Latest Entries

BBC iPlayer Desktop Early Programme Expiry

Thu 19th Aug 2010 18:05 GMT by Andrew from Frome, U.K.

Ugh, now listed on the BBC iPlayer Help website for over a month, the ‘early programme expiry’ bug is still annoying users.

iPlayer message box showing programmes that have expired early

The bug sees programmes that have not exceeded their expiry date expiring without warning when the app is opened. The expiry dialogue unhelpfully only lists the episode name and not the actual programme so in the above dialogue I haven't a clue what the programme was that expired with the name “Episode 1”, if I did I might be able to download it again.

According to some folks in the BBC iPlayer forum programmes have expired whilst they're still downloading them. Unfortunately there's almost no communication from the BBC iPlayer team on the problem, which makes it more frustrating.

Additional problems I'm having with iPlayer Desktop:

  • Programmes marked for future download don't always download. One day a programme may say “Available tomorrow”, then next it might say “Available 00:30” and then the next it will say “Available tomorrow” again — yet go the iPlayer website and the programme has been freely available to download for a couple of days.
  • Video playback has become jumpy as if the video is being processed by the CPU only rather than being done in hardware via the GPU. It's particularly bad on HD playback.

The lack of communication is more frustrating than the bug(s). A big thumbs-down for the new iPlayer and iPlayer team [ sad smiley ]

How to Fix Opera 10.50 Broken ‘Find in Page’ Search Dialogue

Fri 12th Mar 2010 18:33 GMT by Andrew from Frome, U.K.

On upgrading to Opera 10.50 you may discover that your find-in-page search dialogue box doesn't respond properly to the Enter key being pressed (it may instead submit a web search to Google or somewhere else) and you have to press F3 instead to start the inline-find search, also automatically searching as you type has stopped working.

One way to fix this is to close Opera if you have it open and then open a Windows file explorer window and enter the following into the address bar: %APPDATA%\Opera\Opera\. Then open the file search.ini in Notepad. Once you've done this search for “Search Type=12”, then assuming you find a match proceed to edit the line about 3 lines below the matching line you searched for that says “Deleted=1” and change this to “Deleted=0”. Save the file and open Opera. Inline-find now searches as you type and the Enter key works as it used to.

In general I've a big thumbs down for Opera 10.50 — it looks unpleasant (on XP1), widgets no longer work properly (even after you discover you need to convert them yourself) the toolbar menu doesn't work properly (even if you eventually do find a way to turn it back on) and then the toolbar renders terribly for some reason. Google Chrome looks better by a very long way and has better usability than Opera 10.*, which is a shame (for Opera).

PS: You can make the find-in-page bar dock to the bottom of the window like it used to be customising the appearance (SHIFT-F12), choosing the ‘Toolbars’ tab, ticking the ‘Show hidden toolbars whilst customizing’ check box, then clicking the find-in-page bar behind the Appearance dialogue, then back in the Appearance dialogue set its Placement value to ‘Bottom’ and then to ‘Off’ — this latter tip from the Opera forums.

Think I'll stick with the ‘Opera 9’ button in the sidebar [ sad smiley ]

1 = Installing the “Simple 2” skin makes it look a lot better. I've also decided to do away with the ‘menu bar’, moved my custom search boxes into the ‘personal bar’ and ditched the ‘main bar’ and now it looks OK.

Opera web browser speeddial
Opera 10.50 with Simple 2 skin and customised UI
[ modified 13th March 2010 12:00 GMT ]

Nokia 5800 Test

Fri 8th May 2009 21:29 GMT by Andrew from Frome, U.K.
Just testing out my Nokia 5800 for writing blog posts. Move along, there's nothing to see here!
[ clown smiley ]

WANTED: Microsoft SQL Server DBA required with good T-SQL skills

Wed 4th Mar 2009 22:00 GMT by Andrew from Frome, U.K.

Position filled!

At work we are looking to increase the size of our development team. Are you passionate about databases? Do you also write high-quality stored procedures? If so, then the following job might be for you. Use my contact page to get in touch in the first instance, or feel free to ask questions in the comments section.

Microsoft SQL Server DBA required with good T-SQL skills, XML/XSLT an advantage

Small but highly productive development team seek a talented Microsoft-orientated database administrator and T-SQL programmer to take control of the company's database infrastructure and SQL programming requirements. The successful applicant's role will include:

  • Programming high-quality transactional stored procedures.
  • Maintaining the company's existing Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and 2008 databases whilst driving policy on backups, redundancy, security and replication.
  • Designing and implementing new relational databases to Fifth Normal Form.
  • Rationalising existing database infrastructure and driving policy on future database infrastructure.
  • Providing support and advice to the application developers, troubleshooting and implementing ad-hoc query requests from around the business.

Applicants should provide examples of their T-SQL stored procedure and database authorship skills upon application (e.g. a few code samples and a database diagram). Applicants may be asked to complete a written test.

This role will suit someone with experience, initiative, flexibility, attention to detail and a strong desire to create high-quality stored procedures and data models.

In return we will provide a flexible working environment in a small but friendly team working on projects for clients including Vodafone, Orange, Motorola and Sony Ericsson. Benefits include 28 days paid holiday (including Bank holidays) and a pub across the road.

[ modified 25th April 2009 10:46 GMT ]

SQL Server Error 30053: Word breaking timed out for the full-text query string

Thu 12th Feb 2009 21:56 GMT by Andrew from Frome, U.K.

I just wanted to blog about a SQL Server 2008 fulltext indexing problem that stopped fulltext search working on all of the production and development servers at work. The problem started on the 4th February with an internal application but has since escalated itself to all 2008 SQL servers on Windows Server 2008. I don't have a fix yet, and we're talking to Microsoft at the moment, but the timing of the problems coincides quite closely with some specific Windows Updates. There are four known symptoms:

Symptom 1
All fulltext queries timeout after 10s with the message:

Word breaking timed out for the full-text query string. This can happen if the wordbreaker took a long time to process the full-text query string, or if a large number of queries are running on the server. Try running the query again under a lighter load.

Symptom 2
The SQL Server ERRORLOG log file largely consists of the following block of error messages repeated thousands of times, usually at a frequency of 1 block per second:

2009-02-09 11:13:27.90 spid26s Error: 30089, Severity: 17, State: 1.
2009-02-09 11:13:27.90 spid26s The fulltext filter daemon host (FDHost) process has stopped abnormally. This can occur if an incorrectly configured or malfunctioning linguistic component, such as a wordbreaker, stemmer or filter has caused an irrecoverable error during full-text indexing or query processing. The process will be restarted automatically.
2009-02-09 11:13:28.01 spid26s A new instance of the full-text filter daemon host process has been successfully started.
2009-02-09 11:13:28.22 spid23s The full-text filter daemon host process has stopped normally. The process will be automatically restarted if necessary.

Symptom 3
The FDLAUNCHERRORLOG log file consists of the following block of error messages repeated thousands of times, usually at a frequency of 4 blocks per second:

2009-02-09 11:17:03.890 MSSQLFDLauncher$SQL_SITE service successfully launched FDHost.exe Process(process id = 912).

Symptom 4
The SQLFT* log files consist of lines of following the form (the embedded PK GUID changes for each line) repeated thousands of times, usually at a frequency of 2 lines per second:

full-text index population for table or indexed view '[ai_site].[dbo].[ArticleContent]' (table or indexed view ID '421576540', database ID'5'), full-text key value '72F52428-C8B5-4BDE-80ED-01D2995740A7'. Attempt will be made to reindex it.

Platform notes
The problem is seen when using SQL Server 2008 Standard on Windows Server 2008. The problem is not seen on SQL Server 2005 Express with Advanced Services on Windows Server 2003. The problem appeared on the production server around 1 month after the initiaL SQL install, the problem immediately appeared on an identical development platform upon restoring the affected database from the production environment.

Table structure
The table being indexed ('ArticleContent') has 61583 rows with the following structure (ignoring foreign keys and constraints):

CREATE TABLE [dbo].[ArticleContent](
[articleContentId] [uniqueidentifier] ROWGUIDCOL NOT NULL,
[articleId] [uniqueidentifier] NOT NULL,
[languageId] [tinyint] NOT NULL,
[status] [tinyint] NOT NULL,
[spellState] [tinyint] NOT NULL,
[title] [nvarchar](100) NOT NULL,
[dateCreated] [bigint] NOT NULL,
[dateModified] [bigint] NOT NULL,
[content] [ntext] NOT NULL,

The [content] field holds well-formed and validating HTML 4.01 Strict markup with the note that the HTML, HEAD (and all its children) and BODY elements are not present, only the children of the BODY element are present. The table does not appear to have any locking issues as during fulltext population I can perform updates on the data. The database collation is Latin1_General_CI_AS.

Fulltext index
I have a fulltext index created as follows:


([content] LANGUAGE 'British English'
,[title] LANGUAGE 'British English')

In addition to the manual scripting of index creation, I've also tried creating/editing this via the various Management Studio GUIs. I've also tried different languages, different fields, different tables. All rows are eventually 'processed' during a rebuild, but the above mentioned log files contain one error per tuple and the indexed item count is always zero.

SQL Services
The SQL services run as follows:

Name                                            State      Start Mode Log On As
SQL Server Integration Services 10.0 Stopped Manual NT AUTHORITY\NetworkService
SQL Server (SQL_SITE) Running Automatic NT AUTHORITY\NetworkService
SQL Server (SQL_SITE_IO) Running Automatic NT AUTHORITY\NetworkService
SQL Full-text Filter Daemon Launcher (SQL_SITE) Running Manual NT AUTHORITY\LOCAL SERVICE
SQL Server Agent (SQL_SITE) Running Automatic NT AUTHORITY\NetworkService
SQL Server Agent (SQL_SITE_IO) Running Automatic NT AUTHORITY\NetworkService
SQL Server Browser Stopped Manual NT AUTHORITY\LOCAL SERVICE

I've played around with various Windows users including a Local admin, a Domain user, Local Service, Local System and Network System to no avail. I've played around with granting and resetting child permissions for the local admin and all SQL* users/user-groups full control to data folders, binn folders, you name it. I've granted these users, via the local security policy, the Log-on Locally right, to no avail. My sys-admin has checked for group policy issues and he couldn't find any.

Additional notes
I've played around with the following during various stages of index creation to no avail:
sp_fulltext_service 'restart_all_fdhosts'
sp_fulltext_service 'verify_signature' {, [0|1};
sp_fulltext_service 'load_os_resources' {, [0|1};

I'd be ecstatic if anyone has any ideas on what I can try next to troubleshoot this, but will also update this post when we get a fix as there's so little information about this problem out there at the moment.

No fix yet, but the problem is reproduceable:

  1. Freshly install Windows Server 2008, but don't install any Windows Updates
  2. Install SQL Server 2008
  3. Restore a database exhibiting the problem, or create your own with an FT index. Verify that fulltext search works
  4. Install all Windows Updates and reboot.
  5. Advance the system clock by at least 2 months (or probably whatever period you have set as the default password expiry period - normally 42 days)
  6. Reboot and verify that fulltext search no longer works and displays the behaviour in the above post.
  7. Setting the clock back to normal and rebooting does not fix the problem.

We haven't tried the process without the Windows Updates part and it is quite possible that Windows Update has nothing to do with it and that really the problem is solely that the password on a user account used to execute the Fulltext Daemon has expired. Unfortunately we can't find the user account in question.

We're currently working around the problem by rebuilding servers anew and configuring default password expiry to be much more than 42 days.

See the comments for a workaround to this problem.

[ modified 25th February 2009 14:20 GMT ]

TMTX Illustrated How-To Guides

Fri 12th Dec 2008 20:31 GMT by Andrew from Frome, U.K.

My latest work project (TMTX) recently launched with two sites, one for Orange:

Mobile phone how to guide

and one for Sony Ericsson:

Mobile phone how to guide

Dear Jenny

Thu 4th Dec 2008 21:26 GMT by Andrew from Frome, U.K.

Two weeks ago I was rather surprised to get an email from CrossCountry Trains that started "Dear Jenny" and informed me of “exciting changes” to their website.

A couple of days later I received another email from CrossCountry Trains but this time addressed to "Dear Andrew". Someone had sent a test email to all of CrossCountry Trains' customers by accident.

Now, let this be a lesson to every mailling list manager — when writing a test email or creating test-user details, use a real name and plausible sounding details. Because it's just less painful if those details accidentally make it out into the big wide world and they say “Dear Jenny” instead of “Dear Mrs Badger Flaps”.

Windows Server 2008 and IIS7

Sun 9th Nov 2008 12:18 GMT by Andrew from Frome, U.K.

If you're in the position of buying a new server and are thinking of installing Windows Server 2008, then a handy piece of information is that IIS7 sucks. IIS7 looks to have been rebuilt and has little resemblance to IIS6 and its predecessors. Whilst IIS6 and below had GUI problems, they were known minor problems.

I've only being using IIS7 for two days and these are the problems I've encountered, problems that if I'd known about in advance they I would have stuck with Server 2003:

  • IIS7 has no GUI for importing or exporting the individual configuration of virtual directories, applications or their pools — the functionality introduced in IIS6.
  • In IIS6 if you set a property on a child object of an application (say you have a CSS folder and you want its caching behaviour to be different from other folders), then you set the same property on the application root itself, IIS6 warns you that you have an override on a child object and do you want to remove the override or keep it? IIS7 doesn't check this — it allows you set both without a warning, but here's the best bit, IIS7 can't handle this. When you browse to content in the folder in question, IIS7 fails with a runtime error about duplicate config settings — this is a failure that you only see when you're browsing the website. This is incredibly bad design. Furthermore because the GUI can't handle the problem either you have to go digging around in the config files that IIS7 litters around your website, but if the error occurs in the C:\Windows\system32\inetsrv\config\applicationHost.config file then you'll encounter the joy that means you can't open the file, even though you're an administrator (my work around is to open Notepad and drag the file onto that, then you can't save it so you have to save it elsewhere and then copy the file into the folder, at which point you have to OK the security error dialogues.
  • Error pages in IIS7 are confusing, to the point where I'm still confused 2 days later and don't know how to get the same functionality I want as IIS6. In IIS6 if you want custom error pages you go to the appropriate tab, pick an error and set the URL or file you want to serve instead of the default IIS message. In IIS7 this looks to be the same, so I've set my own paths in the ‘Error Pages’ pane. However, IIS7 has a setting that allows you to prevent detailed error messages from being sent to non-local web surfers — something that looks to be very good practice, except it seems to work 180 degrees from how I expect. Under the ‘Edit Features Settings…’ item on the context menu are the options that allow you to serve only custom error pages, detailed errors only, or a mix of detailed if a local surfer or custom if a remote web surfer. So, having previously set my own custom error page paths I check the ‘custom error pages’ option. However, when I purposely browse to a page that sends a 503 response I don't see my 503 page, but a plain text 'Server unavailable' message. When instead I check show ‘Detailed errors’ my custom error pages now show up instead, most of the time. This is very bad because if the server encounters an error that isn't handled, it spills its guts with a verbose built-in error page. I just want the damn thing to work like IIS6 — I set my own error handlers for almost every error IIS6 can throw and never see the guts of the application spewed over the web. This is so badly implemented in IIS7 I don't know how to proceed to give my end users friendly error messages that behind the scenes email me to let me know there's a problem (HTTP 500s mainly), and to ensure that if my application does fail in ways I haven't anticipated that it doesn't spill its guts publicly, I really don't know.
  • Too much in IIS7 requires me to look in the help system (that's a usability red-flag if ever there were one), but when I do go to the help system the help documentation there often regurgitates the text in the part of the application that I'm stuck on with messages akin to the help messages you see in BIOS screens such as “PCI delayed writes” with accompanying help documentation of “Enable/disable PCI delayed writes”. In other words the help system often provides no help whatsoever.

IIS7 has been out for a year, and in my opinion it's not production-ready, and don't get me started on Server 2008 itself (which is Vista) and the re-invented GUIs that try to give the same functionality as earlier Windows versions but do it less clearly, less intuitively — it's like they decided that it would be good for the hell of it to break the usability regimes of earlier versions of Windows. Users accustomed to existing Windows GUIs expect things to work in certain ways. I want consistency for my productivity, I want less clutter, I want readability, I want short and concise GUI text on options and messages, I don't want information overload when encountering trivial errors. Most of all though I don't want to be patronised with “are you sure you want to click this, this requires administrator rights” dialogues that you encounter for pretty much everything you ever want to accomplish with a server OS. These dialogues are such bad usability (because after the 10th one you stop reading them and always click ‘yes’ but still feel pissed off because they're interrupting your work flow) they'll be taught in usability classes for years on what not to do.

Update on the error pages. My testing was using a page that sends 503s, but during configuration the 503 handler had disappeared entirely (not even the default was there) so IIS7 was behaving the way it was.

[ modified 9th November 2008 12:50 GMT ]

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