Wednesday, 23 December 2009

eBay eeeewwww!

Found on Google Product Search UK (formerly

Used dental floss, eeeewww!

This is actually the best dental floss I've ever used by the way, but it's hard to get it except expensively at expensive dentists, so I buy online. Still not cheap, but to me it's worth it.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Firefox fun: about:kittens !

Olive's about:kittens has got to be close to the top, if not at the top, of the list of useless but fun & fabulous extensions for the free Firefox browser (faster and a more secure browser than Internet Explorer).

What this excellent free add-on does is to change the standard Firefox graphic that you get when you go to the Help > About Mozilla Firefox menu:

- to a random kitten picture from the Kittenwar site, see the top of this blog post! And here's another one:

Get about:kittens from the Mozilla Add-Ons site (for beginners - click the Add to Firefox button, then click Install Now, and restart Firefox when prompted).

Talk about an excellent time waster, hours of mindless fun!

If you find yourself going to the About menu constantly now, here's a shortcut to really speed things up - hold down the Alt key and tap the h key, release both, and tap the a key for a quick fix of kitten. Then hit OK or Esc (or click OK or Cancel) to make room for the next Alt h etc if you want another pic.

Obviously, because it goes out and gets pics over the internet, it will only work if you have an internet connection and are online at the time you do it.

Kudos to Olive, brilliant. Have fun - and here's another one, just because:

All together now - awwwwwwwww.

Again: the about:kittens add-on download link.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Vista: Windows Update error 80070570 problem - how to fix

If you have Windows Vista on your computer and you get a problem when Windows Update tries to run to update your computer, with this error message:

Cumulative Security Update for Internet Explorer 8 in Windows Vista (KB972260) failed to install with the error code 80070570

or other updates with Windows Vista error 80070570 or error 0x80070570 (which apparently means ERROR_FILE_CORRUPT), then you can try these troubleshooting tips to see if they fix the issue.

First, try disabling or closing your security or anti-virus software (McAfee, Norton etc) or other anti-malware, and try Windows Update again; then re-enable the protective software.

If that still doesn't work, it seems the issue could be down to:

  1. Windows Update not working properly, or
  2. The Windows Update Temporary folder having got damaged or corrupted.

In my case, it was no. 2. But here's how to sort out no. 1:

  1. Click the "Start" button bottom left, in the "Start Search" box, type: "services.msc"
    (without the quotes) and hit Enter. (If you have to OK or type a password, do so.)

  2. In the window that comes up, double click "Windows Update":

    A dialog box now comes up. Go to the "General" tab. If the "Startup Type" is "Disabled", use the dropdown to change it to "Automatic" or "Manual":

  3. Click the "Stop" button under "Service Status".
  4. Then click the "Start" button (to the left of the Stop button), and click OK.
  5. Rinse and repeat with the "Background Intelligent Transfer Service" service in the Services window (the one where you found the Windows Update service), to stop and start that again too.
  6. Now try Windows Update again (Start menu, Windows Update) and see if it'll work properly now.

If that didn't solve your problem, try renaming the Windows Update Software distribution folder as follows:

  1. Close the Services windows you opened earlier.
  2. Click the "Start" Button, "All programs", then"Accessories".
  3. Right-click "Command Prompt", select "Run as administrator":

  4. A "Administrator: Command Prompt" window comes up. Here, type "net stop WuAuServ" (without the quotes) and press the Enter key.
  5. Wait for this window to confirm it was successfully stopped:

  6. Now click the Start button, and in the "Start Search" box type:
    (without the quotes) and hit Enter.
  7. A folder window will open. Find the folder called "SoftwareDistribution", right-click it, select Rename and type "SDold" (without the quotes) to rename this folder (or call it anything else you like, just not the current name).

  8. Go back to the "Administrator: Command Prompt" window. Type:
    "net start WuAuServ"
    (without the quotes) to restart the Windows Updates service, and wait for it to say "The Windows Update service was started successfully".

Now if all that doesn't work, don't despair - Microsoft offer a free support service just for Windows Update issues.

To use it, go to this page and put in a support request with Microsoft there, and follow their advice. Good luck!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Thunderbird 3 - do NOT upgrade! Freezes, hangs, not responding…

If you are using the free open source Mozilla Thunderbird software for email, do not, repeat not, upgrade to the latest version i.e. Thunderbird 3!

I've had terrible problems since trying yesterday to upgrade from Thunderbird 2, with Thunderbird 3 freezing, not responding, hanging, taking several seconds to respond to every click or keystroke.

Still trying to figure it out but as far as I can see, Thunderbird 3 defaults to trying to synchronise all email in all your folders from all your e-mail accounts - which is a bad idea and a half (this default is only meant to operate for newly added IMAP accounts, but in my case it's doing it for all my existing accounts).

That means that the moment you open Thunderbird 3, it tries to download all your Gmail etc. All of it. Talk about taking up computer memory and processing time.

I've tried to untick most if not all of the mail folders (menu Tools > Account Settings > Synchronisation & Storage > Advanced button, untick everything but Inbox & Sent, and even those if you want, then OK and OK again).

But even the process of unticking is proving to be a nightmare, with every untick taking 10 seconds or so to "take".

And it's still downloading the ticked emails… maybe I should have unticked them all, but there we go, I'm going to let it carry on trying to do its stuff for the rest of the day & see if it's faster after it's got everything downloaded for offline use. Even unticked folders seem to be downloading, not sure why, once I make sure the OK has taken (which is literally taking hours) I'm going to kill Thunderbird & restart it.

UPDATE: it took about 10 hours to do, as mentioned it wouldn't let me OK the UNticking of folders until it had downloaded everything. So my tip is, if you are going to upgrade to Thunderbird 3, do it just before you're going to sleep or go out for 12 hours. Other apps on my computer were usable, just not Thunderbird. Then, as soon as you can, go change the Sync & Storage settings to untick what you don't need.

How to speed up Internet Explorer 8

I just wanted to note for those not aware of it that the tricks and tips on how to speed up Internet Explorer 7 also mostly work to help Internet Explorer 8 go faster too.

These are the ones I've tried in Windows Vista with Internet Explorer 8 - try them at your sole risk if you've a different version of Windows, and remember to backup your registry first, you have been warned! (I will report on Windows 7 soon):

  1. These tips on speeding up Internet Explorer 7 which I mentioned from this site (but not the other tips on it, most of which seem to have been changed in IE8 for the better so they're already set):
    1. Increase maximum simultaneous connections
    2. Disabling ClearType
    3. Disabling the SSVHelper Class plugin
  2. Stopping checks for printers on remote computer - NB, in Vista the key to check for network shares doesn't seem to be there so I didn't try that fix, you probably shouldn't either

Friday, 18 December 2009

YouTube 2009 top videos

From YouTube blog, the first time they're sharing their "Most Watched" stats - here are the 5 most watched videos of 2009 across the world, most popular one first. If you've not seen any of them yet, enjoy!

1. Susan Boyle - 120+ million views

2. David after Dentist - kid in car after dentist (and anaesthetic, clearly!) - 37+ million views

3. JK Wedding Entrance Dance - 33+ million views

4. New Moon movie trailer - 31+ million views

5. Evian Roller Babies - 27+ million views

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Vista: Skype Error #6102 or "Problem with recording device"

If you get Skype's Error #6102 problem, and Skype's FAQ doesn't solve it, here's a troubleshooting tip if you have Windows Vista: you could try restarting Windows Audio (how to restart Windows Audio).

And then after you've done that, make sure you check that your Skype audio settings (menu Tools -> Options -> Audio Settings) show the correct device for both microphone and speakers, e.g. your headset, and if not change it back and Save.

That trick worked for me.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Sing karaoke at home, free - LuckyVoice offer

I reviewed home online karaoke service LuckyVoice a while back. You can belt out your fave songs in the privacy of your own home with your friends, or indeed just solo, as long as you have a computer, broadband internet connection and Web browser (and, if you wish, mic and home stereo).

They've recently revamped their site and are offering free unrestricted access to all 6750+ songs on their site for a whole week. You do need to have the free Adobe Flash Player version 10 if you haven't already got it.

To get the free full access for a week from now:

  1. Sign up free for a LuckyVoice account if you haven't got one.
  2. Then sign in to your account.
  3. Click "Buy singing time" (top right, outlined in red):

  4. In the Voucher code box at the bottom of the page, enter the code LUCKYYOU and hit Submit:

They've also changed their pricing model so that you can either buy song credits (as you'd think - buy blocks of number of songs you can play, from 50 songs to 500 songs currently), or buy by time period (i.e. unlimited singing within a period of 24 hours, 1 month etc up to 1 year).

You use up a song credit if you go 30 seconds past the start of a song, so if you start playing a song and decide you don't like it you can save your credit if you skip it quickly enough (see the LuckyVoice Help pages).

What's more, they've given users 25 song credits which will start to be used up after the week's free singing. And there's a clever new rewards system whereby you can earn even more free song credits:

  • "Creating an account gets you 25 credits.
  • If you sign up for our monthly newsletter, you gain 25 credits.
  • After you've sung your first 10 songs, you gain 5 credits.
  • When you reach 30 songs sung, we'll give you another 10 credits.
  • Once you've reached your singtenary (100 songs), you get 20 credits.
  • If you invite a friend to sign up through the site, and they create an account, you get 20 credits.
  • The first time you love a playlist, you'll earn 5 credits.
  • When another singer "loves" your playlist for the first time, you gain 5 credits."

A very good way to reward heavy users.

But for those who are a tad reticent about their passion for 60's musicals, what's this about playlists and other people loving yours? It seems playlists you create are public by default - but never fear, you can click "make private" underneath the playlist to, well, make it private. And you can still share a playlist with selected friends by clicking Share under the playlist's name.

I've not gone through the new site with a fine tooth comb yet e.g. to see if they've implemented the other suggestions in my original review, but it looks good, and seems more user friendly than the original version.

Enjoy your free sing!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Help evolve music: experiment - take part!

Want to take part in a fascinating experiment to evolve music? You have 1 more week to try it…

If you've not heard about it already, on the DarwinTunes website professor of evolutionary developmental biology Armand Leroi, in collaboration with musician Brian Eno, is running a "cultural evolution" experiment to try to evolve songs by "natural selection", modelled on evolutionary studies in labs of microbes and small animals (worms, flies). The video outlines what they're doing.

Who provides the "natural selection"? You do. DarwinTunes is a computer program, a Perl genetic programming evolutionary algorithm system developed by bioinformatician Dr Bob MacCallum based on his evolutionary system Evolectronica. (More on the technology behind DarwinTunes.)

The program randomly created (generated) a pair of songs, then let them recombine, mutate and "reproduce" to produce 100 "descendant" songs - normally each song is a loop of 4 bars in 4/4 time, played to you 2 or 4 times for rating.

You can hear examples of the starting populations (and I can't resist pointing out that this experiment obviously doesn't involve paying any heed to the condom ringtone, then!):

Visitors to the DarwinTunes site rate songs, and according to the ratings the worst songs are killed, the best are allowed to reproduce and then die off, and visitors can then rate their offspring, and so on.

There are examples of evolving hand picked "good" loops on their news pages (after 8000 ratings, 9000 ratings, for the rest see their news!).

Something I've noticed - the evolved songs all seem to be in C major. Is this because the starting population was mostly in C major? Or do humans just like that key…? (indeed, have we become genetically predisposed to like C major after generations of playing the easier white keys on pianos?)

If you want to have a go, the experiment has about a week left to run, so grab the chance to try rating songs to influence their evolution!

I can't wait to hear the results - you can keep up via their news pages or their Twitter account.

Via New Scientist.

How to crop unwanted margins from PDF scans, free

This post shows how to get rid of black margins (or margins showing page edges etc) before printing out PDFs, thus saving money on printer ink and being more environmentally friendly.

Say you scan a few pages from a book to PDF and you want to print it out. Too much black ink is often wasted when printing PDFs produced by scanning pages from books or magazines where the page is smaller than the scanning area, because the space where the scanning area is bigger than the book or journal page shows up in the scan as dark margins, as in the pic below - and similarly when you're scanning photocopies of pages from books or journals. (All copying & scanning done within fair use or fair dealing limits, of course!)

But you can eliminate unnecessarily ink-wasting black margins from your PDFs simply by cropping the margins from the PDF, saving the cropped version, and then printing out the cropped file instead.

A very good free tool for cropping PDFs is PDFill PDF Tools (free for private use).

How to crop black margins from PDFs using PDF Tools

  1. Preparation - open up the PDF file which you want to crop, e.g. in the usual Acrobat Reader. Usually the unwanted dark margins will be on 2 sides of the page. Here is an example (taken from The Future of the Internet by the brilliant Jonathan Zittrain as he's a very nice man who I'm pretty sure won't mind my using 1 page from his book to illustrate this):

  2. Make a note of which sides those extra black margins are on, e.g. top and left, and estimate how much of the page they're taking up and therefore how much needs cropping. E.g. in the UK, with an A4 page size scan, in the above example it might be 0.5" left and 2 or 3" bottom, i.e. you want to remove 0.5" from the left margin and say 3" from the bottom margin. Maybe even about 1.5" from the right margin too, in this case.
  3. If the PDF document is several pages long, as it often is, make sure you page through it quickly to figure out what measurements (e.g. 0.9"?) would deal with most of the bits you want to cut out, while leaving the substantive text untouched. It won't be perfect but at least you should be able to get most of it. If you don't check this there's a danger you might cut out too much.
  4. Download PDFill PDFTools and install it if you haven't already.
  5. Launch PDF Tools.
  6. Click button 4, "Rotate or Crop PDF Pages":

  7. In the file chooser that comes up, select the PDF file you want to crop.
  8. Make sure you tick to select "All pages" on the right, otherwise it will only crop the first page. (That's why in 3. above I said skim through it to work out what measurements would be the best for all pages.)

  9. Then, in the "Crop Box" section on the left, fill in how much should be cropped for each margin, i.e. how much you want to take off from the top margin, left side, right side or bottom margin. It defaults to inches (") as you can see. So for the example in 1. above I'd try - Left Margin 0.5", Right Margin 1.5", Bottom Margin 3" and leave Top Margin alone as 0".
  10. Then click the Save As button and - this is important! - give the file a new name, not the same name as the original PDF document. E.g. you could call it say "scancropped1.pdf". And click Save.
  11. Open your newly created PDF, e.g. scancropped1.pdf, in Acrobat Reader (or Foxit or other PDF reader of your choice) and you'll see the margins are gone. Page through it to make sure you've cropped the margins you didn't want but not lost any important page content. And just print it out from there. This is what my example looked like after I put in the measurements listed in step 9 above - not bad guessing on my part:

  12. If during your skim through you notice it's cropped too much, or too little, no problem. Just start again from step 7 above, but this time try slightly different measurements for how much to chop off, then save the file as a new file (or even overwrite scancropped1.pdf if that was really unusable, but again don't overwrite the original file). Just keep trying till you get it the way you want - with experience it only takes me 1 or 2 goes, and then voila I can print the PDF scan without the dark margins. In the example I showed above, I could even start with the newly saved cropped PDF file, take a bit off the top margin say 0.5", and I'd be there.

And that's it. The PDF Tools suite has some other useful tools for working with or tweaking PDF files, including converting images to PDF and vice versa - just have a play and see (if you hover over a button more info is given, and the Help is good).

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Thunderbird: how to set order of email accounts

If you use the free open source email software Mozilla Thunderbird, which I do (e.g. for Gmail, mail via Google Apps and my college email), it isn't obvious how to get your different email accounts to show up in the order you want.

I've even added a new email account - and then found that on closing and restarting Thunderbird, the new account has vanished completely.

So here is how to change the order of email accounts in Thunderbird, and stop newly added accounts from disappearing.

How to change the account order - prefs.js

The MozillaZine site explains how to manually edit your prefs.js file which is to be found in your Thunderbird profile folder.

Make sure Thunderbird is closed before you try to edit the file, which you can do e.g. in Notepad. But before you close Thunderbird take a note of the order in which your email accounts folders appear in Thunderbird on the left e.g. college, Gmail, local folders.

As the MozillaZine thread mentions, find the 2 lines in that file which look something like this:

user_pref("mail.accountmanager.accounts", "account3,account5,account4,account2,account1,account6");
user_pref("mail.accountmanager.defaultaccount", "account3");

In the first user_pref brackets, the accounts are listed in the current order in which they appear in your Thunderbird - unfortunately it doesn't identify the accounts by name like college, Gmail, local folders etc, but from the note you took earlier, if college email appeared first then it's account3 in the example above, if work email appeared next in order then it's account5, and so on.

That's how you know which email account is given which ID number by Thunderbird.

Now that you know what stands for which email account, you can reorder the accounts the way you want just by changing the stuff in the first user_pref brackets to e.g. "account6,account3,account1,account2,account5" or whatever you prefer.

There is one thing to watch. In the second user_pref line above, you must make sure that the account listed in that line (account3 in the example above), which is the default account, is listed first in order in the first user_pref line. So if I changed it to:


in my first user_pref line, I'd have to make sure to change the second line to match i.e. account6 (which appears first now in the first line):

user_pref("mail.accountmanager.defaultaccount", "account6");

Vanishing new email account? - user.js

Now if you have the problem of a new account that you add disappearing each time you exit Thunderbird, here's one possible solution to the problem (and believe me it's a pain to have to keep adding it back only to see it go again!).

In my case it was to do with the user.js file, which I'd created to set some preferences (how to create user.js file).

I'd edited the user.js file so one line read:

user_pref("mail.accountmanager.accounts", "account3,account5,account4,account2,account1");

But when I added a new email account account6, it kept "deleting" itself - because I'd not included it in the user.js file.

All I had to do was change the user.js file to something like this, where I'd inserted the new account6 somewhere in that list, and then it was fine:

user_pref("mail.accountmanager.accounts", "account6,account3,account5,account4,account2,account1");

Monday, 7 December 2009

Safer URL shortening services?

Many of us use URL shortening services, where you feed the service a long URL (web address) and it gives you a much shorter URL which when clicked redirects to the "real" long URL.

This is useful because long URLs in emails often break across lines and won't work unless the recipient reassembles them manually, which is a pain.

Also, short URLs obviously take up less space where it matters, notably Twitter with its 140 character limitation (and Twitter do automatically shorten your long URLs for you).

A major issue with URL shortening services is that the short link goes to their website, and they then redirect the user to the real intended destination site. So if the URL shortener site is down or stops working or disappears, e.g. because the service went bust, the short links won't work anymore.

Fortunately, recently a bunch of URL shortening outfits got together to form a new service,, which will be administered by the illustrious Internet Archive - see the 301works blog post of 11 November 2009 and the Internet Archive's post. The idea is that:

"Participating companies will provide regular backups of their URL mappings to the service. In the event of the closure of a participating organization, technical control of the shortening service domain will be transferred to in order to continue redirecting existing shortened URLs to their intended destinations."

So when you use a URL shortening service, it's safest to use one of the participating companies.

The companies taking part so far (see the 301works site for the latest list, which looks set to be growing fast) are:

  • URLizer

Interestingly the granddaddy of URL shorteners,, isn't yet on the list. But, which is popularly used on Twitter, is.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Security - passwords

It's always worth emphasising (even though I have before!) the importance of having strong passwords for your online accounts, and a recent Microsoft Malware Protection Center blog post has some useful do's and don'ts for passwords

It includes some interesting stats on the most common usernames used by bad hackers in automated attacks (change your username from Administrator, or if your name is andrew, dave, steve, paul or adam!).

Common words used in password attacks were also given, and again using "password" or "123456" really isn't a good idea.

See that blog post for their tips and you can always test your password on their password strength checker.