Not so much leaping as groaning

K-1909

As I only get to do this once every four years, here’s the obligatory leap day post (see also posts from 2008 and 2004). I’ve not been able to any leaping today, or anything much at all actually as I’ve been ill with gastroenteritis since yesterday. I’m starting to feel better but almost all of yesterday was spent in bed.

The photo for this post is of a Steampunk recreation of K-9 from Doctor Who, called K-1909, currently on show as part of a Steampunk exhibition at the Bradford Industrial Museum. You should go – it’s free to get in, and runs until early May.

Coffee

“Many consider complexity of circumstances and motives to be precious indulgences that can wait until a better world has been achieved.” ―Albert Murray ☕️
Photo by anokarina, under a Creative Commons License.

When wanting to choose a photo for this post, I found that none of me 2500+ Flickr photos were tagged with ‘coffee’, hence the use of someone else’s photo under license. The reason for this is that I don’t drink coffee.

Or rather, I never used to drink coffee. But now I do. Occasionally.

Until now I’ve been that awkward person who, when asked whether I wanted tea or coffee, wanted something else like water or juice or hot chocolate or anything that wasn’t a hot caffeinated beverage. But as coffee shops have become more and more prevalent I’ve been curious to see if I really do still hate coffee.

In Starbucks, I’d been having their Frappucinos for some time – the non-coffee ones – and on a day when I was feeling particularly tired after an early start I opted for a caramel coffee one, hoping it would perk me up and wouldn’t have the bitterness that I hate about normal coffee (I also don’t like dark chocolate, or bitter ales, incidentally). Thankfully, it didn’t, and so step one of accepting coffee into my life was achieved.

The problem with blended drinks like Frappucinos are that they’re cold drinks. Great in summer, when it’s warm – or some semblance thereof, this is northern England we’re talking about here – but in the cold mid-winter the last thing you want is a thick, ice cold drink when you actually want to warm up. So, again, I decided to experiment – a caramel latte. And, it wasn’t bad.

So far I’ve had a few lattes, although not all of them a success (I won’t name the outlet that gave me a latte that frankly tasted foul, but bleurgh, I had the aftertaste in my mouth for hours afterwards). Next I may push the boat out a little further and try a cappuccino.

For those of you who are hardened coffee drinkers, it may seem bizarre that I’m only now discovering coffee in my late twenties. But sometimes, rather than assuming that just because you didn’t like something 10 years ago, you won’t like it now, it’s worth trying it again.

Goodbye Melody, Hello WordPress

Leeds Station

It is with something of a heavy heart that I’ve decided to abandon Melody and move the blog to WordPress.

Long time readers will find this as a surprise – in the past, I’ve defended Movable Type when I’ve felt it under attack from WordPress ‘zealots’. Back then, WordPress was the new kid on the block, whilst Movable Type was much more established. Today, however, the situation has changed, and this is why I’ve made the change.

I left Movable Type earlier this year for a few reasons. Firstly, after trying Movable Type 5, I found it was aimed at large, professional blogs and not personal blogs like mine. The 4.3x line is still being maintained with security updates – MT 4.36 came out last week – but not with new features.

I hoped that Melody would provide a good continuation of MT 4.3x. Unfortunately I’m not that impressed – whilst it has improved some aspects of Movable Type, it hasn’t been the major step forward that I’d hoped it be. Furthermore, a number of plugins that I found really useful in MT didn’t work properly (or at all) in Melody, and as some of them were several years old and seemingly abandoned by their authors there was a slim chance of this happening.

It’s well known that the past few years has seen Movable Type stagnate. When I first started using it in 2002, there was a very active community developing plugins and themes for the platform. But this community has all but died out, and despite the best intentions of the Open Melody group it hasn’t re-ignited. The MT community is, basically, dead.

WordPress is where the community is. Whilst blogging in general is past its prime, WordPress still has a large number of themes and plugins which work with the latest version, plus active support forums. The documentation has even improved.

I’ve also changed. I don’t revel in spending all night adding new features and installing plugins. I want a blogging system that just works.

What made me choose WordPress is taking over administration for the web site for one of the student groups that some friends are involved in; this previously used WordPress and rather than try to shoe-horn it into Melody I decided to stick with it. The system proved to much easier, more manageable and more slick than MT or Melody ever was. Upgrades, in particular, were very easy. So having used it for a while, a few hours ago I decided to migrate this blog too.

Getting the blog up and running in WordPress has been pretty easy – the import process from Melody was quite straightforward and work fine. I’ve then spent no more than a couple of hours trying some themes and getting the configuration in place. Despite being a completely different system, migrating from Melody to WordPress has taken about the same time as Movable Type to Melody.

The current theme is somewhat temporary – I haven’t yet decided on a final one. In the meantime I’d welcome any comments you may have.

More Melodic

Rochdale Canal

For the first time in over 8 years, this blog is not running on Movable Type. Because I’ve migrated to Melody.

Announced in June 2009, Melody is a fork of Movable Type 4 maintained by volunteers, many of whom formerly worked for Six Apart (MT’s original developer). It carries on in the same direction as MT version 4, rather than the very enterprise-focussed MT version 5 which is now being developed by a Japanese company called Infocom.

Because of its common heritage with MT, you can switch to Melody by installing it over Movable Type, and then simply tidying up the bits that are no longer needed – there’s a handy migration guide, too. It’ll keep all of your blogs, comments and settings.

Because Melody is new, and not quite ready for a 1.0 release, there are a few minor issues still and the admin interface still looks like it needs a little polish. In particular, a number of plugins no longer work; for now, you won’t have to type the word ‘ball’ when commenting and you won’t be able to log in using your Facebook account, but hopefully new versions of those plugins will surface soon.

If you see any other funkiness, let me know.

Resurrecting a dead OS with KernelEx

I’ve come across KernelEx – it’s an open source compatibility layer for Windows 98 and Me which allows programs designed for Windows 2000 and XP to run on the older operating systems. I came by it on the VLC forums, where there are screenshots of VLC 1.0.1 and Firefox 3.5.2 running even though these programs normally wouldn’t run on such an old copy of Windows.

I can’t test KernelEx because I don’t have a copy of Windows 98 or Me to hand. In any case, both operating systems have been long abandoned by Microsoft and are probably full of unpatched security holes now. But if you’re feeling nostalgic, or just like the geeky satisfaction of getting something to work that shouldn’t normally work, give it a shot.

Melody

Just recently announced is Melody, a new open source content management system based around the blog concept that is derived from Movable Type, the software that has powered this site for nearly 7 years. It has been developed with Six Apart’s blessing, and by several former 6A employees; its development is guided by the Open Melody Software Group which counts Anil Dash from 6A as one of its directors.

The system will stay API-compatible with MT, so that plugins will still work, but may drop support for lesser used features like Trackback and PostgreSQL databases (Update: These may be spun off into plugins, not dropped altogether – see comments). Focus will be on improving development and support of weblog themes (which has always been a little clunky in MT), but ultimately the aim is to generate a community around Melody which guides the development process. MT will stay on as a product of 6A, and while there will be some code-swapping between the two Melody is essentially a fork.

It all sounds like good news and I wish the team every success with the development of Melody – once a more stable release is available I may well switch to it. WordPress has, rightly or wrongly, stolen the limelight from MT in recent years so a proper, community-driven open source alternative could pull users back to the MT/Melody platform.

(Incidentally the default user name for a new MT installation is ‘Melody’ – not sure whether that was used as an inspiration or not)

How to migrate a Parallels virtual machine to VirtualBox

A screenshot of the web site for VirtualBox

Despite Parallels and VirtualBox both being programs which run virtual machines on Mac OS X, they both use different file formats for storing the virtual machines on disk. Though I believe Parallels will open a VirtualBox disk, VirtualBox cannot automatically import Parallels disks. But it’s not impossible…

If the guest operating system, i.e. the system that is running inside Parallels, is Windows 2000/XP/Vista, then it is possible to use a free tool from VMWare to do the conversion. Here’s a step-by-step:

1. Back up your virtual machine

Seriously. We’ll need to modify it a bit before it’s converted, so you’ll want a backup copy just in case things go wrong, or if you may use Parallels again in future.

2. Uninstall Parallels Tools

This is the modifying bit. Load your Windows virtual machine in Parallels, and uninstall Parallels Tools (the helper program that adds drivers and clipboard sharing, and other stuff). This is important as otherwise your virtual machine won’t boot in VirtualBox – and I know this from experience. You also can’t uninstall Parallels Tools unless you are running Parallels at the time.

3. Close all programs

Close as many running programs in your virtual machine as possible. We’re about to take a snapshot image of it while it is running, so any unsaved data may be lost when you boot the image in VirtualBox. That includes programs with icons in your notification area, such as virus scanners, instant messaging programs etc.

4. Install VMWare Converter

Once Parallels Tools has been uninstalled (you may need to reboot the virtual machine for this), we can begin the conversion process using a tool ironically made by VMWare. Go to the download page for the VMWare Converter in whatever web browser you use in your virtual machine (it’s a Windows program) Download it, and then install it.

Run the Converter tool, and click ‘Convert Machine’ – this should pop up a wizard which walks you through the process of setting up a new virtual machine image. You want to tell it to use a ‘Physical Computer’, and then on the next screen choose ‘This Local Machine’. Select the hard disk of the virtual machine and leave ‘Ignore page file and hibernation file’ ticked as this will just bloat the new virtual disk with unnecessary rubbish.

For the type of virtual machine, select ‘Other virtual machine’, and on the next screen, give it a name (e.g. ‘Windows Vista’). Next, you will also need to save it somewhere, and this should not be the existing hard disk of the virtual machine. You can either use your Mac’s main hard disk, mapped to drive ‘Z:’ under Parallels, a network drive or an external drive if you have it forwarded through to the virtual machine. You should be able to use the top option for the type (i.e. ‘Workstation 6.x’) but if it doesn’t work try another option. Keep ‘Allow disk to expand’ checked on the next screen. Click through until you’re ready to complete, and start the conversion.

5. Go and grab a cup of coffee

Or go out shopping. Or read a few chapters of War and Peace. Either way, the machine will take a significant amount of time to convert – mine took around 45 minutes and was only around 15 GB. Bigger disks may well take longer. It helps if you don’t have lots of other programs running on your Mac at the same time as then more of your CPU juice can be used for the conversion.

6. Shut down the machine in Parallels

Now that you’ve exported the machine, shut down Windows and close Parallels. This is mostly so that you can stay within the terms of the license agreement for Windows which won’t allow multiple instances.

7. Import the disk into VirtualBox

Open VirtualBox, choose ‘File’ and then ‘Virtual Disk Manager’. Add the disk file that you created, and click OK. Then click ‘New’ to create a new virtual machine, and select the correct operating system from the list. Try to ensure that you give the virtual machine the same settings (such as RAM size) as you did in Parallels. When asked for a hard disk, click the ‘Existing’ button and choose the disk file that you created from the list. Then click Finish.

8. Boot up in VirtualBox

Hopefully all will have gone to plan, and you will be able to boot into Windows as before. All of your files and programs should be there waiting for you.

If, however, you encounter a blue screen mentioning ‘prlfs.sys’ like I did, boot the machine but press F8 during the boot to enter Safe Mode with Command Prompt. Type in cd c:\windows\system32\drivers and then rename prlfs.sys prlfs.sys.old and then reboot – that should get you up and running.

For the inquisitive, prlfs.sys is part of Parallels Tools and this should have been removed as part of step 2, however muggins here forgot to this when he tried it himself and therefore encountered this error.

9. Install VirtualBox Guest Additions

Guest Additions are to VirtualBox what Parallels Tools are to Parallels – in other words, they make Windows sit better in the virtual machine and improve integration with the host operating system. On the main VirtualBox menu, select Devices and then ‘Install Guest Additions’ and follow the on-screen instructions. Though this is optional, it will improve the experience of using Windows in VirtualBox.

Hopefully now you’ll be up and running in VirtualBox. Feel free to post comments below and I’ll try to do what I can to answer them but I’m not the world’s greatest expert in this. I also don’t know how to do this in other versions of Windows or other operating systems.

Knock-off Nigel

When you watch a British DVD, usually before the film starts, you’ll have to watch this:

But now on TV, we have this:

The message it’s trying to spread is that people who download films or buy counterfeit DVDs are sad, corner-cutting lowlifers – no ‘cool’ person would want to be like Nigel. While I like the less confrontational stance, I somehow doubt the effectiveness of the new ads.

Of course, the best one is the parody by the IT crowd:

Leaping to the Coast

I’m making sure I post something here today, since I can only do it once every 4 years. No marriage proposals yet, though.

I’m off to spend a weekend at the seaside in the vicinity of Scarborough, which will be nice provided that the weather is better than the wind and rain we have in Bradford right now.

Create a Safely Remove Hardware shortcut

A screenshot of a Safely Remove Hardware shortcut on Windows desktop.

Here’s a tip I gleamed from today’s Windows Secrets newsletter. You may well be familiar with the ‘Safely Remove Hardware’ icon which appears in your notification area (or ‘system tray’ if you must) when you plug in a removable hard drive or camera (or whatever). You may also notice that the icon sometimes isn’t there – and this is a problem which my parents’ computer randomly suffers from – which means it’s difficult to safely disconnect removable devices. The answer: a desktop shortcut.

Right-click on the desktop, select ‘New’ and then ‘Shortcut’. For the item location, copy and paste the following:

RunDll32.exe shell32.dll,Control_RunDLL HotPlug.dll

Then click ‘Next’. Call the shortcut ‘Safely Remove Hardware’, and you should be done. If you want to make it look snazzier, right-click the icon, choose ‘Properties’ and then the ‘Shortcut’ tab, click on ‘Change Icon’ and in the ‘Look for icons’ box type:

%windir%\system32\HotPlug.dll

The first icon in this file matches the ‘Safely Remove Hardware’ icon so you’ll be able to recognise it more easily.

Now, if the normal notification icon doesn’t appear, all you need do is double-click your new desktop icon to safely remove any disks before unplugging them.

Update (November 2023): This was written back in April 2007, but it still seems to work in Windows 10.