Alt-Click problems in Ubuntu-hosted VirtualBox Windows guests

Ubuntu Window Preferences

Ubuntu Window Preferences

The Alt-Click keyboard.mouse combination is a very common way of working with various flavours of Adobe Photoshop. So it was with some frustration that I couldn’t use it while working in Photoshop Elements (still on version 5, by the way; the temptation of newer versions has not struck) on a Windows XP guest in VirtualBox on my main Ubuntu system. A quick google later and a proposed solution was for me a surprising one: going to┬áSystem->Preferences->Windows on the host OS and changing the setting of the Movement Key from Alt to Super (Windows key on many keyboards). That was enough to set all in order. It seems that a setting on the host operating system was preventing a piece of software running on the guest from behaving as expected. That’s all in the past now that I have got my clone brush functionality back and can work as normal again.

An alternative use for Woopra

Google Analytics is all very fine with its once a day reporting cycle but the availability of real time data dose have its advantages. WordPress.com’s Stats plugin goes some way to serving the need but Woopra trumps it in every way apart from a possible overkill in the amount of information that it makes available. The software may be in the beta phase and it does crash from time to time but its usefulness remains more than apparent.

One of its uses is seeing if there are people visiting your website at a time when you might be thinking of making a change like upgrading WordPress. Timing such activities to avoid a clash is a win-win situation: a better experience from your visitors and more reliable updates for you. After all, it’s very easy to make a poor impression and an unreliable site will do that faster than anything else so it’s paramount that your visitors do not get on the receiving end of updates, even if they are all for the better.

Technical considerations regarding the discussion aspect of blogging

When making a start in the world of blogging, there are so many things to consider that you almost need a trial run first to learn the lingo. In fact, getting up to speed by using a service like that offered by Blogger or WordPress.com seems a very sensible starting point. Even so, the business is like building a house in that you only really what you are knowing after you have done the deed and made all the mistakes. That is particularly true when you go down the self-administered blog route. For starters, it’s so easy to pick the wrong domain name or hosting provider. Selecting your blogging software is the next step but that may not be so tricky; WordPress does a reasonable job and there’s always Movable Type, Expression Engine, Drupal (yes, really) or Habari.

That mention of blogging software brings me to something that I encountered recently: commenting functionality. I am coming around to the idea that this is probably something that needs to be considered up front because of the nature of blogging. After all, anyone that reads The Blog Herald regularly should be familiar with the idea of blogging conversations and that means that the technology to make it happen should be easy for visitors to use and easy for bloggers to administer. However, the two can collide. For one thing, there are a myriad of choices available to the blogger and the blight of comment spam is ever pervasive and growing.

When it comes to comment spam, it is best to realise that there are two sources of responses to a blog post: visitor comments or trackbacks (pingbacks?) from other blogs. I am of the opinion that the latter is probably the channel where most of the detritus travels and various anti-spam solutionss are on offer to curb its spread. Names from the WordPress world like Akismet, Spam Karma, Simple Trackback Validation and Bad Behaviour come to mind. The former can also be used, particularly when the unscrupulous make use of low cost labour in low cost countries, and that’s when the thorny questions of user registration and CAPTCHA‘s arise. There is something to be said for not going to extremes with these and just stick with less onerous rules and filtering on the server side.

I must admit to having staggering into forcing visitors to register prior to adding a comment and then making them log in thereafter. I think that it’s for security reasons but WordPress creates a password and then sends it to the person who is registering rather than displaying on a web page. That can create another problem: what happens if the email fails to arrive? In the last week, this has happened with a visitor to my hillwalking blog and there could be a number of reasons for the non-arrival of the relevant email. One is ironic: being an automated email, it is getting stuck in the spam filters of the recipient’s mailbox and so never gets to them. It could also be a bug with WordPress itself (I have raised a ticket and am awaiting what Automattic might have to say to it) or a consequence of some setting made by a hosting provider. All of that makes it hard to track down the cause of the issue but it kicks off other thoughts as to its resolution. One is to remove the needed for registration and logging in in the first place but there are third party services that may help too. The former has turned out to be the case for this blog and it seems to be performing well enough so it is an acceptable option.

When it comes to using third party comment handling systems, what needs to be considered is how well they work with your blog. For instance, I gave Disqus a quick whirl and soon realised that I needed to update the themes for my WordPress blogs if I was to use it on an ongoing basis. Otherwise, it worked fine but I was left wondering if it would have been better to have brought it in when I started a blog rather than part way through and with comments made using the existing WordPress functionality. There’s also Intense Debate and I am almost certain that there are more like it but I’ll be sticking with what WordPress offers for now. The theme for my hillwalking blog has been modified to allow prospective commenters to get in touch with me if they are having problems. That’s is only an interim approach while I consider what the way forward will be.

Firefox 3, RealPlayer, Ubuntu and BBC’s iPlayer

With the record attempt due today for Firefox 3 downloads, I thought that it would be a good time for me to update my advice for getting BBC’s iPlayer going in Firefox running on Ubuntu. First, you need RealPlayer 11 for Linux. Once downloaded, the file RealPlayer11GOLD.bin needs to be made executable before running it with administrative privileges. The following command do this:

chmod +x RealPlayer11GOLD.bin

sudo ./RealPlayer11GOLD.bin

There is a catch though and it is that while the RealPlayer 11 installation is seamless for Firefox 2, the same cannot be said for Firefox 3 because directory locations have been changed such plugins are now found in /usr/lib/firefox-addons/plugins. The result that copies of or symbolic links to nphelix.xpt and nphelix.so are needed in that location. The following commands do the trick:

sudo ln -s /opt/real/RealPlayer/mozilla/nphelix.xpt /usr/lib/firefox-addons/plugins/nphelix.xpt

sudo ln -s /opt/real/RealPlayer/mozilla/nphelix.so /usr/lib/firefox-addons/plugins/nphelix.so

To cap all of this, I have seen advice that libtotem-complex-plugin.so needs to be removed from the Firefox plugins directory as well. I am not sure about this but I did that and all is working well for me. Let’s hope that continues to be the case.

iTunes: a resource hog?

When I first started to use iTunes, it very much played well with other software applications running. Then, a few versions later, the playback began to suffer with iTunes running in any way other than on its own. A solution that I have is to fire up the Windows Task Manager, go to the Processes tab and find iTunes.exe in the list. The next thing is to right-click on this, select the Set Priority and change the setting to Above Normal. Windows will warn you about what you are doing but it usually doesn’t cause any other problem. Yes, it sounds a bit extreme but it always solves the playback problem.

So long as iTunes is merely playing music, all is well. However, when it starts ripping CD’s, it’s a wholly different matter. That is a CPU intensive operation and setting the process priority to Low is a very good idea. I recently got caught out by a default setting of ripping any music CD inserted into the PC and, at Above Normal priority, the PC got locked up. Eventually, I got things back under control and lowered the priority. Needless to say, iTunes will just list the contents of an inserted CD from now on. I have learnt my lesson; keeping the command line open to get at command line process tools would be a very good idea for the future, especially as I know where to find these on the web.