Solving a problem, with technology

I’ve been attending a fantastic church, Kingsgate, for over a year now. The level of technology that the church uses is excellent, but there is one problem.

Podcasts.

For ages podcasts have been a pain to use. Some platforms make it easy, like iOS who have a dedicated podcast app where you can search for Kingsgate and you see the podcast. It’s not a bad experience but it’s not great either. For one, you only get the audio feed not the video feed. The logo is also missing and it just looks pretty crappy.

My main issue is that I want to watch the video of the sermons from Church not just listen to the audio. I have a fairly nice TV and I can stream a tonne of great programs from Netflix and Amazon Prime, and BBC iPlayer. So why is it so hard to watch the sermons from church on my TV?

I know there are RSS apps for a lot of different platforms (even the Amazon Fire TV) but I’m not really the target audience. What about my parents, how can they watch the podcast of the sermons on their TV:

  1. Go to the app store of choice
  2. Search for RSS (no “dar-ess”, the letters “R”,”S”,”S”)
  3. Now install one (if you’re lucky there is only one and you don’t have to make a choice)
  4. Now go to settings, and remove any default subscriptions (CNN, BBC etc)
  5. Click add subscription
  6. Now type “http://”
  7. Give up

There must be a better way…

I have an Amazon Fire TV which is essentially and Android box with a better interface. So I’ve decided to create an app that lets you easily access the sermon podcasts on the Amazon Fire TV.

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Right now this is totally unofficial, and in no way linked to Kingsgate. The app is currently fetching a list of available sermons. The next steps are:

  1. Full-screen media playback
  2. Keeping track of played / un-played sermons
  3. Porting to iOS (iPad, Apple TV) and Windows 10 (desktop, tablet, windows phone and Xbox One)

All of the code for this is on GitHub so if you want to help out then feel free to fork the repo and send a pull request!

“Could not load file or assembly” in Azure Web Role

Every now and again you hit what seems like a simple problem only to dig deeper and find it’s not as straight forward as first thought…Today was one such time. A simple upgrade of an Azure application to the latest version of the Azure SDK (2.8 at the time of writing this). Everything is updated, compiled, tested, and running locally. Then deployed to Azure and… bang!

image

The full error reads:

Could not load file or assembly ‘Microsoft.WindowsAzure.Diagnostics, Version=2.3.0.0, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35’

Surely this should have affected the app when running locally too, and even if it didn’t it’s simple to fix. Just add a binding redirect (in this case in my web.config file).

<dependentAssembly>
<assemblyIdentity name="Microsoft.WindowsAzure.Diagnostics" publicKeyToken="31bf3856ad364e35" culture="neutral"/>
<bindingRedirect oldVersion="0.0.0.0-2.8.0.0" newVersion="2.8.0.0"/>
</dependentAssembly>

Simple right… Not quite.

Looking deeper at the stack trace you’ll see:

Microsoft.WindowsAzure.ServiceRuntime.Implementation.Loader.RoleRuntimeBridge.<InitializeRole>b__0()

When you’re using IIS (like we are) the startup process for your app is handled by WAIISHost.exe not but w3wp.exe (aka. the worker process). This means that the web.conf file isn’t applicable and the binding redirect is useless here.

There are various blog posts and stack overflow questions/answers about this. A lot of them mention adding an App.config file or a WaIISHost.exe.config file. Neither of these worked with the full IIS hosting model and Azure SDK 2.8.

Solved: I had to add a file <WebProjectName>.dll.config and set it to copy always. Once that was packaged and deployed the app started as normal and the binding redirect worked fine. For reference here is the contents of my <WebProjectName>.dll.config

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<!--
For more information on how to configure your ASP.NET application, please visit
http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=169433
-->
<configuration>

<runtime>
<assemblyBinding xmlns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:asm.v1">

<dependentAssembly>
<assemblyIdentity name="Microsoft.WindowsAzure.Diagnostics" publicKeyToken="31bf3856ad364e35" culture="neutral"/>
<bindingRedirect oldVersion="0.0.0.0-2.8.0.0" newVersion="2.8.0.0"/>
</dependentAssembly>

</assemblyBinding>
</runtime>

</configuration>

Hopefully this helps anyone else who finds themselves in a similar position with all of the binding rediects in place but still not working when deploying to Azure.

Time for a spring clean

It’s been far too long since I last looked at this blog but I decided it’s about time for a quick facelift and a bit of TLC. If you’re reading this via a feed reader then head over to the blog and take a look at the new theme.

The theme is PixelPower and makes nice use of both HTML5 and CSS3 to produce a responsive design that works well on mobile devices (so I’ve been able to do away with WPTouch) and still have an accessible site on mobile devices.

Giving the blog a facelift was the easy part. Now I need to actually get some time to write some posts!

Stunnel & Apache (Invalid method in request x80gx01x03)

Here’s a really quick post about an issue I’ve encountered recently when using stunnel to connect through to Apache via HTTPS.  I set up the connections and then tried to view the end-point using ‘links’ (https://localhost) and received an SSL error. The apache logs listed:

Invalid method in request x80gx01x03

The stunnel config that I was using looked something like this

[web]
accept=443
connect=someserver.com:1234 # Apache SSL listing on a non-standard port
cert=/path/to/my/cert.pem

It turned out to be a really simple fix. Because I was connecting to stunnel using SSL it was being encrypted by my browser then encrypted by stunnel. At the other end it was being decrypted by stunnel and then left with my original browser encrypted data which Apache couldn’t do anything with and couldn’t understand the request.

The fix was to simply change the config to:

[web]
accept=80
connect=someserver.com:1234 # Apache SSL listing on a non-standard port
cert=/path/to/my/cert.pem

Then test the connection via ‘links http://localhost’ and let stunnel handle the encryption and certificate negotiation on its own.

An end to the importance of domain names?

Don’t worry about the title, I’m not proclaiming and end to domain names altogether, but I’m noticing a new trend in the way websites are advertised in the mainstream media. 

There have been a number of adverts on TV that publicise a search term rather than the URL of a site.  The most recent advert that I’ve seen is for the Madeleine Peyroux album Bare Bones, which asks viewers to search “who is she” for more details. There’s also the advert for the More 4 pub quiz where they say “search online for more4 pub quiz” at the end of the advert (the video is below).

There’s been a few other adverts too, including government adverts for services, and health care. 

I think this is an interesting trend, and shows that companies are starting to realise that having the perfect domain isn’t the most important factor in having a strong web presence. After all just because you have a great domain for your product or service doesn’t mean people are going to know about it. People use search engines every day to find things online, and that’s certainly nothing new, so companies are starting to realise how important search engine optimisation really is. 

The trend towards advertising a search term rather than a domain adds a new twist. In traditional SEO you would identify what search terms people use, and then adjust the content of your website accordingly, in effect you take your website to your potential visitor. But larger companies are now advertising the search term, and creating the popularity and driving traffic towards an already optimised site, for what would otherwise be a mediocre search term.

There’s also the factor of the human memory. Take for example the Madeleine Peyroux website, if I had seen the advert and they advertised, say, madeleinepeyroux.com then I wouldn’t have a clue how to spell it, and would probably  struggle to locate the site. But advertising with the term “who is she” is nice and simple and easy to remember, so chances are I’ll actually find the site I’m looking for.

This isn’t the first time where people have taken an ‘unpopular’ search term and created hype around it to drive traffic. A few years ago somone did just that with the term “miserable failure“, which gained a lot of popularity. That was mainly for a joke, but we’re starting to see commercial companies taking the same approach.

In principle it works, you take an unpopular search term, and create the popularity, but it has it’s down sides. For a start you have to be a fairly large company to have access to the kind of media coverage that’s required to create the popularity in the first place, although it won’t be long before we start to see some kind of guerrilla marketing campaign that achieves the same result. There’s also the issue of SEO itself, you always run the risk that someone else with have a better search engine rank than you. Which undoes all of your hard work in generating the popularity in the first place and could quite easily direct traffic to a competitors website (if it’s better optimised than yours), meaning you’ve spent hard earned money and someone else is reaping the rewards.

This could be the achelies heel in this kind of marketing, but it will be interesting to see if advertising in the mainstream press starts to move away from domain names in favour of search terms.

Twitter

twitter_logo_headerI’ve decided that it’s time to get back on to Twitter. I used to use it about a year ago, and had the username ‘jb’ but decided to give it up as I wasn’t using my account. I’ve just added my twitter posts to the sidebar of the site, but if you use twitter then feel free to follow me, and drop me a message every now and again…

Snow snow snow…

View from the bathroomI’m writing this post for two exciting reasons… One it’s snowing outside! Something that hardly ever happens in the UK (especially where I live) and secondly I’m writing this post from our new house, looking out at the snow-covered garden!

Here’s a pic of the view into our new garden.

We moved in a few weeks ago and we’re finally getting sorted out. We’ve moved from a two bed ground-floor flat into a two bed house, so it’s nice to actually have enough space! No doubt I’ll post more pictures and details as we get settled in and start to decorate and make the place our own.

If you want our new address then you know how to contact me to ask…

The Red Ring of Death

The single phrase that strikes fear into the heart of any Xbox 360 owner, “The Red Ring of Death”, and it struck on Friday evening! There I was, sat playing Call of Duty 4 when without warning the screen turned to solid green. I’ve not had any problems with my Xbox or games crashing in the past so I quickly rebooted it using the front power switch (the console was completly unresponsive). When I switched it back on I was greeted with the following image

dsc00123

Thankfully Microsoft have an extended warranty policy for these problems (generally refered to as a “general hardware failure”), so I’m able to send it off for repair, however the repairs are completed in Germany so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get the console back in time for Christmas so that I can play Left 4 Dead (even if it is a present from me to me)…

WordPress 2.7 Beta

I’ve been playing around with WordPress 2.7 over the past few weeks, and I have to say it’s excellent! I seem to be in the minority of people who weren’t too keen on the previous version, and the changes they made to the interface, but the new admin panel is superb! Everything, from the fonts used, through to the structure of the menus, works brilliantly and there’s some excellent new features. Most notibly the upgrade feature that saves having to have FTP access to be able to upadte your install.

If you’re brave enough I would definately reccommend installing the 2.7 Beta 3 and giving it a try…

Friday fun with books

“When Bob receives a message from Alice, how does he know it is authentic? If Alice signed her message, this is easy. Alice’s digital signature is enough to convince anyone that the message is authentic”

Book meme:

– Grab the nearest book.
– Open it to page 56.
– Find the fifth sentence.
– Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
– Don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.

via Leah Culver’s Blog

This is quite sad, but the closest book I have is a copy of “Applied Cryptography” by Bruce Schneier

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