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You should never see this string

Story location: Home / computing /

I received an email this morning where the sender had requested I return a 'receipt' when I had read the email. I clicked the button to send it but it didn't work. Instead I saw the following error message:

This is just a placeholder. You should never see this string

I suspect the problem was caused because I was at home but sending an email from my work account, which by default tries to connect to a particular email server. This server is configured to only accept connections from on-site.

Google Maps Ironbridge Anomaly

Story location: Home / bits-n-bobs /

There appear to be some strange place names in Shropshire. I noticed these while checking the route to Ironbridge.



I hope there really aren't towns called Dummy2643 and Dummy2792.

Google Street View

Story location: Home / Blog / coventry /

Last year I saw one of the Google Street View cars parked on the side of the road. The street view has finally been added to the UK maps. A lot of cities have been covered, including Coventry.

This evening I looked at a few locations, including our current address (the google car went down our road after we left for work but before the bins were emptied) and our old house (the spiky bush next to the front door has been dug up since we left).

The images have been stitched together from multiple photos, which has led to some strange 'artifacts' such as a man buried in the pavement near the Cathedral:

Google Street View: man buried in the pavement near Coventry Cathedral

The annoying marquee tag

Story location: Home / computing /

I regularly use a few forums (fora?) and one of the other members has started using the <marquee> tag in his signature. It's rather annoying to have text whizzing across the screen while you're trying to read something.

With Firefox it's possible to disable the marquee tag, so the text doesn't move. There is a file called userContent.css which is located in the chrome subdirectory of the Profiles folder, which in turn can be found hiding in the C:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\ directory (at least that's where it is in Windows XP).

Load this file into a text editor, or create the file if it doesn't exist. Add the line:

 marquee { -moz-binding: none; }

then restart the browser. The annoying marquee text will no longer move.

Update: On the mac, the profiles folder lives in the Library/Application Support/Firefox subdirectory of the user directory. With newer versions of Firefox, this can be found by clicking on Help->Troubleshooting Information

Late Emails

Story location: Home / Blog /

Every now and then you hear stories about letters or postcards which arrive years after being posted. The modern version is the email which arrives months or years after being sent.

This evening I was checking my email when I received 30 new messages but none were visible in my inbox. I changed the view to show unread rather than recent messages. The messages were all dated between July and December last year. A lot were adverts or updates from websites but one was from a work colleague from several jobs ago. So sorry, Andy, I wasn't ignoring your email which you sent in July. It took nearly 7 months to get here for some reason.

Dumb Internet Survey

Story location: Home / Blog /

I have just completed a survey on a website. It was a really badly designed survey where the next question would not use the information provided earlier.

I had already said that I use my mobile phone to make calls several times in a typical week. I then got a question asking why I rarely or never use my mobile to make calls. Another question asked my occupation then asked me to confirm it on the next screen, but gave a different occupation to the one I selected.

Towards the end of the survey I was asked if I had Internet access at home or elsewhere. I was answering an Internet-based survey. Of course I had access to the ****ing Internet! I should have clicked 'No' and seen what happened.

Funny Google Background Colours

Story location: Home / computing /

I recently changed the default background colour on Firefox from white to grey so that I could check the transparency on some images before uploading them to the site. I didn't bother to change the colours back because I didn't think I needed to. I expected that these days most web pages would define a background colour if they needed one.

The normal google home page looks ok but some of the other pages seem to expect the default white. The Google logo and icons appear with white backgrounds but the rest of the page is defiantly grey.

Google with grey background

Google Street View

Story location: Home / Blog / coventry /

This morning we were joining the ring road when we saw a car parked on the side of road (where Gosford Street turns into Far Gosford Street) with a strange camera-like attachment on the roof. I wondered whether it was one of the Google cars - this was confirmed by the small 'Google' logo on the door.

Trying to prevent image theft 2: Watermarking images

Story location: Home / computing /

Yesterday I mentioned using the .htaccess file with Apache to prevent people hot-linking images. That would only be a temporary solution, which would stop current hot-links from working. Any future image theft would involve people downloading images and re-uploading them somewhere else.

See more ....
One way of stopping that is to add a watermark to each image. There are a lot of websites explaining how to do that manually in Photoshop or Gimp, but I needed a simple way of adding a watermark to several hundred images.

I had heard about Image Magick and thought it might have a way of doing it. There are instructions here explaining how to do it.

The images on my website are spread across a lot of directories, so I wrote a small perl script to watermark all the images in a directory (including subdirectories):

# use ImageMagick to add copyright watermark to images

use File::Find;
use strict;

my  = "jpg|png";    # file extensions to apply watermarks to
my /computing = "/images";      # directory holding the images
my  = "/copyright3.png";    # full path to watermark image

sub processFile{
    return if ($_ !~ /.*\.[]/);
    my  = ::name;

    `composite -dissolve 10% -tile  "" ""`;


The /computing and `` variables should hold the full path for the directory and watermark file. You'll need to produce an image with a transparent background for the watermark.

Changing the 10% value gives a ligher or darker watermark, depending on how obvious you want it to be.

Trying to prevent image theft 1: Using .htaccess

Story location: Home / computing /

I've had a problem recently with people stealing images from my website - either hot-linking them or re-uploading them to other sites. My first attempt to stop this was by modifying the .htaccess file on the web server, telling it to only allow image requests from recognised places.

See more ....
This works because most browsers send a 'referrer' value which tells the web server where the request came from. If I display an image on my site, the referrer should be 'mikedowney.co.uk', which would be allowed. Requests from other sites would be disallowed.

This should work with most sites hosted on an Apache server. I added the following lines to the .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)?mikedowney.co.uk [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)?google.(\.)? [NC]
RewriteRule \.(jpg|jpeg|gif)$ /image_error.png [NC,R,L]

The first line tells the server we are using the RewriteEngine to change how some URLs are handled. The next 3 lines specify which referrers are allowed to link to images. We have:

  1. Empty referrer. This is because some browsers may not correctly fill in the 'referrer' line when requesting images.
  2. This website - it would be pointless to disallow me from showing my own images.
  3. Any of the google servers - so that the google image search will work properly. The (.)? bit at the end should match different countries, such as google.com or .co.uk etc.

The final line gives the file types this applies to and the file to display if it matches. In this case, an image with an error message.

How not to write a website

Story location: Home / computing /

A colleague in work was trying to log into a website but it wouldn't accept her password. She clicked on the Can't Login? link to see what options were available. This took her to the bug reporting screen which required her to log in first! All rather stupid but she did manage to log in in the end.

That's not the only thing wrong with the website but possibly the silliest thing is to do with the meta tags in the <head> section of the web pages. The meta keywords tag is often used to help search engines index the pages. The only page which is visible to a search engine is the 'log in' screen but this doesn't have the meta tags. These are on the pages which can only be reached after logging in, where they would be invisible to a search engine. Even better than that is the list of keywords. This starts off sensible enough but ends with "Add more here....".

Best Viewed With...

Story location: Home / computing /

There are few things more pathetic on a website than a Best Viewed With Internet Explorer icon. To me, it suggests that the designer was too lazy to make sure that their site followed the proper HTML specification. Especially when the site is a very simple one and doesn't use any advanced (or IE specific) features. Sites should be viewable with as many different browsers as possible. The WWW existed long before Microsoft woke up and decided to join in, and with the increase in people accessing web pages from mobile devices, it is become more important to make pages viewable in other browsers. These days, it's just plain rude to design a page with only Internet Explorer in mind.