I promise to buy my mum an AK-47 for Christmas

December 15, 2005

OK, I’m not really going to give my mum an AK47, but I do promise to pay for a Kalashnikov on www.goodgifts.org

They support a project to purchase and disable guns left over from the civil war in Sierra Leone and give them to blacksmiths to turn into farm implements. It would be great to know that other people want to support this worthwhile project. Here are a number of articles about MAPCO, the local charity involved: http://www.google.com/search?q=MAPCO+sierra+leone

This is a simple Christmas present for somebody who doesn’t want socks or an ugly tie. (It doesn’t have to be your mum!) It takes 15 minutes to order. Once the card arrives it’s another 15 minutes to print out. 30 minutes, £30 and hopefully you made a small difference in the world.

How to order – step by step
It’s easy, you can pay for your Kalashnikov on the GoodGifts web site (or you can call 0207 794 8000 in the UK)

  • Click ‘add to cart’
  • Click ‘continue’
  • Fill in your details. If you’re paying tax in the UK then you can leave Gift Aid selected. For the additional info you could fill in “PledgeBank.com”. It’s a pity you do have to make a one-off user account.
  • A confirmation email should arrive (probably only a few seconds)
  • If you want an E-card PDF file to print out then type “ECARD” in the top text box. I left the bottom box blank, I will print out the card and handwrite a message.
  • Click ‘continue’
  • Select ‘WorldPay Secure Credit Card Payment’ if you want to pay by credit-card and click ‘continue’
  • ‘confirm order’
  • Click on ‘visa’ for example
  • (Note that you really do have to disable your pop-up blocker. Bad design!)
  • Fill in the fields and click ‘order’
  • A confirmation email from orders@goodgifts.com should arrive within seconds.
  • Wait for the E-card to arrive.

What do you get?
A nice card (or E-card if you’re in a hurry)

Where does the money go?
£4.95 goes towards postage and running costs of GoodGifts run by the Charities Advisory Trust
£25.00 goes to APT Enterprise Development who send the money to their partner MAPCO in Sierra Leone

What happens in Sierra Leone?
APT hope to help about 6000 people with this project. The weapons are first ‘disabled’ by the UN, usually by removing the firing mechanism before the partner organisation, MAPCO, can purchase them. Ex-combatants have been trained as blacksmiths and they convert the weapons into productive tools – hoes, sickles, cutlasses, shovels, axes and other garden implements.

Photos of the project in action

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(photos from APT)


How to remember 150 different passwords without your brain exploding

December 13, 2005

At the last count I had 150 different computer accounts and no, they don’t all have the same password! The last thing I want is for somebody who cracks my password for an online word processor to then get access to my bank account.

A secure database to store all my passwords

I use an excellent open-source password database called KeePass to keep track of all my passwords (as well any other registration keys, credit card numbers and codes). I also record any details required when registering with a new site, then if my postal address changes I can do a quick search through the database to see which sites I need to update with my new address.

This is a big help, but I don’t want to fire up a password manager every single time I need to login to something. So I have a manual system for generating passwords based on the service name or website.

A unique and secure password for each service

Here are two examples:

For hotmail.com

This is how I login 2 Hotmail letter 3 = t which gives the password: TihIl2H-l3=t

Or for Skype.com

This is how I login 2 Skype letter 3 = y which gives the password: TihIl2S-l3=y

I think these are secure passwords, they are 12 characters long, a mixture of upper and lower case, contain no names or dates and the phrase makes them quite easy to remember.

So with a system like this you can remember your different passwords, protect your online identity and of course there’s little chance of splattering your monitor with brain.

Going further

Consider having a few different passwords phrases and encoding systems, that way even if somebody gets hold of a few of your passwords they still can’t crack everything.

Change your password system occasionally. This is actually why I use a password database like KeePass. By keeping it up to date I know which passwords I’ve changed. Otherwise you never change your passwords because you’re afraid you’ll forget which passwords changed and to what.

You might want to consider using an automated system for generating passwords based on a domain name which is even more secure than the manual system I described.

(This post inspired by a discussion about passwords with Coolz0r)


Setting the language for all text in PowerPoint

December 9, 2005

As a native English speaker in Belgium I often get asked to proof-read text. I usually ask people to run a spell-checker first.

PowerPoint does not seem to have a simple way to select all text and then set the language. Frequently I get a .ppt files with basic spelling errors in the text boxes as they are set to Dutch spelling.

Here’s a recipe for setting the language for an entire PowerPoint presentation:

  • In PowerPoint select Tools / Macro / Visual Basic Editor. The editor window will pop-up
  • Select Insert / Module and a blank document will appear
  • Paste the following Visual Basic Macro into the blank document:
Sub SetLanguageInAllFrames()
For s = 1 To ActivePresentation.Slides.Count
For f = 1 To ActivePresentation.Slides(s).Shapes.Count
If ActivePresentation.Slides(s).Shapes(f).HasTextFrame Then
ActivePresentation.Slides(s).Shapes(f).TextFrame.TextRange _
.LanguageID = msoLanguageIDEnglishUS
End If
Next f
Next s
End Sub
  • Close the Visual Basic Editor and return to your presentation
  • Select Tools / Macro / Run Macros …
  • Run the macro SetLanguageInAllFrames

Now all of your text will be marked as US English and you can use the normal spell checker.

(You may need to enable macros before you can run it – leave a comment f you have problems. The VB code is based on this example from antonin_1955)


First post – nothing profound

December 9, 2005

Just testing the stability of the universe