Nov 27

Windows 8

This is the second part in an ongoing series where I try to decide on my future direction for my desktop OS – Windows or Linux? In the first part, I concluded that, for the short term, I’d stick with Windows on my desktop PC. But what about Windows 8? Is it worth upgrading from Windows 7?

Three years ago, as Microsoft tested then released Windows 7, there was a lot of positive attention given to it. I well remember listening to tech podcasts and reading tech blogs back then. Everyone thought the upgrade from Windows Vista was a no brainer. And they were right. I’ve been really pleased with Windows 7 on my desktop PC. But there certainly hasn’t been the same positive glow about Windows 8. I get the feeling that many are quite happy to stick with Windows 7. In fact I read a recent thread on Reddit about upgrading Windows XP as Microsoft support for XP ends in 2014. The majority opinion was to recommend Windows 7 rather than Windows 8.

So what’s wrong with Windows 8? Well I can’t say first hand – I haven’t tried it out. I have heard that it boots up faster than Windows 7, is more secure, and has a few other tweaks. But it’s  the new touch interface that I just don’t need on a desktop PC, not Windows or Linux. Okay for a phone, tablet or laptop, but ergonomically, to stretch out in front of me to touch a screen doesn’t seem the smartest of ideas. And I just don’t like looking at tiles – I find them counterproductive. Then some would say, ‘But the desktop is dead’. Well I very much doubt that. The desktop is the mainstay of the office environment and will be for surely the next decade, until the next big UI development, whatever that is.

So I’ll stick with Windows 7 on my desktop PC and see what develops in the Window’s world in the next few years. Mainstream support for Windows 7 runs until 2015 with extended support until 2020. I will have one probable upgrade in the meantime. My desktop hard drive is about 3 years old and is giving some low risk events according to Acronis Drive Monitor. If this gets any worse and I need to reinstall Windows 7 on a new drive, I’ll go for an SSD for the OS and essential programs and get a replacement hard drive for data. I’m still on 32-bit Windows 7 so I’ll change over to 64 bit at the same time.

I’m also going to look at Linux Mint to see if that could be a possible eventual Windows 7 replacement on my desktop. That will probably be the next part of this series.

Nov 21

fork in road

I’m approaching a fork in computing and I guess I’m not alone on this one. The choice to stay with Windows OS or fork over to Linux is one which I’ve thought about for several years now. It’s a two-pronged fork as I just can’t afford to consider the Mac option. I’m currently using Windows 7 on my main desktop PC and I have XP and Ubuntu on old desktops and Ubuntu on my netbook. Believe me, it’s not a straightforward choice and I’m not a fanboy of either and would have no problem forking either way if all my conditions were met.

I thought I’d write a series of posts now and again over the next couple of years documenting approaching the fork and making this decision. I probably don’t have to make a firm decision for a couple of years as you’ll see in the upcoming posts.

I’ve used Microsoft operating systems since 1988, both MS-DOS and Windows and I’m familiar with Windows and all its intricacies. I’ve worked out a maintenance routine, a backup routine and I’ve built up a nice suite of free and low cost programs to do just about all I need to do in Windows thanks to blogs like MakeUseOf. A major factor in sticking with Windows is that my work as a freelancer needs Windows doc files returned to clients with tracked changes.

On the other hand, I’ve used Ubuntu for about 4 years now on my Acer Aspire netbook. It’s free and I like it and reinstalls and upgrades are much more straightforward than in Windows. Linux Mint 14 has just been released and I’d like to try that next. I also want to look at Wine and CrossOver on a LInux machine to see if they will help me access programs I need from the Window’s world. I’m not a gamer so Windows doesn’t have a hold on me from that point of view.

For those of you that would say go for it, just change to Linux, it’s not that simple. I’m quite happy with Windows 7 and will stick with it for another year or two. It’s what’s happening further down the line that has me examining my options. So please follow me over the coming months as I try to work out what’s after Windows 7 and which fork I’ll take. The next post, Part 2 of this series, will look at my decision to stick with Windows 7 in the short term rather than move to Windows 8.

Nov 14

I really appreciate comments on my posts, both positive and negative. I read them all and try to learn from them. But over the last 2 or 3 months, I’ve been getting more comments which are getting through my Akismet spam filter and which at first sight seem to be genuine but are probably spam. Akismet generally does an excellent job so I don’t really need another antispam plugin. In addition I don’t like Captchas –  I’ve spent enough time refreshing these till I found one I could read before commenting so I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Anyway, there’s just a few comments coming through that on the face of it may be genuine, or may not. So how do we filter the spam from the genuine?

How to spot the spammy blog comment

1. The comment really doesn’t add any value to that particular post, it’s often just a general comment praising some aspect of the blog as a whole.

2. Try Googling the whole comment, or even part of it and see if it’s been used on other blogs. Here’s a typical one from my blog.

Wow, awesome weblog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
you made running a blog look easy. The whole glance of your website is wonderful,
as smartly as the content material!

Yes, the grammar isn’t perfect but that doesn’t necessarily make it spam. Google the complete comment (within quotes) and you get nothing. But Google just the first two sentences, again within quotes, and you get over 5 million hits! Here’s some of the first page:

Wordpress spam


The first three sentences are in fact the same but small variations start appearing in the fourth sentence. But the real giveaway that variations of this comment are in widespread use is the incorrect and consistent lower case ‘you’ after the question mark at the end of the second sentence. So although it got through Akismet, I deleted it.

Here’s another seemingly genuine comment:

My partner and I stumbled over here by a different website and thought I should check things out. I like what I see so i am just following you. Look forward to exploring your web page for a second time.

I found that even if I googled this type of comment without quotes, Google picked up the matches in bold. Here’s the first page of search results for this comment when I didn’t use quotes:

Wordpress spam2

So you can see that much of the comment is repeated on different blogs and just changing a few words here and there.

3. I use the CommentLuv plugin, but find that most commenters don’t really seem to use it… at least, until recently. The recent spate of spam commenters often (but not always) seem to use CommentLuv on my blog to link to some spammy site. If I’m not sure about the link, I check it out carefully on my Ubuntu netbook, just in case. Often the articles are very poorly written and are just a vehicle for spammy keywords. Again, if these comments slip through Akismet, they just get deleted.

4. In fact the pattern of the CommentLuv link and the general nature of the comment together with the fact that they’ve all started in the last 2 or 3 months suggest that all these are just spam comments and will be deleted.

5. Just as I was finalizing this piece, Harsh Agrawal of the blog ShoutMeLoud today posted a huge list of spam comments which look genuine. These may help you decide if you are unsure about a comment. Just copy the suspect comment (or part of it)  and head over to that post. Then search the list for your text by simply keying Ctrl-F and pasting your suspect comment into the Find box.

So that’s how I try and weed out the occasional spammy comments that get through my spam filter and I hope that’s been some help in checking out comments which just don’t seem right to you. How do you deal with these? Drop a (genuine!) comment below.

Nov 9

Last week, the eastern seaboard of the US was hit by Hurricane Sandy and I was interested to see what effect that would have, if any, on cloud services. We rely so much on the cloud these days for online storage, hosting and services.

For me, the disruption was minimal. I lost access to Trello, my project management app, for a short while one evening but it was back next morning having moved to Amazon AWZ and has remained online ever since.

Trello outage

Trello is part of Fog Creek Software and they are based in Manhattan. I was taken aback when I read the story of volunteers climbing flights of stairs with buckets of diesel to fuel the generators to keep the server going. Gawker and BuzzFeed also took a hit during the storm.

But does it have to be this way?  I was surprised that businesses on the eastern seaboard hadn’t taken the precautions that us home PC users are continually urged to do – back up their computers and websites  –  and have a database redundancy plan, or site replication with co-located servers so that services continue uninterrupted from servers in areas not hit by natural disasters. Fog Creek have now done this with Trello.

The US is probably at the heart of the online world, yet in a country in the firing line from earthquakes, storms and flooding, you’d think that cloud-based precautions would have been in place on the eastern seaboard to cover server outages. Doubtless, as with all natural disasters, lessons will have been learned.

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