New UK Electricity Pylons?

This video on new pylon designs misses the option of putting the cables underground (or underwater) instead. This would have a higher up front cost but lead to much better looking countryside and probably lower total cost of ownership.

The lower total cost of ownership was the argument Dr Liam Fox (Defence Secretary) used in his recent objection to a scheme to place new pylons in his Somerset constituency.

If we do have to endure yet more pylons, I’d vote for the sail design, “Plexus”, by Amanda Levete Architects & Arup, shown in the attached photo.


Computers and Internet

A SPDY end to web site content sharding?

With the advent of Google’s SPDY improvements to the HTTP protocol, could we see an end in sight to the practice of sharding content on web sites?

In the news today (from The Register) Google report a 15% increase in speed when using SPDY to communicate to their web services from Chrome browsers. The SPDY technology seems to establish a single TCP session in which multiple HTTP like requests are managed in an efficient manner. It means, for instance, that multiple requests can be processed concurrently rather than the two (or six in recent browsers) per domain limit.

The practice of content sharding is used, in part, to achieve a similar effect. It allows browsers to believe they’re downloading from different servers and so they can initiate more concurrent connections. Another benefit is in reducing the payload of cookies by using domains the cookies haven’t been set for.

SPDY should take care of all of this for us. And, in fact, using separate domains to serve images, CSS and Javascript will perform worse with SPDY as there will be multiple TCP sessions established. So, assuming this technology becomes more widely available on the server side, we should probably start selectively sharding content on the basis of the capabilities of the user agent.

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Computers and Internet

EU Cookies Directive & eCommerce Analytics

Article 66 of this set of directives,, from the Official Journal of the European Union states that:

“Third parties may wish to store information on the equipment  of a user, or gain  access to information  already stored, for a number of purposes, ranging  from the legitimate  (such as certain  types of cookies)  to those involving unwarranted intrusion into the private sphere (such as spy­ware or viruses). It is therefore of paramount importance that users be provided with clear and comprehensive information when engaging in any activity which could result in such storage or gaining of access. The methods of providing information and offering the right to refuse should be as user-friendly as possible. Exceptions to the obligation to provide information and offer the right to refuse should be limited to those situations where the technical storage or access is strictly necessary for the legitimate purpose of enabling the use of a specific service explicitly requested by the subscriber or user. Where it is technically possible and effective, in accordance with the relevant provisions of Directive 95/46/EC, the user’s consent to processing may be expressed by using the appropriate settings of a browser or other application. The enforcement of these requirements should be made more effective by way of enhanced powers granted to the relevant national authorities.”

It’s not clear to me what “third parties” constitutes, but I assume it does not include the owner of the website the user is visiting. So Google Analytics / Ominiture Site Catalyst would count as a third party.

It’s possible you could interpret the use of an eCommerce site as a user explicitly requesting the service of browsing products for the purpose of purchasing. If you could, then the storage of analytics tags could be interpreted as being necessary to provide an effective browse and purchase experience through process of analysis and improvement. Then it might pass as being the “legitimate purpose of enabling the use of a specific service explicitly requested by the subscriber or user”. It does feel rather tenuous though.

This is all personal opinion and is not legal advice. Please seek somewhere else to pin the blame if you get taken to court for not asking your customers for permission to store cookies!


Internet Explorer 6 – Dying Days?

IE 6 was once the most popular browser on the market. This despite its lack of adherence to standards and its poor rendering performance. These days it’s on the way out, and no-one in IT is mourning it. The graph here shows the trend of IE 6’s market share over the last year and a half (source:

The story’s not that simple though. Corporations still persist in forcing their employees to use the browser, doubling its share during working hours, and Microsoft have still committed to supporting it for some years yet. Problems with an attack on Google via IE6 security flaws in December 2009 don’t seem to have galvanised companies into ditching it, but maybe Google’s subsequent withdrawal of support for IE 6 in GMail and other Google Apps “later in 2010” will accelerate this.


ASP.NET HTTP 400 Bad Request Exception

Someone on my project pointed me at this useful article from Alois Kraus about the 400 “Bad Request” exception coming from ASP.NET. In particular, it cleared up the way that length checking is performed on a URL in an incoming request.

On my project we are relying on a key from FAST ImPulse, a search engine for eCommerce apps. This key is included in a URL. In certain deep search scenarios, e.g. lots of filtering on facets of a product, this key can become very long. This has been resulting in the “Bad Request” messages. It turns out that there is a difference between including this key in the path of the URL and as a query string parameter. For example:{key}/results.aspx{key}

If {key} is close to 260 characters, the first URL will be rejected by ASP.NET whereas the second will be accepted. ASP.NET only allows the path part of the URL to reach 260 characters. As the article mentions, ASP.NET 4 allows this limit to be changed.


Setting up a keyboard shortcut for View History in Visual Studio using TFS

Note – this post refers to and is tested with Visual Studio Team System 2008.

If you’re using Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server, you’ll probably be viewing the history of files in your solution fairly regularly. Unfortunately there’s no keyboard shortcut set up for that. If you wish to set one up, here’s what to do:

  1. Go to the “Tools” menu and select “Options” and then “Keyboard”
  2. In "Show commands containing:” type “TfsHistory” and select “File.TfsHistory” in the list.
  3. In “Press shortcut keys”, put in your desired shortcut. Take a note of anything appearing in “Shortcut currently used by” to ensure you don’t overwrite anything.
  4. Click “Assign”

In the screenshot below, I’m setting up “Ctrl+Shift+Alt+V” followed by “H” to be the short cut. Once I click “Assign”, I’m done.


Love Clean Streets – The Result

I posted recently about and the mobile phone app of the same name. I wasn’t sure that Merton Council were going to act on anything I’d reported, but I’m happy to say that they’ve sorted out all the graffiti that was on public property already. So, a genuinely useful service.

I do wonder if graffiti taggers will start using it to figure out where the freshly painted surfaces are for them to be the first to tag up again! Tags:


Love Clean Streets

I hate seeing (bad) graffiti or fly tipping anywhere, but especially around our own neighbourhood. I keep thinking I should get the council to do something about it with all that council tax I pay, but it has always seemed a bit too much of a hassle to get around to doing it.

Now there’s an easy way to let councils know, and that’s via an organisation called “Love Clean Streets”. They provide an iPhone app and a Windows Marketplace app of the same name. The app will prompt you to take a picture and enter some brief text about the issue. It will then tag it with your account (Twitter/Facebook/Windows Live/etc.) and the GPS co-ordinates from your phone.

The result is a public online database of environmental issues filed by local authority and ward. Some councils have signed up to provide updates on issues and let the site know when they have been rectified. Those councils that don’t currently do so, like mine (Merton), may soon bow to pressure once the database builds up.

Computers and Internet

Solid State Hard Drives

Over the years I’ve built up a few PCs by researching and buying components then stitching them all together. I always strived for the highest performing computer I could buy without breaking the bank. Recently I discovered that the single best way of increasing my computers’ performance by changing a single component is by replacing the hard drives with solid state drives (SSD).

Solid state drives are essentially some kind of random access memory packaged into a box with hard drive data and power connections that can be used anywhere a normal hard drive could be used. There are a several different types of SSD drives, but the most common are the 2.5” Flash Memory based drives. The 2.5” means that they’re designed to fit in the standard space inside a laptop. The “flash” bit means that they retain their data even when there’s no power, as per a flash USB memory stick. There are other, faster, versions based on DRAM that require an on-board battery or a constant external power supply to retain data.

I upgraded my home PC with a Samsung 256 GB drive and my work laptop with an Intel X25-M 160 GB drive. These are both 2.5”. In order to install the Samsung drive in my home PC I needed to purchase a caddy, such as this Akasa Dual 2.5” mounting kit. It just pads out the space so that you can mount the drive in a standard PC 3.5” drive bay.

The capacity of the drives at the moment isn’t comparable to that of traditional drives (with 2 TB drives currently available for £135), so at home I keep all my photos, videos and music on traditional hard drives (2 x 400 GB, using RAID 1 to offer some level of data safety) and leave the SSD ones for applications.

If you follow the links to those drives on the Overclockers site, you’ll see that they’re not that cheap. However, the speed increase I’ve achieved on both systems is excellent. Application start up time is a fraction of what it used to be on the same machines. Search performance is noticeably faster in both Outlook and Windows in general. The whole system seems somewhat snappier. I had been thinking about building another PC from scratch with a faster CPU and more memory, but having made the SSD upgrade I doubt I’ll bother for another year or so.

It’s worth noting that if you’re upgrading to an SSD you’ll probably be wanting to install your operating system on that drive too. It’s a good time to upgrade to Windows 7, which is what I did. Great OS.

Thanks to Avanade UK’s “gadget allowance” for funding these purchases!

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Arthur Bond

By popular request, here are a couple of pictures of Arthur, for a change! It’s been six weeks since the operation on his upper lip, and it’s healing well. You can still see the scars, and they could be there for up to a year. However, there’s already a large improvement. The next major operation is to give him a haircut. We will get around to that, I promise. (Arthur, if you’re reading this in several years time, I apologise for the length of your fringe!) 

In other news he has his first tooth in the unusual position (I am reliably informed) of the top left. He’s being quite brave about it all, but it’s obviously not the most fun a baby can have! Poor chap.