Remote Assistance

I have to hand it to Microsoft – the Remote Assistance feature in Windows XP really works. Alke fried her Mail profile the other day. Rather than explain through ICQ what she had to do or figure out what was wrong, really, I just coached her through the steps required to let me take over her computer. From there it was just a matter of doing a bit of magic and everything was back to normal. The nice thing here was that she could watch what I was doing, and we had a chat window we could both use. Even though I took control from her PC. Beats VNC both in functionality and in ease of setting up.

ICQ for my mobile

Out in the Norwegian mountains, far from the internetz, I found this little gem: JIMM is ICQ for mobile phones, with rather low hardware requirements, so even my older Ericsson k700 can handle it. And suddenlyI was not so far from the internet anymore.

Until the battery went flat. Got some good snowboarding done, too.

PC Flashbacks: A20# and more

Michael Steil explains the XBOX security system. An excellent description of the obstacles Microsoft was up against, the ways they failed, and a good demonstration about why a) security is hard, and b) PC hardware is a bitch.

I sent this to Udo, and his comment was

SUPER SUPER COOL. A20# Gate. When we were young. Although the hardware hack is really cooler, but the software-hack is more straight-forward. Funny, funny.

I knew he’d get a kick out of it. The A20# hack is just such a wonderful relic from crazy times.

[Listening to: Erebus (piano) – Andrea Baroni – (3:23)]

Hello, Vista

So today Vista finally hit the shelves. And I had the first bugreport from an eager user saying that The Longest Journey didn’t run on his newly upgraded PC. Welcome to the new world.

The past days, I’ve been working on getting the old game ready for Vista, and as a result, it’s installed on my work PC. Which means that I got past the “oh, shiny” impression of it, and got to see how useful it is as a work platform. Spoiler: I’m not impressed.

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Thunderbird + Gravatars = Letdown

So I found the nifty gravatar extension for Thunderbird, and after making it work in 1.5.0.*, I was anxious to see how many of my contacts actually have a Globally Recognized Avatar. On first glance, I couldn’t find any. Well, so maybe not very many people have one?

So I went and wrote a little script that would go through my archived mails and address book, checking every sender’s gravatar. The result is shocking: Except for myself, there was only 1 (ONE!) other address, and that was the one for the Firefox newsletter (and yes, that has a firefox logo).

So while it’s a nice extension, it’s widely unused. So are X-Faces, so installing an extention for those is almost as useless. Too bad. I’m a visual person, and I would like seeing avatar icons with mail 🙂

Miranda IM (Plus)

I made true on my threat to create my own installer for Miranda IM that comes with some plugins I consider important pre-installed. If you want to give it a shot, you can get it here. Immodest as I am, I called it Miranda IM Plus (and also to reduce confusion with the official release).

This is what you get:

  1. ICQ, MSN, Google Talk, Jabber, AIM and Yahoo supported (and the installer lets you select which ones you really want).
  2. A choice of icon sets for either 32 bit or 16 bit icons, depending on whether you run Windows XP or not.
  3. OpenSSL libraries are installed for the protocols that can make use of them.
  4. Your profile is created in your profile directory (%APPDATA%), not in “Program Files”.
  5. KeepStatus, a plugin that automatically reconnects you when you lose contact to the servers (ICQ users rejoice).
  6. History++, a plugin that makes the chat history significantly more useful.
  7. SmileyAdd, a plugin that adds smileys to your chat window

All of those features are chosen by a simple process: If I have use for them and would recommend them, then they are included. This is why there is no fancy themed contact list, no IRC protocol and no sound schemes. Actually, I do use a sound scheme, but I’ve yet to find another person that likes it, so I am not including it :-).

[ media | Sonic Wanderer – Parallax (Wanderized) (SLAY Radio) ]

Miranda IM

For reasons that may be entirely subjective, I think that Miranda IM is the best Messenger out there at the moment. I can’t see myself using Trillian, at least, and I’m not going to ever install 4 different Messengers just because my friends can’t agree on one.

However, there’s one thing that’s really annoying: The installer you can download from the Miranda webpage gives you only half of what you need, and insalling the rest is a pain for Joe Average User. For example, you can’t use it with GTalk because it lacks the OpenSSL libraries required to do that. You can’t use it very well with ICQ, because at the rate that the ICQ servers are going up and down, you need a plugin that automatically reconnects you. And there are no Smileys! And… there’s more, but you get my point.

So yes, I’m really considering bundling the important stuff in my own installer – if only to make it easier for friends to switch ;-P

Eigene Dateiformate

Ein typischer Fehler in unserem Geschaeft ist es, dass Programmierer ihre eigenen Dateiformate erfinden. Frundsaetzlich ist das eigentlich immer verkehrt, trotzdem passiert es regelmaessig. Heute beispielsweise habe ich einen Konverter schreiben muessen, der von PNG in das interne Grafikformat von TLJ umwandelt, weil fuer ein neues Release ein Hintergrund ausgetauscht werden sollte. Die alten Tools sind wegen Hang zum Moloch nicht brauchbar (es gab da nur genau ein Tool, das alles machte), ich brauchte ein kurzes Kommandozeilentool.

Das XMG-Format fuer die Ingame-Grafiken von TLJ hat alles, was ein internes Dateiformat so auszeichnet: Es ist entstanden, weil die Zielplattform eine zu schwache CPU hatte, und daher das entpacken schnell gehen sollte. Dabei haette man eigentlich primaer auf die Groese der Dateien schauen sollen, denn die 4x CD-ROMs die es damals gab, waren die wahren Performance-Killer. Stattdessen ist ein typische 640×480 Pixel grosses Bild 460 kb gross geworden, hat aber nur 16 bit Farbtiefe. PNG waere nicht nur 30% kleiner geworden, sondern ich haette mir den Konverter erspart. Ein weiterer Grund, eigene Dateiformate zu machen, ist gelegentlich, dass man die Spieler davon abhalten will, das Spiel zu modden oder die Daten anderweitig (z.B. in ihrem Blog?) zu verwenden. Mal abgesehen davon, dass das eine voellig bekloppte Idee ist, weil mehr Fansites ja irgendwie was gutes sind, hilft es auch nicht. Screenshots sind leicht gemacht, und selbst im Fall des kranken TLJ-Formates hat sich in kurzer Zeit jemand gefunden, der einen TLJ Viewer programmiert hat, mit dem man alle Sounds, Animationen und Bilder aus den Spieldaten auslesen kontne. Zum Glueck, das hat mir erspart, selber einen Konverter zu schreiben… An dieser Stelle heissen Dank!

Das Grafikformat fuer TLJ hat zu allem Unheil auch noch 3 Versionen durchgemacht, die aus irgendeinem Grund alle unterstuetzt werden. Wahrscheinlich, weil in den ersten beiden Versionen Fehelr waren, oder z.B. keine Grafiken ueber einer bestimmten Groesse unterstuetzt wurden (auch in Version 3 kann ein Bild nicht breiter als 4096 Pixel sein). Ueber die Entwicklungskosten im Vergleich zu einer funktionierenden Library sprechen wir mal lieber garnicht.

Am Ende werden die Bilder uebrigens im Hauptspeicher als RLE gespeichert. Das ist auch so eine Sache, wo jemand selber etwas erfunden hat, das prima funktioniierte, ehe Hardware-Beschleunigung existierte (TLJ ist gerade so an der Wende gemacht worden), wo man aber haette vorhersehen koennen, dass es keine lange Bedeutung mehr hat. Als Resultat benutzt TLJ sein DirectX eigentlich nur als Grafikseiten in den es pixelweise hineinmalt. Images im Grafikspeicher? Wieso das denn…

In Anarchy Online benutzen wir ausschliesslich PNG und JPG. Man lernt ja dazu. Aber handgeschriebene eigene Datenformate gibt es da auch…

[ media | Chronblom – Heartland (Tranciano remix) ]

x64 with the Platform SDK: The Horror!

If you still have Visual Studio 2003, the only way to build 64 bit applications for Windows seems to be the Platform SDK. This, however, is downward compatible with Visual Studio 6. And most of us probably remember what that means: The STL in there is shite. It’s an implementation from back in 1995. A lot of projects simply don’t support it and recommend you use STLport instead.

OMG, should I really have to install that thing again?

[ media | Briskeby – Joe Dallesandro ]

More x64 adventures

Since my earlier troubles, things have progressed rather nicely. I managed to install Visual Studio 2003 on the x64 machine, and a 64 bit compiler that came with the Platform SDK. I could have compiled my first 64 bit executable today, but I need to find out if any of the libraries I use are ported. I’ll need boost, libxml2, iconv, lua and luabind. Yeah, fat chance.

OpenOffice is still being difficult. Writer is the only part I can make work, and it doesn’t seem to be the dual-coreness of the machine that’s the problem – setting affinity to only one CPU made no difference.

Something positive: Miranda IM works nicely (as a 32 bit app), there is a 64 bit Java VM and 64 bit Python from ActiveState.

What this platform really needs though is a few machines in the Sourceforge compile farm and 64 bit MinGW.