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Testing websites on Internet Explorer 8 (and 6 and 7) on Windows XP from Windows 7

Browser compatibility testing for older browser versions is a bit tricky to test across operating systems — some solutions include having different machines or using some online services that take screenshots of what your site looks like in a multitude of browsers in a multitude of different operating systems.

IETester is useful for testing older versions of Internet Explorer on the same operating system. However, it’s not a perfect representation of the environment; for example, there are some XP-specific issues that you can’t reproduce from within Windows 7 even if you are using the same browser version.

Regarding Internet Explorer on Windows, there is something called “XP Mode” on Windows 7 Professional and higher. I was mistakenly under the impression that to launch Windows XP from within Windows 7, I had to have Windows 7 Professional.

Windows Virtual PC is free on Windows 7 Home Premium and higher. While Windows 7 Professional and higher touts an “XP Mode” for running a separate operating system setup from within Windows 7, you don’t actually need it. What XP Mode gives you is one full license (non time-limited) for Windows XP in the form of an image to be used with Virtual PC. (As a side note, you’d still have a bit of a limitation if you used XP Mode, because you’d have to choose one version of Internet Explorer to use.)

Microsoft provides time-limited, ready-to-go setups of Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP to be used with Windows Virtual PC so that you can test Internet Explorer 6, 7, 8. You can download and boot those different versions of Windows within minutes directly from Microsoft. You can save multiple images of Windows XP (and Vista and 7 if needed) for each browser version that you need to test.

If there is ever a need to test older versions of other browsers on Windows without having to maintain multiple machines, you could probably use the setup described above for that as well.

Extra notes: by default, the login to the images is tied to the users on your Windows 7 system. However, you can click “Tools” > Disable Integration Features, at which point it will let you log in with the user “IE User” and the password “Password1″

Currency exchange in downtown Vancouver, BC

When you’re in Vancouver and you need to exchange Canadian dollars for foreign currency, and vice versa, you want to stay away from many of the currency exchange companies. However, the common alternatives (the banks and credit unions) still include quite a large spread in their buy and sell rates. When you’re in downtown Vancouver, the Vancouver Bullion and Currency Exchange (VBCE) at Pender and Howe is widely recommended as giving the best rates.

However, I’ve often run into long lines at the VBCE, especially at mid-day. Just over 1 block away — east on Pender and then north on Granville if you’re on foot — is a small shop called Benny Lee & Co that I can also recommend. The address is 470 Granville Street (formerly 619 West Hastings Street). The couple of times that I’ve gone there, I did not encounter a line, and the rates were comparable to those at the VBCE.

You can also exchange currency online at XE Trade if you have both Canadian dollar and US dollar bank accounts.

Rental car booking tips and coupons

From the few times that I’ve rented a car, I’ve discovered a few simple tips that make for a smoother booking and renting experience.

Sign up for the company’s membership program

Signing up for the often free membership program is worth it simply to bypass the normal lines at busy locations (such as at airports) and use the shorter member-only lines. The time savings can be negligible to an hour or more. Enterprise Rent-A-Car‘s Enterprise Plus program is free, as is Hertz #1 Gold (for a limited time; search around online to see if you can also get it free if you have various affiliations such as particular credit cards).

There are other benefits, which may or may not be useful to you. Free car upgrades are good if you are interested in driving a nicer car, but cars at higher levels are usually bigger and less fuel efficient. Some of the promotional deals they e-mail you about might be interesting as well. And, if you are a frequent renter, then you might make use of programs such as Hertz’s that give you points with each rental that can be used toward future discounts.

Use Entertainment Book coupons

The Entertainment Book often has coupons for all of the major car rental companies: Avis, Budget, Enterprise, National, Alamo, and Hertz. It’s a good idea to search around for other coupons, but the few times I’ve booked a car, I found the best savings by using an Entertainment Book coupon. (And the last time, it worked out to be a 60% savings; I’m not sure whether that was a system glitch or not.)

Use comparison sites… for price comparison

From what I’ve seen, most of the rental car companies are very similar. They all get overwhelmingly mediocre reviews online, but you can get a straightforward, pleasant experience from all of them depending on the circumstances. Make use of Priceline and Hotwire to see what deals are available, but don’t assume that they will offer a better deal than booking directly with the rental car company and using a coupon. You also have to pay immediately and give up the right to cancel your booking if you book through one of the discount, comparison / bidding sites.

Other tips

  • Insurance is important: check to see whether you already have a membership, normal auto insurance plan, or credit card that already covers your car rentals.
  • Beware of the upsell: there are often GPS, gas prepayment, and toll auto-payment offers that you are presented with at the time of car pick-up when you don’t have the energy or time to think them through. They are always touted as a great deal or a savings, but are usually not. For example, I was told that if I prepaid gas for the car I would save over filling up at a gas station — this was true, but only if I were to return the car with a completely empty tank.

Autocompletions on a custom input field with Google Custom Search

Google Custom Search is a mostly free, relatively easy way to add a customizable, powerful search engine to your own website. Although it is not as tunable as some other systems, it does not require installing anything on your server or much knowledge of code. And by mostly free, I mean that if you are not a non-profit organization, university, or government, you have to show Google Ads on the results page or pay a yearly fee.

Among many features, it has a nice autocomplete feature…

Google Custom Search autocomplete example

… and quite a few layout options:

Configuration of Google Custom Search layouts

The “two page” layout option is what enables you to have a search field in, for example, the header or sidebar of your site, and have the results display in a dedicated page. Google will provide you with JavaScript code snippets for your particular site to insert for the search form and the results page, and these should work out of the box.

With the provided JavaScript code, Google will automatically create the search field and form within a table. In my case all I wanted was to enable autocomplete and also to have the input field and the search button on separate lines, which was not possible with the automatically-generated code, since it puts the input field and search button in adjacent table cells. There is some decent API documentation and an example proof of concept (which also adds a basic Google search logo to the field background, and clears it when the cursor enters the field), but neither showed a basic, documented example.

Here’s some barebones example code — for the search form only — if you’re using the two-page layout with autocomplete enabled and want to use an existing form instead of having Google generate it. The only thing that you would absolutely have to change is the first parameter in the “attachAutoCompletion” function: your_custom_search_id, which is the ID that Google gives you for your particular site’s search engine.

<form id="yoursite-search" action="/search">
    <input id="yoursite-search-field" name="q" type="text" />  
    <input type="submit" value="Search" />

<script src="" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
    google.load( 'search', '1' );
    // Run this once the Google search JavaScript has loaded
    google.setOnLoadCallback( function() {
        // This makes your input field support autocomplete
        // The first parameter is your account identifier with Google Search
        // The second parameter is the DOM element of your search input field, which you could also grab with jQuery
        // The third parameter is the ID of your search form, not the actual DOM element. This is required so that when a user clicks on a search suggestion, the form gets submitted automatically
            document.getElementById( 'yoursite-search-field' ),
            'yoursite-search' );

Extra developer note: if you’re trying to style the auto-complete result dropdown, it’s populated in a result table with class “gsc-completion-container” and individual suggestions in spans, so you can change the font size, colour, and so on with specific style rules overriding the defaults, such as:

.gsc-completion-container span { font-size: 12px; }

Where to buy roller hockey pucks in Metro Vancouver

Typically I think of SportChek first for hockey equipment needs in Metro Vancouver, due mostly to the number of locations they have. However, I’ve found their selection and service to be a bit lacking lately. I was recently looking for inline hockey pucks, specifically the red Pro Shot ones used by the PICH roller hockey league:

Pro-shot red roller hockey puck

Of course, Sportchek didn’t seem to have them. Here are two recommended stores (which also have online stores) to find roller hockey pucks:

  • The Hockey Shop in Surrey, just across from Surrey Central SkyTrain station. They had many different types of pucks. I can give a generally good review of The Hockey Shop — they seem to carry everything hockey, and have friendly, helpful staff. The particular type of puck I was looking for was cheaper here.
  • Cyclone Taylor Sports, which has a location in one of the Richmond roller hockey rinks.