Monday, January 28, 2008

Block Ads in Windows Live Messenger

After holding out for years, I've finally installed Windows Live Messenger (formerly called MSN Messenger). Now, I've always been a big fan of Pidgin, an open-source chat client, but it turns out Pidgin may not be fully compatible with the MSN chat network.

In the past few weeks, I've missed a quite few MSN messages while using Pidgin, without even realising it. Some people thought I was ignoring them, or was staying silent. And apparently, Pidgin either does not, or cannot access stored (missed) messages from MSN's servers.

I'm sure Microsoft is to blame for this (see below), but sorry to say, my need for reliable communications overrides my support for FOSS (free and open source software). But I'll continue to use Pidgin for all the other chat networks.

One reason I've put off using MSN, I mean, WLM is because it is a closed-source program, like most other MS products. It's not even one of those so-called Microsoft Open Source products.

Another big turnoff for me is the MSN chat network itself, because it uses the Microsoft Notification Protocol (MSNP), a closed protocol. In fact, just creating a 3rd-party app which works using the MSNP is a notable achievement, because it requires reverse-engineering and packet-sniffing. Kudos to the developers of Pidgin, et al for coming this far, but again, sorry to say, my priority is reliable communications. It appears no 3rd party has fully deciphered the latest version of MSNP, now at version 15.

Anyway, back to WLM. After the download (about 18MB) and installation, I fired up the program. Right away, I was assaulted by ads and a cluttered interface full of tabs and icons. *Sigh* Pretty much what I expected from Microsoft. I would note that the Pidgin installer is only 11MB, and the program contains no ads, has a clean interface, and supports all the major chat networks, not just MSN.

Certainly a stark reminder of why I like Pidgin. Jeez, what the hell is all this crap on my screen? So of course, I immediately googled for tips on blocking WLM ads. My options were mostly patches and ad blocker programs. A closed-source patch for a closed-source program? No thanks.

Then I remembered the old trick with the HOSTS file, which involves redirecting ad server addresses to, i.e. your own PC. This results in the program or web browser not being able to load ads.

What you need now is a list of Microsoft's ad servers, and conveniently, someone has already compiled one at the TrustedReviews forum. So all you have to do is add the following lines to the bottom of your HOSTS file:
# Windows Live Messenger ad servers
The HOSTS file actually just a text file, so you can open it with Notepad or any other text editor. Yes, the file is just called HOSTS, with no extension. In XP and Vista, it is normally located in C:\WINDOWS\system32\drivers\etc. You should create a backup first, in case something goes wrong.

Once you've added the MS ad servers, you can see the results almost immediately. Just minimise and restore the main WLM window (contact list). WLM may throw up an error message about being "unable to execute script", and may ask you whether you want to run any more scripts in the future. Just click No. All the ads should disappear.

BTW, the HOSTS file can also be used to block other Net annoyances. From the MVPS website:
"You can use a HOSTS file to block ads, banners, 3rd party Cookies, 3rd party page counters, web bugs, and even most hijackers. This is accomplished by blocking the connections that supplies these little gems."

Next, I wanted to get rid of useless tabs, popups and other "MS partner" crap. I quickly disabled something called "Windows Live Today"; its only purpose seems to be to generate popup ads. You can turn it off in Options->General->Show Windows Live Today...

And finally, I didn't like all the useless tabs and icons that were polluting my contact list. You can turn these off in Options->Tabs, then check the "Hide tabs" box.

So here's the final result. As you can see, WLM just displays a generic WLM banner if it cannot connect to its ad servers. No more pop-ups, and no more scrolling, blinking, flying crap:

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Facebook = Granfalloon

Earlier last year, Emily Yoffe wrote a humorous column for Slate titled Fiftysomething, Facebooking, and Fabulous! with the sub-heading, "Last week I had zero friends on Facebook. Now I have 775."
Although it has some "old-fart-discovers-new-tech" content, it also has many witty observations and anecdotes about Facebook, and about friendships.
I learned a new word from the column - granfalloon, which Yoffe used in reference to having too many Facebook friends and being in Facebook groups/networks. Other writers have also used the word to describe the sometimes-superfluous networks formed by users on social networking sites like MySpace and LinkedIn.

From Wikipedia:
A granfalloon is defined as an imagined community, that is, a group of people who outwardly choose or claim to have a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless. The most common granfalloons are associations and societies based on a shared but ultimately fabricated premise.

What a wonderful word, and could there be a more fitting description of Facebook?

It is interesting to note that granfalloon isn't even a new word. It was coined in 1963 by Kurt Vonnegut (RIP), in his novel Cat's Cradle.

Full disclosure: I've recently updated the Wikipedia entry on granfalloon; I added the part about social networking sites.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

"Personal friend" is the new FWB

It's unfortunate that despite all his accomplishments, Dr. Chua's lasting legacy may be the creation of a new euphemism - personal friend.

Since this concept of "personal friend" may be new to some Malaysians, I would like to point everyone to the casual relationship section in Wikipedia (warning: has some rude words).

A friend opined that "personal friend" sounds like an oxymoron, but I disagreed, because the two words are not contradictory. "Personal friend" would be a type of redundancy, or more accurately, a pleonasm (the use of more words than necessary to express an idea clearly).
Now he may have questionable morals (and grammar), but I still think the formerly honourable minister should have gone out with a bang.
Instead of the initial "I will not resign" statement, he should have reenacted that famous scene from Gladiator, and snarled at everyone:
"Are you not entertained?! Is this not why you are here?!"

;-) :-p

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Nero micro and Nero lite

I've always liked Nero Burning ROM, but the past few versions have become really bloated.
This hasn't resulted in big improvements in Nero Burning ROM, which has stayed virtually unchanged. The problem is, Nero AG insists on distributing it with a whole bunch of other stuff I do not want.

A quick check on the Nero site shows that the main installer for the latest version, Nero 8 weighs in at a whopping 179MB. And that's not including help files and template files, which are separate downloads. In fact, the retail version of Nero 8 now comes on a DVD-ROM.

I've been wishing for the good old days when the Nero installer was under 20MB. Apparently, I am not the only one who feels that way; someone named Klass Nekeman has produced Nero Micro, a very stripped down version of Nero Burning Rom.

The Inquirer
covered this unofficial installer back in February:
"Nero Lite" and "Nero Micro": smaller sometimes is better
The subheading is "Third party installers created to fight fatware".

. I really like that word.

The article is actually about Nero version 7 but, the same fatware problem persists in version 8. I was pleased to find out there is a Nero 8 Micro is available at this site, it is also produced by Mr. Nekeman. Nero 8 Micro is only 20.0MB; the Nero installer hasn't been this small since the early version 6.0 days.

Other than the main Nero program, you only have a choice of installing audio plug-ins and videoCD support.

Note that this is not a "crack" or "keygen" - you still need a serial number for Nero to work. The author does not promote piracy at all. He's just fighting fatware. If all you really want is Nero Burning ROM, then Nero 8 Micro is the way to go.