BT Marketing People Are Evil

There is a sick practice in marketing in telecoms that is much worse than the misleading speeds issue Ofcom and the ASA have recently been looking at. Let’s face it, anyone who knows what a Megabit actually means is likely to realise the quoted “up to” speed means very little in real terms. No, a much bigger issue with the broadband industry is misleading price claims, which have been a pet peeve of mine for some months now. BT are not the only ones guilty of this, but from what I’ve seen they are the worst offenders – employing similar tactics for other products, like their mobile plan.

BT Broadband Advertising - misleading?Without the slightest hint of shame, BT advertise their unlimited option 3 broadband service is advertised on their site, on a page comparing their three plans, as “From only £18.99 a month”. Normally you expect a catch when you see the words “from only” preceding a price, and that’s fine if you’re adding extras on top of a basic plan, but here, the advertised price is essentially a headline-grabbing lie. Contrast with Virgin Media, who advertise their headline introductory price first, but immediately followed by their regular price (and applicable conditions) given virtually equal prominence.

You see, when you click on “more about option 3” (the ads for other plans or ‘options’ all contain similar lies) you’re taken to a page explaining that it’s really £18.99 for just 6 months of an 18 month contract, then £24.99. Basically, I don’t see why BT (and others) should be allowed to get away with advertising a price of £18.99 for a service that actually costs £22.99 a month over the minimum term and obviously more if, as BT would like, you stay on the plan at the full price once that term has ended. Worse yet, the “order now” link takes you directly to the Option 3 sign-up page without the slightest hint that you’ll be paying over 20% more than you they told you. I wonder would they actually let you complete the registration without informing you?! (I got as far as them asking me for my MAC number).

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nerd. links – Fix Firefox/Flash CPU Thrashing

I love FireFox, both as a web browser and as a web designer. I love it because it works, I love it for adhering (much better than IE ever will anyway) to web standards and I love it for the handy plugins that you can get.

I hate it though, for thrashing my CPU to 99% whenever I load some pages with flash animations in them. UnitedWebHosting which, as of this date, hosts this site (though probably not for long) is one that’ll do it. Today, I went to ZDnet UK only for a couple of Intel ads to do the same.

It seems like a bit of a joke that a company the size of Adobe (the makers of Flash: they write the plugin, not Mozilla) haven’t managed to resolve this, fairly major, bug. I’m sure they know about it, I mean different people seem to have been talking about since at least January last year.

FlashBlock inserts placeholders for Flash animationsObviously while FireFox is hogging 99% of your CPU there’s only 1% to share among the rest of the programs you have running, so Outlook and the rest didn’t have much of a hope of doing anything at all until I killed the FireFox process in task manager. As this wasn’t the first time this had happened, I decided to go hunting for a solution – which brings me to FlashBlock (hat-tip to The Idiot).

FlashBlock uses JavaScript to replace flash animations in web pages with placeholders (an empty square with a flash logo in the middle). Don’t worry though, clicking this will run the flash animation if you really want to see something (e.g. if you visit YouTube or another site where the primary content is encoded in Flash files). In fact you can even specify a ‘white-list’ of sites in which flash content will run automatically.

Nokia N95 8GB on Vodafone UK by Christmas

The good news is that Nokia’s new “N95i”, or Nokia N95 8GB as it looks like being officially dubbed, is going to see a UK release this side of Christmas. The bad news is that it seems to be a Vodafone exclusive. This is not good news for anyone that was hoping to get a good deal on it as, in my experience anyway, Vodafone seem to be much more expensive than O2 and Orange in terms of tariff deals (although to be fair they’re all getting more expensive for handset prices).

What’s the big deal with the new N95 8GB anyway? Well, there are a few tweaks to the N95 formula: for a start I’ve wanted a phone equipped with WiFi for a good while now, but while the N95 met this criterion it apparently ate batteries, so the new 8GB version Nokia are releasing has a bigger battery as well as an even bigger 2.8″ screen (very useful when using the wireless to browse the internet) and has 8GB of internal flash memory instead of an expansion slot. I really badly wanted an N95 but I’ve been hanging off until this comes out, though I may be hoping for too much for Vodafone to have it available on a £30/month tariff before Christmas (the busiest time of the year for mobile phone sales).

Ah well, maybe I can get one in the January sales?

For more info on the N95 8GB see the Nokia or “tweaks” links in the post or see this Dialaphone blog post.

Time Competition Commission looked at Apple

Being a small player struggling in a market dominated by a single juggernaut is something you’d expect Apple to have sympathy for, but apparently this is not so. The slap on the wrist Microsoft received from the EU Competition Commission for abusing it’s monopoly to stifle competition has just been upheld in court and you’d expect Apple, as one of their competitors in the market concerned, to be pleased. Then again, Apple seem to be getting pretty good at this abuse of monopoly thing themselves, and there are already calls that the EU Competition Commissioner should move on to Apple.

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ACT – SessionID and Login Problems With ASP .NET 2.0

I recently encountered a problem with Microsoft’s ACT (part of Visual Studio 2003) when testing a web service by emulating a browser-based client. For posterity’s sake, here’s an overview of the problem and, more importantly, the solution.

Background
Using Application Center Test (ACT) to help automate performance testing designed to compare the performance of a web service running on ASP .NET 1.1 with ASP .NET 2.0.

Problem
Originally .NET 2.0 seemed to be performing many times better than .NET 1.1, but it was soon discovered that when running .NET 2.0, ATC was receiving a lot of 302 errors on 2.0 which it wasn’t on 1.0. On further investigation the Web Service wasn’t actually making all the correct database calls and on installing HTTP Monitor, it became apparent that the login wasn’t working. When I recorded the test using Internet Explorer 7, the HTTP requests worked as expected, however when ATC repeated them it was not returning the ASP.NET_SessionID.

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Vista Seems to Suck at DVD Reading

Tonight I was attempting to rip a DVD to an AVI-XviD file thinking it would be easy – unfortunately not. It’s not a copy-protected DVD or anything, just a plain old DVD-R.

First I tried VirtualDub MPEG or whatever it’s called. It seemed to be either taking ages or not responding so I gave up and ended it. Next I downloaded DVDx and tried to use it to rip the files from the DVD. Still painstakingly slow (to the point I wasn’t sure it was still doing anything) and eventually gave up with a message about a CRC error. So, I decided to copy the VOB files (actually the whole TS_VIDEO directory) to hard drive and work from there.

It was then I realised the problem wasn’t with the aforementioned programs but with Vista itself. There were two 1 GB VOB files and the first of these refused to be copied. Vista was throwing up an error which advised me it “Cannot read from the source file or disk”. Bugger. Thinking it might be a problem with either Vista or the DVD drive I tried it in my trusty laptop (still running Windows XP Pro). It worked!

So how do I know Vista’s the problem? Well I tried to copy the file over my network back to the Vista PC and got a similar looking error dialogue, this time saying “Network Error: There is a problem accessing \\laptop\directory. Make sure you are connected to the network and try again.”

By this stage I gave up and just downloaded DVDx to my laptop, which I was able to use to copy the video to an Xvid AVI file.  Nice work Micro$oft.  Now all I have to do is successfully convert it to NTSC format and I’m flying – unfortunately that’s as much fun as pulling teeth, and much more painful.

Solved: Dashboard 404s After WordPress 2.2 Upgrade

Immediately after I upgraded (using Fantastico) from WordPress 2.1.x to 2.2.1 I noticed the Dashboard in the admin was giving me problems. I was getting 404 pages displaying in the middle of the page (even though the source code was fine and there actually aren’t any iframes there). I’ll get to the solution in a minute (so read on) but first I want to tell my story (just because I can).

Initially I thought this was because there had been a problem writing some of the files so I downloaded a clean copy of wordpress and uploaded the files manually over FTP. This didn’t help. Having eliminated browser problems by testing in IE as well as FireFox, I noticed that the page seemed to be loading fine and these 404s were appearing after the page loaded. Guessing Javascript I disabled this feature and tried again. It worked!

It was about this time that I stumbled across some information in the WordPress support forums pointing to a AJAX issue. It seems to be something to do with displaying the dynamic information like notices from WordPress (and incoming links?) and, more specifically, with the Content-type HTTP header being returned having a newly-added character encoding field.

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nerd. links – Flash is Evil

I’m graduating on Wednesday and have been looking about town (Belfast) for somewhere to have a meal afterwards to celebrate with the family. I’ve been round a few places (Yum looks like the favourite at the moment) and now Bourbon has been suggested. “Good idea!” I thought. I’ll just check their menu on their web site.

Unfortunately that’s easier said than done. It’s all fine until you hit the back button to go back from the Set Menu to the A la Carte one. You see the site is a wholesale abuse of Flash and it reminded me of an 8 year old article called Flash is Evil. The article may be getting on a bit, but every word’s as true now as it was then.

Flash has it’s uses and designing entire web sites (particularly web site navigation) is not one of them.

Stop Monitor.exe Hogging CPU

I recently noticed that my CPU fan on my Acer Aspire 5002 WLMi notebook was running at full speed much more than it normally should and the system itself was running more slowly than usual. When I opened task manager I was finding a process called Monitor.exe was hogging anything up to 99% of the CPU. I terminated the process and that solved everything – usually until I rebooted.

But what to stop this happening again?

It turns out that monitor.exe was related to Acer eRecovery – a tool that helps recover your laptop from a major crash. However after a bit of googling I found out that it needs the D: partition that comes with the laptop (apparently it needs to be in FAT32 as well, but I don’t think this is true because mine had been NTFS for months and I hadn’t noticed any problems).

The problem seemingly arises because I recently reformatted the D partition into a few ext3 and other partitions for installing Linux (Ubuntu to be precise). Since Windows can’t read Linux filesystems, eRecovery can no longer find the D: partition which it, for some reason, seems to need.

Simple solution? Well I disabled Monitor.exe using Start -> Run -> msconfig and disabling Monitor.exe, which was listed at the bottom of the list under the Startup tab.

Premium Rate “Quizzes” – They’re Just Lotteries

Name that footballer: WYANE OORNEY

Don’t you hate those disgustingly easy quiz “questions” on TV? IIRC the reason for the simple questions is that the TV companies can charge people to enter a competition but avoid lottery regulations by claiming there is an element of “skill” in the game.

Anyway, at 2AM this morning while working on a web site I spotted this beauty of a jumbled footballer’s name on Channel Five‘s “Five US” channel courtesy of Quiz Call. And at the very least I counted 300 odd suckers who entered this in the space of 5 minutes.

As if the “mystery” footballer wasn’t easy enough, they gave the following clues (among others):

  • He plays for Man United
  • He transferred to Man Utd. from Everton
  • He’s involved with Colleen whatserface

I ask you, with questions like this, who are they trying to kid? I don’t remember exactly what lottery laws they’re trying to avoid, but I thought Ofcom (or someone) were supposed to be clamping down on this abuse. Cle arly doing a bang up job there.