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A note to all app authors (Google and Apple)

imageOkay, App Store authors (both Apple AND Google). Check out the list below before writing/publishing your next app. If your app does ANYTHING even REMOTELY similar to the bulleted descriptions, you’re doing something that at least five hundred other apps do and NO, your app WON’T be the best implementation or have the most original twist. Figure out something else to write. Seriously. SERIOUSLY.

  • Game where you need to draw a line with your finger to show a boat/plane/cat/rat/something else which boathouse/airfield/path across a road/path across a traintrack/etc to take
  • Game featuring “doodle-style” graphics which negates the need for you to actually spend more than ten seconds creating the graphics
  • A to-do list, or in fact ANY sort of list
  • A reminder app
  • A calendar app
  • A weather app
  • A clock app (with or without alarm functionality)
  • An app where you can write text and then have it sync to Dropbox as though that’s the coolest thing ever – ignore this bullet if your app syncs with SugarSync, though, since for some reason nobody’s written one of those yet and SugarSync is ten million times better than DropBox (oh, and here’s my SugarSync referral link before I forget)
  • A game which displays random items that you need to “slice” open/apart with your finger
  • A game where you use your finger to pull back a “slingshot”, thereby “firing” something at something else
  • A game featuring zombies where you’re supposed to do something, anything at all, to try and kill the zombies
  • A game where boring-arse creatures of some type follow a boring-arse predefined path across a crappily-decorated “field”, and you’re supposed to drop objects by the side of this path which will then “attack” the creatures as they pass by while you’re then expected to gibber and wring your hands in excitement and do absolutely nothing else except pray that you placed your stuff properly
  • A game where you have to “endlessly” either run sideways or climb/jump upwards
  • An app with one of the following words in the title, REGARDLESS of the premise or execution of the app: ninja, angry, tower, notes, balloon, ball
  • A game where the object is to take a character through a top-down view of lands and towns in the style of a Japanese RPG, where character interactions contain speech in bubbles which comprise 98% of the sum total of the code base of the game and require two hundred finger taps on the screen before the entire interaction concludes, whereupon you get about five seconds of actual "gameplay” before the next interaction
  • A game featuring “retro-style” graphics, either deliberately pixelated or else vectorized, purporting to transport the player back to the halcyon days of their youth where they played this type of game and wished for a future where graphics and sounds were cooler and you could do more than shoot blocky pixels at other, differently-colored, blocky pixels

Double marks subtracted if your app falls into two or more of the abovementioned categories simultaneously. K? Make it happen! (claps hands once, loudly)

The official x-days-since-iPad2-out-and-no-jailbreak-yet ticker post..

20110705: Finally, after 3 months, 3 weeks and 4 days, the iPad2 has been jailbroken. All hail Comex.

Notepad++ – fix your update checking system!

The update checker for Notepad++ still doesn’t work.. but why is is pissing me off so much this morning? Click for bigger pic. And no, my firewall isn’t canning the request. And yes, I have internet access.

image

Backing up: registry, files AND directory syncing?

SynkBackup128 Once again I’ve been on the hunt for the best software to achieve a particular purpose, and I’m coming up blank right now. Maybe there’s something out there that does what I need, or maybe there’s a giant opportunity for some genius to invent the complete backup solution.

Allow me to explain. I’m looking for a backup program with the following features: 1) It has to support backing up user-chosen registry keys, and 2) it has to support file synchronizing – not full mode, not differential or incremental mode, not catalog-based stuff, true make-the-contents-of-the-target-directory-look-exactly-like-the-contents-of-the-source-directory synching. And believe it or not, I haven’t found a single program which can do that yet!

Like most people, I believe backups are crucial to the retention of both irreplaceable items on your computer and thereby your sanity as well. So here’s what want. Firstly, something which will backup my essential stuff – contents of the My Documents folder, Application Data folder, certain other files (secure password storage etc) and finally certain tree hierarchies out of my registry (a-HA!) – not to mention my email program’s data and ITS registry keys – into compressed zips; and secondly, because compressing JPGs/AVIs doesn’t save any space, I want something which mirrors out certain target directories on my digital photos drive to the backup destination. The destination is an external drive and it’s only off a USB 1.1 interface so I want to minimize data transfer. I have many gigabytes to backup and until I get a faster external case I’m looking at a decent chunk of time to sync out my stuff every night.

And here’s what I’ve managed to turn up recently, while exploring the idea of “mirroring” directories. Firstly, the backup part can be done relatively painlessly, several programs out there do allow you to export selected parts of your registry along with regular files. But I haven’t been able to find a program that can do both exporting of registry data AND proper directory hierarchy synchronization. It’s driving me nuts! Most of the backup programs I’ve looked at incorporate full, differential, incremental and “mirror” backups. Hooray, I thought to myself: a “mirror” backup should be just what I need since all I want to do is take dir A (with subdirs) and exactly duplicate it across to dir B – adding/deleting files to/from B each time. Pfft. Let me quote you what the typical "mirror” backup definition is, with this text taken directly from the Genie Backup Manager help file: “In mirror backup, the first run always backs up all selected files and folders, and a backup catalog (.gbp file) is stored on the destination media. On subsequent runs, Genie Backup Manager searches for the catalog ".gbp file" in the destination. If the media is empty or it does not contain the catalog file, GBM will start with a new full backup.” So that’s not exactly what I want to do. I want both the source AND destination completely scanned the first time. I don’t want a stupid catalog file written to the destination. See, I already HAD most of the files on my destination from a previous backup program, and when I started a mirror backup to test out GBM, the stupid program started overwriting files on the destination that were exactly the same as on the source, because it was copying blind. Stupid! So next I have a look at SyncBackPro, and it does precisely what I want it to – its mirror mode scans the destination too and it doesn’t need to keep catalog files for the process. But you guessed it, SyncBackPro doesn’t support registry exporting, so I can’t wholly perform my backups with it!! I just looked through their forum and found a post where one of the authors say it’s not designed to do that. Posted a nudge on this anyway.

I am so glad that there’s a shareware period of 30 days or whatever for most software these days. It’s a great opportunity to save wasting my money, again and again. Get this: today I set up Genie Backup Manager to backup my registry and files for email, digital photos and “essentials” to a directory, then had SyncBackPro mirror-sync that directory (~38,000 files) out to my external drive. Two programs, because I haven’t yet found one that will do it all – I refuse on principle to use a mirroring system that relies on the existence of a single catalog file to inform it as to what’s present or not in the destination – a trojan changes one byte in that file and your backup is potentially bollocked or has to be started all over again. Bear in mind that I’m someone who not only keeps two backups (local on a separate drive and external as well), but I also generate Reed-Solomon parity info (using ICE ECC) for all my backed-up data on a weekly basis just in case I need to reconstruct a corrupted backup, and then back up the parity info too. Can never be too paranoid, especially about irreplaceable digital photos. So: maybe there’s a backup program out there with a PROPER mirroring mode that doesn’t require a catalog and that I can rely on to scan the destination and make intelligent choices as to what’s there and what’s not. Maybe “TwoBrightSparks” will add registry export capabilities to SyncBackPro. Until then, I’m stirring my coffee with two spoons at the same time. I’ve got thirty days, and I’m sure as hell not buying two programs to do this. Wish me luck as I hunt through other programs in this genre.

Whisher: Shared wifi? Surely you jest.

image Hot Brownload Award Every so often an idea surfaces which is so unparalleled in it’s stupidity that it boggles one’s mind almost into gibbering insanity. Whisher is one of those ideas. The premise is that you’re supposed to hook their software up into your home wifi connection. You then can become part of a network of free wifi spots aiding passers-by with their idle twittering or instant messaging. At this point, let me pause for effect. Okay, continuing on now.  What this truly means is that, while you’re still responsible to your ISP for all breaches of law committed through your paid-for internet access, you are still giving carte blanche for Whisher users to use your net connection to commit acts of terrorism, treason, piracy, the list goes on. Are you KIDDING me? If ever a program deserved a Dhryland Hot Brownload Award, this is it. It’s almost as bad as a cellphone OS that doesn’t support copy-and-paste, yeah? Almost.

This concept sucks so badly that I’m not even going to post a link to their site. If you want to find out more, the homepage URL isn’t too hard to guess.

Outpost Firewall for free! (updated)

image Agnitum’s Outpost Firewall, one of the best firewall programs for Windows, now exists in a free version (minus some features of the Pro version, of course, but it’s still a damn good deal – ten times better than ZoneAlarm and about two-point-seven times better than Comodo).

Features include:
Bidirectional firewall · Protection that can’t be shut down by hackers · Application behavior monitoring · Intuitive, resource-friendly operation · Activity monitoring capabilities · Windows Vista and 64-bit compatibility

Get it from http://free.agnitum.com/ or http://www.firewallforfree.com.

STOP PRESS! (yeah, four days after it’s already been to press. sigh.) Anyway, I have a rule for myself where I won’t erase previous posts, but I need to modify this one as follows. Stupidly I went ga-ga about the software before I discovered the limitations of the free version. You can’t click on any connections and do anything with them, like terminate them etc. The per-connection context menu is completely disabled in the free version, essentially making the firewall read-only! This is pathetic and makes it next to useless as far as I’m concerned, like a viruskiller that doesn’t clean virii. I hereby retract what I said about this tool and advise my readers to go back to Comodo until I find something better. I still stand by what I say re the full version of Outpost though. Just not this version.

Firefox comes of age.. finally.

I want to preface this post by explaining something that my close friends have known for years. I’ve always been a software hobbyist on the lookout for stuff that’s better than other stuff. Since 1986 I’ve been researching various utilities (Amiga enthusiasts: remember Fish, ANC and UGA utility disks?), pitting them against each other and identifying winners in each category. I built up a whole stack of personal criteria of what’s good and what’s bad based on a fairly old-school philosophy born of the days when computers came with BASIC programming manuals and the first thing you were expected to do on them was type 10 PRINT HELLO; 20 GOTO 10. My overruling criteria have always been that the programs have to be tightly coded (the opposite of bloatware), efficiently use system resources, not crash, not have ambiguous functionality and actually be useful. Due to Mozilla Firefox’s missing the mark on several of these items I have not recommended its use for years. A phenomenon has been taking the world in its wretched grasp for quite a while now (I’ll lament about it in another post sometime). It is a meme of misinformation. People have been misinformed and misguided about Firefox ever since it came out and I have fought a strong battle to drum sense into those people. Nobody ever listens to the reason of the wise few, of course. Maybe they’ll be happier to read about it.

The fallacies about Firefox that sparked my anger were:

  • It “finally” allows people to achieve the mystical nirvana that is tabbed browsing. Truth is that Opera had tabbed, MDI browsing over ten years ago, and IE shells such as Maxthon allowed users to use the world’s most popular and compatible browsing engine in a tabbed environment a LONG time before Firefox was put together. Trust me on this – I was doing tabbed browsing in IE way, way, WAY before FF came out.
  • It allows a “safer” browsing experience. Truth is that FF simply passed the buck on these matters. I lost track of the conversations I had with people who firmly believed that forcing the user to SAVE an executable file from the net to their hard drive effectively eliminated risk of virus or spyware infection. CRAP! My response was that FF made an absolutely guaranteed two-step infection out of what would otherwise have been a guaranteed one-step infection. What’s the next thing you do after your browser forces you to save a file out? YOU RUN IT! Right! Gold star. Blue ribbon. Dhry’s Honorary Medal of Wisdom. Firefox also disabled ActiveX controls under the foolish idea that they are a major cause of system infection, completely forgetting about the legitimate uses of these controls and denying them to its users, not to mention implying that it was the be-all end-all of system protection and that people were otherwise too stupid to ALSO be running standalone antivirus and antispyware tools.
  • It strictly conforms to web standards, which is a “good thing”. Truth is that while I agree with the idea of conforming to standards, the idea of HTML standards became skewed back in the late 90’s when Microsoft started making their own rules about the web. Netscape was out there, then IE came along and pretty soon after the antitrust dust had cleared (translation: Netscape had quit whining that nobody would use their browser anymore since IE came with Windows for FREE, like the rest of the world gave a toss) everyone on the planet was using IE. Websites were written for it and its quirks. It BECAME the global standard for web browsing. At some point, a propeller-cap-wearing dunce without a girlfriend decided that we should all “take back the web” and this standards crap started to take hold. IE has relaxed standards. FF has draconian ones. I’ve struggled at my work for years trying to tell people that if it doesn’t work in FF, to use IE.. and sighed as the usual bullcrap about “I’m only going to use FF and that’s that” was thrown back at me. Once again, the meme of misinformation. Bottom line? FF should also have relaxed standards and should give the user the option of using IE-compatibility mode or “strict” mode – where the user could make their own choice. It didn’t do that until maybe a year or so ago.. but we’ll get to that shortly.
  • It’s “faster”. Truth is that it’s only partially faster. FF 3.0.*’s rendering engine is a little faster than IE (yes, I mean a LITTLE). But the load times for the app are way slower than several IE shells. Try loading FF with a couple of extensions, then try loading GreenBrowser with a couple of plugins. Now use ProcessExplorer and take a look at the memory usage. You’ll see what I mean.

And so I continued to reinstall and give Firefox a fair go every few months, then laugh at it and uninstall it as the DEFECTS that people ignored time and time again persisted throughout each minor and major release. FINALLY I am comfortable that these defects have been addressed and I can now verify that Firefox is fit for world consumption:

  • I had to laugh when I first saw the IETab extension become available. I still laugh when I see stats showing almost 200,000 downloads per week and over 21 million downloads of that extension to date. Despite all the FF wanker comments about better, faster, more standards-compliant page rendering, this extension corrects a defect in FF that has existed since it was born – it allows you to view pages in the Internet Explorer rendering engine! What that means is that you no longer have to separately load IE to do a WindowsUpdate or visit any of the vast amount of websites that do not support Firefox.
  • I considered the fact that FF did not allow you to run an executable directly from a website to be an absolute, hands-down dealbreaker, and then I saw the OpenDownload extension. Mandatory. Allows executable to be clicked on and opened directly from a website – without you being forced to save it to your HD, open a browser, navigate to the file and THEN run it (whereupon FF can claim “hey, I didn’t let you run it, YOU ran it separately, therefore I’m completely exonerated from blame when your system gets infected!”).

Just these two extensions alone bring FF back into the fold as a viable alternative browser. It’s still bloated to hell but at least now you can use it without the two most major hindrances to its performance. For the other extensions, you’re free to find and try. The rest of the browser interface is okay for everyday browsing (despite being nothing new), but I would advise you to do one last thing if you’re considering the move. Go to Tools –> Options –> Security and uncheck the two options that start with “Tell me if the site..”. These options not only cause browsing slowdowns, but they download a MASSIVE “security” file and save it in a 50Mb+ database file on your HD. Forget it.

Oh, and last tip of this posting. Don’t even bother with FF’s stupid AdBlock Plus extension. This only works in FF and it’s not that great either. I recommend getting AdMuncher, Aussie-written and the absolute best popup blocker available. I’ll write more about that one in a separate post, but for the moment all you need to know is that it applies some fantastic protection to EVERY internet-oriented program – email clients, web-browsers, standalone RSS feed readers and more.