Find the fastest DNS server with Google NameBench

One of the factors that dictates browsing speed is the time it takes to do a DNS lookup – that is, convert a domain name such as google.com into an IP address such as 209.85.227.105. Generally most people use the DNS servers operated by their ISP. Usually this is fine, but sometimes ISP DNS servers can be unreliable, and they’re not always the fastest choice.

There are many free public DNS services, such as OpenDNS and search giant Google’s Public DNS, but it’s difficult to know which one is best for you. Enter NameBench, a free cross-platform tool which tests a raft of public DNS services using either your browser history or a list of top domains. Once the tests are complete, you receive a summary of the results including suggested primary, secondary and tertiary servers:

So if you’ve got a few minutes to spare, why not see if you can shave a few milliseconds from your page load times?

How to resolve “Virtual PC has detected an invalid or missing Product ID”

I’ve just installed Virtual PC 2007 on my work laptop (which runs Windows XP), and when I tried to start it, I got the following error:

---------------------------
Virtual PC
---------------------------
Virtual PC has detected an invalid or missing Product ID.

A valid Product ID is required to operate Virtual PC. Please
re-run the Virtual PC installer and enter a valid Product ID when
requested.
---------------------------
OK
---------------------------

The solution is basically as described here, except I had to create the registry keys and values as they were missing on my machine.

Using ISAPI Rewrite to redirect domain.com to www.domain.com

My employer’s SharePoint-powered external website – which I look after – uses ISAPI Rewrite to provide “friendly” URLs for certain pages, and also to redirect old URLs to their new locations. Coming from a LAMP background, this is great for me as it basically works the same as Apache’s mod_rewrite.

Previously the website responded to requests for both domain.com and www.domain.com, which is not ideal. SEO best practice is to either redirect the non-WWW version to the WWW version, or vice-versa. In my case, www.domain.com is the preferred format, so I’m using the following rule:

### Redirect domain.com to www.domain.com
RewriteCond Host: ^domain\.com
RewriteRule (.*) http\://www\.domain\.com$1 [I,RP]

If you want to do the opposite, you’ll need this one:

### Redirect www.domain.com to domain.com
RewriteCond Host: ^www\.domain\.com
RewriteRule (.*) http\://domain\.com$1 [I,RP]

How to hide applications from your Facebook news feed

Like me, Darren Wright is fed up of seeing notifications in his news feed from applications such as FarmVille. Fortunately there’s an easy way to solve this, which doesn’t involve unfriending anybody!

Just click the Hide button next to one of the offending notifications, and you will be given the option to hide notifications from that application. Even better, this also stops the notifications from appearing on the Facebook mobile site, iPhone application and third-party readers such as TweetDeck.

Thanks to Darren for bringing this to my attention.

There’s also the option of switching to Facebook Lite, a back-to-basics version of Facebook which does away with applications altogether.

How to fix “Google Update installation failed with error 0x8004071c”

I just tried to install Google Chrome on my Windows 7 machine and was faced with this obscure error message.

I found the answer on the Chrome support site – it’s caused by the following registry key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\
CurrentVersion\Setup\State\ImageState

Mine was set to IMAGE_STATE_UNDEPLOYABLE. Removing this value enabled the Google Chrome installer to proceed as normal.

Silverlight 4 beta works on Google Chrome

I’m currently testing out Google Chrome to see if it can replace Firefox as my main day-to-day browser, and have so far been quite impressed. However I hit a stumbling block when I tried to watch some tutorial videos on Microsoft’s site and was prompted to install Silverlight 3, which is unfortunately not supported on Chrome.

The easy thing to do at this point would have been to drop into Firefox or IE and install Silverlight from there, but where’s the fun in that?

Luckily the Silverlight 4 Beta seems to work fine in Chrome – all you need is the Windows Runtime component.

Geographical numbers for the AA

Buried in my AA (Automobile Association, that is…) renewal documentation, I spotted that they’ve provided land line telephone numbers as an alternative to the usual non-geographical 0800/0870 numbers, which cost extra from most mobile phones:

  • For breakdowns, the number is 0121 275 3746.
  • For membership enquiries, the number is 0161 332 1789.

Sites such as Say No To 0870 regularly publish user-submitted geographic numbers for many companies, but kudos to the AA for providing official numbers without having to jump through such hoops. Less kudos to them for taking 2 hours to tow my broken-down car, instead of the promised 45 minutes, but that’s another story.

How to do a bulk “unstar all” in Google Reader

Google Reader allows you to star articles to read later, which is handy. However, I’ve been happily starring away items since I’ve started using Reader, and have built up quite a backlog. On the advice of a friend who was horrified by this, I decided to unstar all items before a certain date. Surprisingly, Google Reader doesn’t currently give you a way to do this, besides unstarring each item individually, which isn’t much fun when you have over 500, even using the ‘s’ (star/unstar) and ‘j’ (jump to next item) keyboard shortcuts.

To automate this process, I whipped up this quick and dirty AutoHotkey script:

^!r::
Loop 600 {
Send s
Sleep 10
Send j
Sleep 10
}

As you may have worked out, this simply simulates a press of the ‘s’ key, waits ten milliseconds, simulates the ‘j’ key, waits again, then repeats the process 600 times.

The first line of the file means “do the below when the user presses Ctrl+Alt+R”.

So all I had to do was save the script, double-click the .AHK file to activate it, then click on “Starred items” with Reader, click to open the first one and press Ctrl+Alt+R to instruct the script to start rifling through your items, unstarring them one by one. Because I had slightly less than 600 starred items, I found that the script “sticks” on the last item, starring and unstarring it repeatedly until I killed the script by right-clicking the “H” icon in the taskbar and clicking Exit.

Feel free to use my script to clear down your own starred items. If you find that the script seems to miss the odd item, you may need to increase the 10 ms delay.