Category Archives: Computer stuff

I’ve been using shortened URLs on announcements to quickly measure their effectiveness. Just append a “+” to the end of it to get an information page with the number of clicks.

Restoring old WebCT backups

Just in case this ever comes up again, a note to remind myself how to do this.

Today I was asked if it would be possible for me to recover some old documents that a lecturer had placed in their unit WebCT site in 2004 or 2005.
While we don’t promise to keep backups of sites for more than two years after the end of a semester, we actually try to keep snapshots for much longer, on consumer grade hard drives (no guarantees!).

WebCT backups at the time (before my time, and obviously before Moodle), were just kept as WebCT backup ZIP files without metadata – it was this important to know the title (or partial) of the site at the time, to be able to find it. Even back then, it was thus common practise to name a site by the unit number.

All I had to do is look through the University handbook to find what the unit number was back before the unit number revolution of 2006, and search the archive for backups with that number.

dir /S /B | find "1395"

The ZIP file that I found was of course a WebCT CE4.1 backup zip, which has a broken header. Using WinRAR or similar one can repair the archive and then extract it.

The backup drive will now be packed up again, and be locked back up until the next time someone needs it. Looking at the ‘stats’, with this being the first request to have anything restored from that long ago, this ‘next time’ should be about 2015.

Dear Ubuntu

Dear Ubuntu,

it’s nice to see you again, it’s been a while. I think the last time we saw each other was when you were only seven. Now you’re eleven, you’ve grown!

You’ve changed a little, but I’m not sure I like everthing about you.

You’ve changed your taskbar, to look a bit more like your cousin Win7’s, which is a nice touch, I think. But why do you want to hide it all the time – be proud of it. Why do I have to argue with you for an hour before you accept that I like seeing it. It’s even worse than your cousin MacOS, and I’ve always disliked how unwilling she was to change for people.

It also seems that while you’re looking really fit and mobile, you’ve become more sedentary – on our first hike you completely exhausted the battery in two hours! (And I did warn you.) Your cousin Win7 was able to pace himself much better, we used to go for near on four hours. And before we even left you kept on complaining about missing the comfort of a full mouse, and refused to use the trackpad and emulate the three buttons. You never used to be like this in the past, you were such an avid hiker back then.

I would also have thought that by now you would have learned to do some of the more grown-up things: managing photos and music is something you’ll really need to learn. And if you continue like you did in the last week, I’ll be worried about your future career. Many workplaces use Exchange, and you don’t seem to want to make an effort with it. Your Evolution is way too slow and buggy. You have that Thunderbird party trick to make up for it (it’s fast), but your trick was only version three, and why did I have to teach you version five?

Thank you for helping me write this, though, Ubuntu. You really are very good at browsing the internet and dealing with file transfers. Without you the recovery of my hosting debacle would have taken even longer (but I’m not done yet, anyway).

what a mess…

I had some hosting trouble and everything is jumbled up…


Quickmail block

The Quickmail module for Moodle has been on the list of plugins to test and implement on the Moodle instance I worry about for a while.

I have now had a chance to play with it a little more and to understand what it is meant to do. As a result, I don’t think that it does what we want it to do. Read more »

this is the last straw – Picasa

Dear Google Picasa,

you are now dead to me.

For ages you have annoyed me wit hiding metadata such as comments, ratings and albums somewhere in secret files and folders, and you have made it annoyingly difficult to keep the photos and albums in sync on my several computers.

I managed to coax you into it by mapping and symlinking folders on network drives, and it worked, as long as I didn’t attempt to use you wile not connected to these network drives.

Now you forced me to update you in the middle of the night. I had been clinking ‘update later’ for days, and so you just waited until I was asleep.And now you had to rescan all my tens of GB of photos! why couldn’t you just remember the thumbnails? And where is my meta data? Where are my albums? you forgot all about them! you stink, Picasa! The only reason I had continued using you instead of the other programs I found, is that I got free photo storage with you. but that’s not enough of a carrot any more. Good bye!

I might still use the web albums part of you, but it’s so annoying to upload anything to there without the software, it’s just not funny.

Now… to retrieve all the information you lost for me, and to import it into Zoner Photo Studio: that keeps all the meta data in a more accessible format.

fixing the Dell Precision M65

Last Wednesday my (almost) four year old laptop (Dell Precision M65) broke.

I was in the middle of typing an email when the scree just turned black, and it wouldn’t react to anything. I figured it had crashed and just powered it off, and then on again. But it didn’t come back on. The Power and WiFi light came up, and the NumLock light as well, but that was it. No fan (although it rarely comes on right at boot), and more worrying: no hard disk spin-up.

I got worried and turned it off again. Unplugged AC power, took out the battery and hard drives, and tried again. Nothing. Read more »

thoughts a month after switching to a Mac

A month or so ago I switched to a Mac at work. The four year old Dell Precision got replaced with a beautiful 21 inch iMac. I still have the Dell 24 inch screen connected as secondary display, as I will discuss below.

I have found a few things have improved with switching to a Mac, but I also found that there are some niggling issues that sometimes make me want to get my PC back.

Let’s talk about some of the annoyances first. They’re all things I will eventually get used to, and they probably just stand out because I have been using Windows 7 for such a long time at home.
I have the impression that MacOS isn’t really made for multiple screens (although I think that Macs were first in supporting multiple monitors). The Menu bar and dock always have to be on the same, primary screen. This means that If I have a program open on the secondary screen, I am required to travel all the way over to the other screen and use the menu bar, and then travel back to the app. I reckon my mouse clocks twice as much distance as it did in Windows, because there every window has it’s own menu bar (no RSI yet…).
I also miss being able to quickly resize windows to preset spots using Winsplit Revolution (on XP) or the built in function in Win7. Is there something like this in MacOS that I haven’t discovered yet? And I miss UltraMon. I really like Expose though, who ever wanted to switch tasks another way?

Another small complaint is Entourage. Actually, this is my main complaint. My workplace is an Exchange user and so I pretty much have to use Entourage to get the most out of it. Unfortunately, it seems to be a lot slower to me. It feels a bit like using Outlook 97, to be honest. Emails only get downloaded every few minutes, and while it downloads my mail everything else in Entourage gets less responsive. The entire Entourage UI, while very similar to Outlook, somehow feels less efficient, requiring more clicks and getting less stuff on the same amount of screen.

I also can’t save Office documents directly to hidden network shares. I have to save them locally and copy them using finder.

There are great things that make me happy about having switched to a Mac, though:
I really like Expose. this is such a quick way to switch tasks that I can’t believe I ever survived in XP. I also very much like VMWare Fusion. It’s such a nice, snappy VM, and the whole Unity thing is just neat. It was annoying though that the vital hardware is not the same as in VMWare Server. The XP VM had a major fit when I moved it over and I had to reactivate it (via telephone, because XP activation didn’t like the authenticated http proxy).
The screen on the iMac is just brilliant. I can see why people pay thousands of dollars for Apple Cinema displays. If I was a designer I would probably appreciate it even more.

I have not needed to restart the iMac once since I got it on my desk with the standard image provided by our IT team. Neat. (Actually, I restarted once: we had a power outage last week)
Important for me, some of the really trivial things are faster on the Mac: opening files, waking up, connecting to disconnected network drives. This may seem trivial, but it does make a difference. If only the finder had wider columns. I can’t read any of my file names.

the iMac is a great improvement over the XP PC I had before. No surprise there. But I don’t think it’s better than my PC with Windows 7 at home. Both the iMac and the PC are about the same in price, totalling at just under AU$ 2000 each, so I think I should have gone for a PC to fit in with the corporate systems, and with a Mac to have fun.

PS: I don’t want this to be a Mac-vs-PC post. I realise that that’s how it reads, but I think that both are just fine for me to do what I need to do.
I grew up using Windows 3.1 onwards and probably conditioned that way. But I just need to learn some of the tricks and I’ll reach my goal: where the platform really doesn’t matter.


It’s time to write something about my studies again. I’ve been straying into the Game Programming area using XNA Game Studio.

Read more »

MoodlePosium Presentation: myMoodle changes (MDL-19430)

Last Monday and Tuesday I attended the MoodlePosium at the University of Canberra. The event was organised jointly by University of Canberra, the Australian National University and the Canberra Institute of Technology, with support from Moodle Partner Netspot.

On Tuesday I gave a short 10 minute presentation on MDL-19430, on what I have unfortunately called “user-determined order and number of courses on myMoodle“. Unfortunately, because with a mouthful of a title like that, it was difficult for delegates to take notes. Aside from the title however, it seemed to me that the functionality added to myMoodle through MDL-19430 was well received. As such I am hoping that I will be able to justify spending more time on it, to improve on it and hopefully make it work in Moodle 2.0.

MDL-19430, the hack that allows users to set the order courses are displayed in on their myMoodle page, and which also allows users to decide how many of their courses are displayed on myMoodle when it loads, currently is a ‘local’ hack that overrides built-in behaviour. Unfortunately it isn’t a module that you can just plunk into your installation of Moodle: First, you’ll need to install MDL-17446 (LOCAL: my moodle centre column override), which will allow you to create a separate file for custom code. (There are more LOCAL handlers in the tracker to override other functionality)

MDL-19430 (user-determined order and number of courses on myMoodle) then just provides this custom functionality. So it almost works like a module once the LOCAL hack is installed.

Once installed, users can ‘Turn Editing On’ on their myMoodle page, and use up and down arrows next to their courses to change the order (on the todo list: drag and drop). This order is saved in a custom profile field, so it will be remembered between sessions.
Users can also use a drop-down list to decide how many of their courses should be visible in ‘Normal Mode’. This means that they could decide to only show their current four classes, or show the ones they are most interested in first.

In the run-up to the MoodlePosium I created a short movie showing how it works here:
My talk from the MoodlePosium should also come online soon.

Please let me kow what you think, either here or in the tracker, or in the forum discussion. We have now been using this on the production server for a week. Students will have their second week of break this week, and we’ll see what they say when all 15k or so of them are back.