HMRC Website Requires Invalid Details To Be Entered

OT post coming up....
I am so annoyed this morning as I've just had the misfortune to use the HMRC website (note it's http://www.hmrc.gov.uk, as it won't work if you type http://hmrc.gov.uk but that's a story for another day). After signing up for the online VAT service which, as it seems, I am legally obliged to do I was taken to the following web form which asks me to set up a series of 'shared secrets', so-called security questions that in the future may be used to verify my identity. The form looks easy enough, but the character limits on the left may give you a glimpse of things to come...

It's obvious (and important) to provide accurate, memorable answers - and boy did I try. The problem is that the HMRC website makes this near impossible, or in my case totally impossible. Here's why.

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The Easiest Way to Enable Tethering over Bluetooth on the iPhone 3G

Note: off topic post coming up.

I've just come across a link that describes how to enable tethering on the iPhone 3G using the 3.0 software update that was released yesterday. Most of the guides I found seemed a bit complex and involved messing around in the Terminal - something that a lot of users find intimidating. But then I came across the following link (which you should access directly from your iPhone's web browser): http://help.benm.at/tethering.php
From the list that shows select your country (I chose UK), and your network provider (for most this would be O2). I installed the profile when prompted - do this at your own risk. Saying that, it's just a bunch of network profile settings so you can't really break anything much on your phone. But still, don't blame me, it's your phone.

Now that the network settings are updated you need to pair your phone with your computer via Bluetooth. To use the iPhone as a modem with a Mac, it must be running Mac OS X version 10.5.7 or later. I used my old Macbook Pro for this and the steps were as follows:

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Two Magazine Covers In One Month

It's not often that I get to be mentioned - let alone featured - in a magazine. As they say though, when it rains it pours and this month I happen to be present on the cover of two magazines. While it may not be the Times it certainly got me and my family smiling.

First up was the UK based .net magazine which reported on the London Flash Camp Round Table discussion I participated in alongside Mike Jones, Bola Rotibi, James Whittaker, David Williamson and Andrew Shorten. The editors must have liked my comparison of Flash to a Swiss army knife as that's the line that made it onto the cover :)

It gets better. Streamingmedia.com have this year nominated me as being part of their 'Streaming Media Dream Team' which is their pick for 'the most influential, innovative, and important people in the European online video space'. I'm blown away by this and I feel very humbled seeing my name listed next to people such as Mark Zaleski (CEO, Dailymotion), Jon Gisby (Channel 4) and Daniel Ek (CEO & Co-founder, Spotify) plus a whole host of other major players. All I can say is: thank you Streamingmedia.com.


Heads Up: Server Move

I've spent all week migrating a server full of clients (and my own websites) half way around the world. One site which I set up years ago and which offers free image hosting for messageboards contained 130,000 files... The FTP transfer took almost 48 hours.
But that's now behind me and the move for Flashcomguru.com should be complete - at least the site seems to be working for me. However I wanted to let you all know that the server has moved so that you can kindly let me know if you spot any dead links or otherwise broken applications.

I'm also planning a redesign for later in the year, but after this week's stress that has to wait for a bit. Enjoy the weekend everyone, I will try and do the same.


OT: Fonejacker Ringtones for iPhone (and CTU Ring)

Definitely off topic, but I can't help myself. This morning I quickly created some new ringtones for my (i)phone. If you like Fonejacker you will like those. Otherwise you can fall back on the two CTU ringtones which I've thrown into the zip as well. Otherwise go and check out Fonejacker, he may grow on you. But remember: he likes his tomatoes, and he likes 'em FRESH!

To add these to your iPhone simply unzip and drag the .m4r files into iTunes. They should work with any standard iPhone. If you want to create your own iPhone ringdings you can do so easily using Garageband. Ok, back to work I go...


R.I.P: FlashPaper Is Dead

Adobe is discontinuing the development of FlashPaper, effectively killing the product. While always living life as a bit of niche product I found it extremely versatile and especially useful to convert Powerpoint documents to SWF. Many sites still rely on this capability for showing documents in a Flash friendly format.

There have always been doubts about the future of FlashPaper ever since the Macrodobe merger and this recent announcement confirms that those doubts were valid. Farewell FlashPaper, I'll most certainly miss you.


Is Paypal.com Having Some Serious Network Issues?

Off topic, but I need to raise a flag here. For days I've been having problems accessing Paypal.com via the Ebay checkout process (I buy *a lot* of stuff on Ebay). Connections continually time out while waiting for a response from Paypal.com. Googling the problem did not bring up any useful information which surprises me since I'm pretty sure that this issue is within Ebay's network and not a problem at my end. It has also been ongoing.

Check this visual traceroute for example which I ran via a server in the US, thereby eliminating my own internet connection as the source of the problem:

I've also run a traceroute paypal.com from my home machine with the same results: the last reachable hop is ge2-6-smf1-xr01.net.ebay.com (66.135.223.46), after that it goes dead. Needless to say is that the rest of the worldwide interweb seems fine for me.

What gets me is that this problem has been apparent for about a week or more. Did anyone else encounter this? They must have done.
What is Ebay up to - surely they must be aware of this? I've sent a message to Paypal and I'm in high anticipation now to receive a nice personalised automated robot reply, probably telling me to update my antivirus software or something else equally useless ('have you tried turning it off and back on again?')...
Google Checkout, where are you when I need you? Oh yes I remember, Ebay banned you, didn't they?


Outstanding Service from ThePlanet

Off topic, but I'm sure still relevant to many readers. This morning I hopped over to Jay Charles's blog and read a post about a huge explosion at ThePlanet's Houston datacenter. ThePlanet is a large hosting provider of dedicated servers (maybe the biggest in the US?), and I run two servers there myself, one serving up the page you are currently reading.
Downtime for a popular website is of course a bad situation, but accidents do happen and not all the time is there someone to blame - they are simply that: accidents. When you face a service outage (my site and server were not affected) then all you can ask for is that the provider does everything in their power to restore availability to the sites and servers in question.
Which brings me to my point: having read this thread of posts by ThePlanet's staff, and listened to this message by their CEO made be realize the gravity of the situation (it was a miracle that nobody was killed or injured by the incident) I would like to highlight the excellent service the people involved have provided. I have been very happy with ThePlanet ever since I signed uo several years ago, but I think it takes a situation such as this to really show what a company is made of. Of course this incident puts things into perspective too: for one it shows how fragile this whole interweb thing really is, and secondly how very insignificant 'being online' can be.

In times when people are quick to criticize bad service it's important to highlight the good examples too. My hat's off to the staff at ThePlanet for putting things right as quickly as humanly possible, and for keeping their customers informed about the progress - even when there was little to report. It doesn't really matter exactly how long things take when you know that someone in Texas is working their backside off to get you back online.


What Problem is Silverlight Trying to Solve?

Usually solutions are there to solve problems, yet I am having a hard time figuring out which problem Silverlight is trying to solve. My view point on Silverlight is that of an end user since I have not yet developed any Silverlight content. This is not down to a lack of interest either, after all it is a much hyped technology, but due to a lack of development tools on my chosen operating system, OSX.

As an end user I have yet to see anything that offers any benefit to me. Quite the opposite actually. When I recently asked about Silverlight demos on the streamingmedia list was pointed to Silverlight.net by a Microsoft employee. I walked away asking myself if this was the cutting edge of Silverlight deployments - surely not, since my experience was along the lines of
- Clicked on showcase
- Received error mesage:
"Silverlight error message, ErrorCode: 3002
ErrorType: ImageError
Messsage: AG_E_NOT_FOUND

- Clicked OK, same message
- Clicked OK, same message
- Clicked OK, same message... and I was out of there.

Today I browsed around itv.com and came across their TV catchup service (UK viewing only I believe). It looked remarkably like Flash, and admittedly I got a bit excited. Since ITV is one of my clients I know that they have a very open mind when it comes to technology, and are happy to use a mix of whatever does the job including Flash, Windows Media as well as Silverlight. Good thinking. Except this time it seems, since the 'Flash' player didn't do anything. I clicked play but it just went black. I tried a different video and again, nothing. Right click.. brings up Silverlight preferences.

That explains it then. I am kidding - I'm not blaming Silverlight for what may simply be a file access problem. But why Silverlight? Is it all down to being forced by Legal to use DRMed content? What else could be the reason? The user certainly does not benefit from this, or am I missing something?

Someone tell me, what itch is Silverlight trying to scratch? Surely even the best developer workflow in the world (at least so I've heard) cannot make up for a broken user experience. I'm holding my breath for the Olympics coverage.

PS: I was given a behind the scenes look at the live streaming at ITV recently. Expect some coverage on that in the next few weeks.


Can You Follow Me?

Yes you can, as I'm now on Twitter. Note that there's more off topic chit chat flying around than on my blog but I will try and post some useful info at times. Sometimes. Ok, rarely.

Twitter is a funny one, isn't it? I'm not sure if I'll be able to keep it up. Is it a total waste of time or useful communication tool?


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