I've decided to retire this blog — I don't really see myself updating it any time soon, and haven't for over two years anyway. I intend to leave the content on-line for the forseeable future, but have converted it to a static site. As a result, dynamic things like search and comments aren't really going to work.

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Archive for June, 2009

Tarnished, Old, Boring

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

As is all over the Web, our good friends at Microsoft Australia have decided to give away some money1 to try and shore up IE 8′s market share. They’ve done this by setting up a Web site that tells you to use IE 82, and when you do, you get a little box that includes the tweets they’re popping on the competition Twitter account.

That’s all well and good — it’s Microsoft’s money, after all, and they can spend it however they like. That said, there are a couple of things I find rather odd about the whole shebang. The first is technical: thus far, the landing page they have only uses some remarkably simple server-side User Agent sniffing to decide which image to show and whether to show the box of tweets. It would be nice if they actually used the competition to showcase some nifty technology that IE 8 actually brings to the Web that the other browsers don’t have, but presumably ActiveX and VML3 don’t count these days, and that pesky Silverlight team actually get things working on other browsers, damn them. (The fact that the competition page detects a default IE 8 install as IE 7 is particularly hilarious, but well documented elsewhere, so I won’t go into that.)

The bigger thing I find strange is the verbiage. There are at least seven versions of the welcome image that get served up depending on your browser: Tarnished Chrome, Old Firefox, Boring Safari, IE 6, IE 7, a generic message for other browsers, and the IE 8 version that talks about the competition a bit.

The first thing that leaps out at me is the rather negative language used — if IE 8′s so much better that people are going to love it just as soon as they give it a shot (encouraged by the chance to win $10,000), surely there’s no particular need to pluck out some negative adjectives before the names of the non-Microsoft browsers. (Presumably Microsoft’s marketing department isn’t too keen on talking down IE 6 and 7, so no adjectives and no ditching of the browsers in those cases. Feel free to suggest appropriate adjectives for IE 6 in particular in the comments.) Talk up your own product, Microsoft!

The So get rid of it, or get lost line is a bit odd, too. It seems to be an attempt to be cool, hip and edgy, but it’s dangerously close to actually telling your prospective customers to get bent, which is the sort of marketing tactic that doesn’t work out very often. Particularly for people on non-Windows platforms, surely it might have been better from a brand image point of view to say something nice (Sorry, but to take part in this competition, you have to be running the sheer awesomeness of Windows?) rather than that rather strange, out of place comment.

From my point of view, the idea of a marketing campaign for a new browser version seems reasonable — the last thing Microsoft wants from a brand and technological point of view is a world dominated by alternative browsers — but this seems like a remarkably wrong-headed, badly thought out way of going about it.

(Legalities: the marketing images and copy linked above are © Microsoft Australia and are reproduced unmodified apart from the addition of a background colour for legibility. Fair dealing is asserted under section 41 of the Copyright Act 1968 for the purposes of review and criticism.)

1 Link appropriately nofollowed. I did debate whether to post this at all, given it’s an obvious attempt at a viral marketing campaign and Microsoft would want people to talk about it, but I felt the need to vent a bit, so I feel nofollow links are an appropriate compromise.
2 For what it’s worth, I don’t mind IE 8 anywhere near as much as 6 or 7 as a developer. Sure, it’s still horribly slow at executing Javascript — sorry, JScript — and lacks support for a whole bunch of useful features everyone else has had for years, but it’s not actively broken any more, which is nice.
3 I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the continued support for VML in lieu of SVG in IE. There has to be some sort of stubborn as a mule award on that front.

Tethering iPhone 3.0 to Ubuntu 9.04

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

So, I found myself with a copy of iPhone OS 3.0 a little ahead of the general release and felt the urge to get tethering working properly. (People who jailbreak have previously had the option of a few third-party products, the best known and easiest to use being PdaNet, also known as that software that wrought havoc upon the LCA 2009 wireless.) It turns out to be pretty seamless on OS X (and apparently also on Windows), but of course, that doesn’t do an awful lot for me as an Ubuntu user.

iPhone Internet TetheringThe iPhone provides two options for tethering: USB and Bluetooth. The USB option looks promising, but is a bit beyond my knowledge of the USB subsystem: lsusb provides information on a configuration called PTP + Apple Mobile Device + Apple USB Ethernet with a couple of interfaces labelled Vendor Specific Class; someone with crazy USB hacking skills will probably get that turned into a network device in due course, I suspect.

That leaves Bluetooth. The iPhone uses Bluetooth Personal Area Networking The good news for lazy people like me is that NetworkManager support is in the works, but until then, it’s still not too painful, as people have been tethering to mobile devices using PAN for a while.

The tutorials I found generally covered other distributions or older versions of Ubuntu, so here’s the process for Jaunty. First the one-time configuration:

  1. Install the bluez-compat package.
  2. Edit /etc/default/bluetooth to add the following lines:

  3. Restart the Bluetooth service: /etc/init.d/bluetooth restart
  4. Add the BNEP network adapter to the /etc/network/interfaces file by appending the following line: iface bnep0 inet dhcp
  5. Get the Bluetooth address of your phone by running hcitool scan and jotting down the address next to your phone’s name.

Now the bits and pieces that need to be done each time:

  1. Pair your computer with your iPhone. If you’re using GNOME, the standard Bluetooth applet can handle that; presumably that’s true of the other flavours of Ubuntu as well.
  2. To connect, run these commands in your favourite shell, replacing 00:aa:bb:cc:dd:ee with the Bluetooth address you jotted down earlier:
    sudo pand --connect 00:aa:bb:cc:dd:ee -n
    sudo ifup bnep0
  3. At that point, life should be good and you should be connected. To disconnect later:
    sudo ifdown bnep0
    sudo pand -K

This seems to work rather well. The speed test results were noticeably better than they had been previously using the various ad-hoc network + jailbreak based solutions that I tried with iPhone 2.x; here at the office in sunny Osborne Park, I got about 850 kilobits down and 350 kilobits up (and a ping around 250 ms) on the notoriously crummy Optus 3G network, which is enough to actually be genuinely useful.

Thanks to InfoSec812 and wilbur.harvey (no relation!) for writing rather good tutorial posts on the Ubuntu Forums, which this howto is based on.