Switching to Shopify

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Instead of talking about new software today, I wanted to talk about some of the changes to our back-end. Before, we ran our download through PayPal’s order form, which was a bit clunky for a few reasons. It worked, but I was never that happy with it.

Instead of something hand-rolled, the new system is a combination of Shopify and FileApp. This should let us track each purchaser more elegantly if they want a refund or need to re-download their application as well as being less prone to simply closing the browser at the wrong time during the transaction. Surprisingly the per-transaction fee is about the same for Shopify with PayPal compared to PayPal alone even on the lowest plan, this doesn’t consider those people who run a Shopify web-store instead of rolling their own and it also doesn’t consider Shopify’s $9/month upkeep fee.

Still we hope that you will be more satisfied with our new system.

Also I had a chance to play around with Process Lasso again, I was thinking about doing an article, but actually it wasn’t that much more impressive than Windows 10 by itself. I think that it’s got a lot to do with the test machine being really underpowered, so the software rendering throws off all my tests. On Windows 7 though I have noticed that Process Lasso is willing to stop quite a few background services, but on 10 those services seem to be far more silent, so it’s probably less worth it.

For people new to Process Lasso, it’s software that, when your computer is under heavy load, will change the priority of background processes to make sure that the application you are working with gets as responsive as possible. This might not help people who just browse the net and use Word (although it might, depending on what’s installed on their machine), but it will probably help to keep the computer responsive for people who do renders or generating a Neural Network from test data in the background while also trying to use their computer normally. Perhaps my tests simply weren’t significant enough.

Installing .NET 4.6.1

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If you’ve attempted to run an app requiring a version of .NET higher than than the one you’ve already got installed, you may have been faced with an error similar to the following.

.NETError

Unfortunately clicking yes will make your screen flicker with an app for a second, before all the notifications disappear silently. This is because the Edge installation page for .NET cannot run on a UAC computer and this isn’t something you’re notified about.

The solution is simple though, you need to run NDP461-KB3102438-Web.exe , which I have zipped up and attached here. This will automatically upgrade you to the latest version of .NET 4.6.1.

It’s annoying how, as computers become more intelligent and “helpful”, there’s a larger list of things that take twice as long to do than they used to; though I suppose searching for dependencies is something that’s always been around.

TCPOptimizer

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In our previous post, we discussed something called cFos, but that mostly helps connections that are being used like a server, when both the upload and download are being saturated at the same time. What happens when your connection is just really slow. In that case you’ll want something like TCPOptimizer by SpeedGuide.net.

TCPOptimizer

This is a tool you can use to set several settings for your connection, such as your congestion controller, your Window Scaling methods and others, but the one that will really make a difference for slow connections is your MTU (Maximum Transmission Unit). This is the largest possible packet size that your system is going to use at once. The lowest setting that is guaranteed to work over the internet is 576, so choose “Custom”, set your MTU to that and select apply. Restart when you’re prompted to.

The other settings do matter, but only for higher speed connections and computers with networking hardware that can handle having processing offloaded onto it. For most users though, if you’re only capable of handling several packets per second and each of these will belong to a different connection, then dropping one is now a much bigger deal than if you had a large amount of small packets for that connection.

This is one of those tips that always worked for me, but I’m curious. So leave a comment with your experiences.

Irfanview

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I realized a while ago that disabling user access control also disables the Windows 10 image viewing app. I suppose it’s a security feature to insure that you can’t infect your machine just by viewing the wrong image, although if someone disabled their UAC one should assume that they know what they’re doing and not try to sabotage their functionality like that.

Still, the reason that it took so long to realize this is that I never use the default app anyway, it’s terrible. I use something called Irfanview, which is considerably better. You don’t even need to go to their homepage since it’s available on ninite.com.

IrfranviewHomepage2

Irfanview has several advantages over the normal Windows app. It can view almost every image format currently existing (I haven’t found any that it can’t view), it pre-loads future images in your folder so you can quickly scroll through your photos with the mouse wheel and arrow keys and it also has image editing functionality for when you want to chop something up for Facebook without having to load a full image editor.

Best of all it’s lightning fast and it’s developers keep it patched with security updates. It’s an application that we heavily recommend for Windows users.

Timer Resolution

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Today I wanted to talk about an item of software that’s hit and miss with a lot of fans, a tool called “Timer Resolution” by Lucas Hale. This is a tool that changes the Windows Timer Resolution, how often Windows checks to see if any pending timers need to be triggered, and one of the side effects of this is that the current task is temporarily halted and the context switcher checks to see which task is the next one that should run. By default the smallest timer accuracy you can get in Windows is about 15 milliseconds, but Windows is capable of much better, around 0.5 milliseconds in Vista and above, and this tool lets you control that directly. Of course usually you’ll get a slightly better value since many items of software request a 1 millisecond resolution for themselves and because this affects the Windows process directly, the lowest value will always apply system wide.

The reason that this tool is interesting is that applications don’t always request the value that will give them the best performance. Possibly the programmers didn’t think of it, it may not have been an issue for the processors or workloads the application was tested with or they simply didn’t want to drain battery life or cause inefficiencies in other applications. Regardless of the reason, people have found out that various PC games do perform better with a higher timer resolution, as will any browser executing Javascript and any batch script that handles a large amount of small files for processing. The reason for this is that when a thread finishes it’s work or otherwise is waiting for input, either from a different thread or from an external source like the disk or a network device, it can’t really do anything else. In some cases an application is set up to yield to a different thread when this happens, but often this isn’t practical. A higher timer resolution means the operating system is checking on all it’s threads more often and has more chances to switch to a different thread that is ready to process and waiting for it’s chance.

TimerResolution

Also, you know those settings in Control Panel that can give priority to foreground or background processes? They allocate time based on a undefined unit called a quanta, the reason that this is unit is undefined is that it depends… on the system timer resolution.

Ninite

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I want to talk about progressively more obscure pieces of software on this blog, but I realized recently that a lot of people still don’t know Ninite is a thing. Ninite is a website that packages automatic installers for free-to-use (not freeware, just things that come with a free to use basic version) software. Their automatic installers will automatically download the software and then do a standard installation while clicking “no” to any adware that you would normally be prompted to install.

NiniteWeb

The Ninite website currently offers everything you need to set up a new machine such as browsers, pdf readers, media players and image editors. Select what you want, build a custom installer and then run it on your machine to download all your packages at once.

NiniteSetup

Afterwards you can use the same installer to automatically update those same programs without needing to go through the website again. This is a very useful website to know and Ninite also does a professional version for IT personnel who need to set up large numbers of computers with identical software simultaneously with a deeper level of control.

Never10

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If you’re still running Windows 7 or 8 / 8.1 and don’t want to upgrade to 10 by surprise. There’s a new option available for you. Never10 by the Gibson Research Corporation. Unlike the previous update blockers, Never10 doesn’t require installation and runs with a single click.

If your Windows Update process is out of date it first requires that you update to the latest working version, but after that the change is a single button. From this…

Windows10UpgradeEnabled

to this..

Windows10UpgradeDisabled

As always we would love to remind you that if you HAVE been upgraded by surprise, our software can help stop further problems as well as disable some of the forced tracking.

cFos

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Next in our lineup of obscure software that you’ve probably never heard of, I’m going to talk about something called cFos Speed. cFos operates as a traffic shaping tool that can auto detect the bandwidth of your internet connection and will automatically configure itself against it without needing to be set up.

The idea of traffic shaping has been around for a while, but given that cFos is now being added onto Steam through their green light process, it seems to be picking up steam even as internet speeds get faster. So what is traffic shaping? In short it boils down to prioritizing certain packets above others. Normally when data is sent all at once, it just stacks up, first in your local machine, then in your router and so on. This is the best way to get maximum bandwidth. The problem is that some data is critical to getting other data out, for example if you’re uploading a YouTube video while browsing the internet, the packets telling your web-browsing session to keep transmitting are more useful than the bulk data of the YouTube video. The bulk data can be delayed without a problem, but acknowledgement packets cause problems if they don’t turn up on time. The same applies for online gaming.

cFosDriverInstall

cFos installs it’s own driver just before your network card and then acts to be just slightly slower than the card itself, so that packets stack up in your driver instead of your router. Then whenever a game or acknowledgement packet gets stuck at the back of the queue, that packet always gets pushed to the front. This way background transfers (or Windows 10 telemetry uploads) don’t interfere with your regular web use. For gaming, cFos can also strategically drop packets coming in to insure that the input rate is throttled to just below your full capacity. That means that any additional packets coming in from new connections (or UDP packets from your game) won’t get held up along the way and will come through immediately.

It also provides a helpful window in the bottom right of your screen to show you how your transfer rate and ping-times are doing, though the default Windows 10 skin could use some polish in my opinion.

cFosSkin

If you’re going to use this software to facilitate sharing an internet connection between multiple people, the best idea is probably to throw it on a central server, and run the internet though that. Helpfully newer versions of cFos come with functionality to mimic a wireless access point if your computer has the correct hardware, letting other users connect to it like a regular router.

 

YaCy

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One of the reasons I enjoy getting the chance to run this blog is that it’s a good excuse to talk about new software that people might not have heard about. In this case I’d like to bring up the distributed search engine YaCy. It’s a search engine that runs as a local Java process on your machine, and search results are generated by talking to other nodes on the network to build a map of the internet that isn’t stored on any one system. From your local perspective, it’s similar to using Google.

YaCyHomepage

 

How does YaCy find new sites? The sever has it’s own indexer that can be pointed at any public facing page, then it will spider out through all available links to build a map of that site for the YaCy network. At that point it will serve up the map to any nodes that it’s in contact with. I’m not sure if nodes cache web pages indexed by other nodes for situations where those servers go offline, but I would be surprised if they didn’t.

I admit I’m always a fan of local software that can replace functionality that’s normally handled by the “cloud”. Remote services, especially ones that are being offered for free have a way of going offline without much warning; and if they happen to be less reliable than you expect, there’s nothing that you can do about it. As I write this article there’s even a good example at hand, I think my WordPress interface has just dropped it’s connection and is perpetually saving without transmitting data.

As of right now, there are enough nodes on the YaCy network that you won’t be lonely, additionally the server instance is fairly resource light, it’s using 60MB of Memory right now and only seems to average about 2KB of transfer after a few hours.

YaCyNetworkMap

Now, will it replace Google? Probably not, the search results are still more sparse than Google will give, but they are pretty good all the same and I get the impression that they are less spammy. Though hopefully that won’t change as the network gains traction.

Classic Shell

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Ok, you’ve just installed Windows 10… and you find the new start menu somewhat annoying. It’s not as bad in 10 as it was in 8 or 8.1, but a lot of people still prefer the Windows 7 menu. Myself too largely because it seems like it takes fewer clicks to get to files than it does with the newer menu options.

Fortunately there are a number of ways to get the old style menu in newer Windows, the best of which is a program called Classic Shell which you can get through the attached link. It can turn your menu from..

BeforeClassicStart

After Classic Shell

AfterClassicStart

If you want something that looks a bit different you can go into even more detail when setting up. Classic Shell even supports skinning.

MenuClassicStart

There are other applications that do the same thing, such as the non-free Start10, but most people say they prefer Classic Shell.