Sunday, July 16, 2006

VS.NET 2005 ASP.NET Web Application add-on

At work, we've shunned the VS 2003 concept of "Web Sites". Who really thinks you can build an enterprise web-application that is developed against the web-server with FrontPage Extensions?

Fritz Onion wrote an article ages ago that showed how you could treat a standard Class Library as a web application. This is the model we've been using ever since.

I've been wanting to try out the new Visual Studio 2005 Web Application Project since it was released but am just getting around to it.

There's an Update to Visual Studio 2005 you have to download first.

Haven't spent too much time on it yet, but you don't have to hack the IDE's config settings nor set up IIS.


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Float's Mobile Agent

I wasn't surprised recently when my laptop's hard-drive started to sound like a Suzuki motorcycle running up and down a hilly road. I'd been running it to the limit since the day I got it, constantly downloading and iterating through several hundred-thousand files. The space around the hard-drive would get so hot that I'm pretty sure that it has cooked the fleshy part of my left-palm. So when it finally died, despite the huge bummer of having to reinstall everything, I saw this as an opportunity to clean up my files and get my laptop organized.

One of the things that I've been wanting to get more out of is my Bluetooth enabled laptop and phone. I'd tried using the Sony Ericsson software that shipped with my phone but was completely unimpressed. I'd heard of this great utility flOat's Mobile Agent (FMA), but just couldn't get it to work.

So before instead of installing the Sony Ericsson software, this time I was going to put more time into FMA. Being open-source, it naturally is a little poor on setup details and documentation. However, I found a great starter document that shows how to get it up and running. In short:

  • Using the Bluetooth software, pair your Phone with the PC
  • Bring up the context-menu of the phone, choose Connect to Serial Port -- it'll add a new COM Port. You'll need to make note of the COM port it creates (ie COM4, COM5, COM6, etc)
  • Launch FMA
  • Choose Tools -> Options. Select the COM Port that was defined for your phone. (Mine was COM6)
  • OK your way out of the Options and then choose the "Phone -> Connect" option from the menu.

After about 30 seconds, FMA identifies your phone and begins to configure itself. Immediately afterwards, the FMA dashboard knows more about your phone that you do: battery, signal strength, firmware revision, call lists for incoming / outgoing and missed calls. Once you set the "Autoconnect on startup" and "Auto-reconnect (use proximity)" FMA takes care of managing the connection to your phone transparently. In addition, FMA loads itself into your phone like it was a Bluetooth accessory like a head-set or speaker phone.

Although albeit a bit buggy (it *is* OpenSource so that's to be expected) this is a great tool that changes the way you see your phone. It has the standard tools that you would expect, such as the ability to manage your phonebook, text messages, and upload/download files to and from your phone -- plus it has some additional goodies like viewing your call-lists, sending SMS messages from your PC and synchronizing with Outlook. What's more is that it provides on-screen call-display for your incoming calls: I got the onscreen popup that my wife was calling before my phone rang!

My favorite feature is the proximity detection. Mac users with iSync have had the luxury of integrated Bluetooth proximity. When I walk away from my PC, the speakers mute and it locks my workstation. When I return, the speakers un-mute. (The "unlock workstation" checkbox is currently grayed out in the Tools -> Options).

I was impressed that it goes beyond the Sony Ericsson software capabilities and lets you control every aspect of your phone remotely: silent mode, locked keys -- you can even turn off the phone.

Even further still, I was surprised to learn that the developers of FMA have thought of the inverse -- the ability to control your PC from your phone. Once FMA is initialized, it loads itself into your phone like it was a Bluetooth accessory like a head-set or speaker phone. By default, it opens a menu of applications and tools that can be launched such as WinAmp. Among this menu list is a "General Tools" which lets you turn off your monitor, lock the workstation, hibernate, and even shutdown.

Much like UltraMon, this is a utility I'll be preaching to anyone who has a Bluetooth enabled phone and PC.

Windows 98 + high speed Internet = hilarious

Tip: If you have high speed Internet and you don't have a router or other physical firewall device, you are running at serious risk. Go buy a router!! Here's a story about how a simple OS installation turned out to be a nightmare...

My wife and I took a trip out east for my Mother-in-Law's 60th birthday. Anytime she was in our province, she'd always talk about her computer with such disappointment and how I should come out to fix it someday. Well, when I learned that their machine was completely unstable on Windows ME (gawd help me) and their tech-friendly neighbour downgraded them to Windows 98 (holy crap!) -- I knew I needed to help.

So I looked into buying a copy of XP. Strangely, an upgrade is $230 and an OEM copy is $110. The catch is that you have to buy a motherboard in order to qualify for the OEM version -- no exceptions. Even if I bought a cheapo motherboard it would still work cheaper than the upgrade. Hey Microsoft -- fix your pricing, that's stupid.

So instead of purchasing a new version, I decided that my aging computer that I haven't hooked up since we moved into our house a year ago was officially retired -- I could donate that copy to my Mother-in-Law without violating any licensing agreements.

I bought a cheap 80Gb hard-drive for $50 (+ tax, grrr) on the day of my flight out and committed to installing the new Hard-Drive and OS while I was there. The installation turned out to be the most-complicated OS install I've ever performed.

I learned that there must have been some serious security improvements to XP since the first release of the OS -- I received my copy the week XP was launched so a fresh installation needs a zillion updates. I also learned that either the high-speed Internet provider out east could care less about mitigating hackers or I just didn't realize how effective my Linksys Router is.

I ended up installing the OS three times:

The first install went flawlessly -- I kept the Internet connection unplugged until it was ready to download updates. As soon as I started up Windows Update, the initial fix (the background intelligent transfer service BITS upgrade) took forever to install. About twenty minutes in, I realized that some hacker had compromised the machine and in place of the BITS upgrade, a Trojan had been installed with the same name, and the root of the hard-drive was filling up with garbage files and executables, pop-up messages were launching: this pc was now a honey-pot for hackers. In frustration, I put the installation CD back in and rebooted -- screw this!

I wised up for the second installation and took some additional security steps. I changed permissions on the hard-drive, disabled simple sharing. I thought I turned off "File and Printer Sharing" but an hour later, I was screaming politely (in front of my father-in-law) and rebooted with the installation CD.

The third installation, I needed help. I borrowed a neighbour's DLink router and magically all the hacker non-sense stopped. Before I left Nova Scotia I convinced my father-in-law that they absolutely needed to have a router.

Looking back on it -- they claimed they had serious problems with Windows ME but fewer problems with Windows 98. Though I'm not sure how to qualify "fewer" because when I was backing up data for the re-installation their machine would crash two/three times per hour. In a way it was comical because each time it crashed my not-so-computer-friendly father-in-law would ask, "What causes that?"

I explained it the best I could -- "Running Windows 98 nearly ten years ago when everyone was on dial-up was considered "safe". Now that everyone's on broadband things have changed; security has changed. Imagine a bank with security practices from the 1950's that has no bars, silent alarms or security cameras... would you bank there?"