Kwakkelflap: tools for the IT pro

Friday, March 23, 2007

Spring Cleaning

Right now, I'm working on a new version of Watchdog - O - Matic. While I was implementing a new feature, I saw some things I wanted to change for a long time but never got around doing it. Particularly the UI and the way users create watchdogs was not clear and could be a lot easier. So I'm rewriting a lot of code, implementing almost everything in a different way. At almost 40000 lines of code right now, this is nothing to scoff at. Luckily the core debugging code can remain unchanged. The major overhaul is nearly complete, but I still need to implement the new features. I'm eager to release this version though, as it is a huge improvement for the user. Deadline is a month from now (this includes testing), and due to the huge improvements, we'll move to version 5.0 .

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

HOWTO: Install our software on Windows Vista

Run the setup after downloading it from our website. It is possible you will see the following screen:

Select to ‘run’ the setup program. After this, you will see the following screen if you haven’t disabled the 'User Account Control' as described here.

Our applications require the UAC to be disabled. The setup program will disable this automatically for you. For now, you can select ‘Allow’. This will enable you to run the setup program.

Now the setup will start. Follow the setup wizard. At the end of the setup, the program might ask you to reboot the PC. Please do so before using our application. Note the message on the bottom. This means the setup disabled the User Account Control system to make sure our application works as it should. It is possible you will also see this message after reboot. You can simply ignore this message.

It is possible that you will see a Firewall screen the first time you run our watchdog application. The watchdog application is trying to send local information on the network to detect if other watchdog programs are running. We advise you to 'Unblock' our application, certainly if you want to send emails with the watchdog program. Most functions will work without any problems if you choose to keep the watchdog blocked though.

Please contact us if you have any questions regarding the install.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

HOWTO: Run our programs in Vista (disable UAC and enable administrator rights)

To run our applications in Vista, you need to run the programs with administrator rights. You can do this by disabling the User Account Control (UAC). Simply follow this guide to enable this feature.

1) Click Start and then open Control Panel.

2) In the Control Panel, click 'User Accounts and Family Safety'.

3) Click 'User Accounts'.

4) Click 'Turn User Account Control on or off'.

5) Clear the tick or check mark on the box beside the 'Use User Account Control (UAC) to help protect your computer' option.

6) Press OK. When prompted, restart the computer.

Alternatively, advanced users can open a registry editor. Go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\System . In the details pane, you will find 'EnableLUA'. Change this value to 0, save and reboot the PC.

With administrator rights enabled, every feature of our software should be running. Note that these changes will automatically enable administrator rights for all users.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Fping speedup

One of the users of Fping informed me of a strange problem. He is using Fping to ping a certain address very fast (once every 1 millisecond with a 1 millisecond timeout). It works as it should. But then he runs a program called 'XNote Stopwatch' and Fping speeds up.

"I stumbled across a strange behavior related to timing. Using the options shown above, I get less than 100 pings per sec. But if I have a program called "XNote Stopwatch" running at the same time as fping, then the ping rate from fping roughly triples. As soon as I shutdown the Stopwatch program, fping returns to the slower rate.
I get the "stopwatch effect" both with and without -i. I have repeated it on 2 different machines, both WinXP SP2. As soon as I launch the stopwatch program, fping speeds up. As soon as I exit the stopwatch program, fping slows back down. The stopwatch doesn't need to be running."

I'm dumbfounded by this. I am unable to reproduce this on my development machine (also WinXP SP2). But I see the same thing when pinging on my old Windows 2000 system.

I checked the Fping code and it does 2 things related to time:
a) Sleep x milliseconds between pings
b) Query the high performance counter when sending an echo request, and again when receiving the reply to calculate the round trip time.

I'm not sure how the stopwatch program can influence Fping. My guess is they are doing some tricks to get a high precision timing. But this can only influence the high performance counter, if even that. This would result in strange round trip times, not in speeding up. It's hard to believe that they can influence the sleep of another application. I contacted dnSoft (the creators of the stopwatch program) to see how I can solve this.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Automatic currency conversion

A few days ago, Plimus contacted me to let me know they solved the fixed currency problem. I was glad that I could finally put a price in US$ next to Euros on my website. So Sunday afternoon, I started to make some changes.

But then I realized something. How much do I charge my US customers? I could use the current exchange rate and set it at a round number close to it which seemed the honest thing to do. But it would result in rather odd amounts (e.g. $32.00). Another option was to change that amount to the next nice looking number (being $30.00 or $35.00), but that didn't seem fair. So I started thinking. Would it be possible to put a US$ amount that reflects the current exchange rate on my website?

As with all questions in life, Google is THE way to find the answer. I found yourcurrencyconverter which seemed to offer everything I wanted. They check the visitor IP and scan your page for currencies. Then they adjust the currency text to fit the visitor’s currency. I signed up and created a test page with the system. Everything seemed to work fine, and I was glad to have a solution for my problem. Of course, they do show their ad on your page, but for US $49.95 each year, the ad is removed.

But I'm a programmer. So I wondered how hard it would be to create my own system. Not that the US $49.95 would be a problem, but I'm a control freak and I'd feel more comfortable if I have my own system. Also, what happens if their site is down? So I made a deal: if I can make something like this in 1 day, then I'll create it and use my own system. Otherwise, I'll use theirs.

Again, Google in al its greatness found me the stuff I needed to implement it myself. I don't know PHP that well, but it seemed easy enough to figure things out. And after 6 hours, I had my own system up and running. Not all currencies are working right now, but every currency I have dealt with before is (US$, CA$, AUS$, Yen, Euro, GBP, Scandinavian Kronor, ...). So that will be sufficient for now. It's still on my test page at the moment, but I will put it on all my pages in a few days if all works well.

People using Euro will see:

While people from Australia will see:

I guess developers are the worst people to try to sell your software to. If they can make it themselves with a little effort, they will. I hope this solves all my currency issues I’ve had the past few weeks.