. Apple are unable to do the most basic thing with sales and actually demonstrate to me why this product is good.

    Which then led me to think, perhaps it isn’t.