Flock Me

September 21st, 2014

The other day, while in a taxi with my better half, we were reminded (by the Indian music the driver was playing) of what used to be the standard Indian meal experience: the flock wallpaper, red carpet, Indian music, After Eight mints and rose-for-the lady experience.

We kind of miss it: there’s lots of great Indian restaurants- several very near home- but the walls are un-flocked, the music is usually modern pop (or worse, R&B), the flooring laminate, and the rose missing. The After Eight is usually still there though.

So, what happened? Am I hankering after a lost time, with mere nostalgia? Will we ever see a resurgence of the “traditional” curry experience? Does anyone know of a local curry house that still has flock wallpaper? I’m not the only one to wonder about this, while some are eager to discount it as the bad old days, and welcome in the modern standard look, but I feel we’re losing out on something.

Surface Treatment

September 6th, 2014

A few days ago, we got a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 at work. It’s not a bad machine: it’s a Laplet: a hybrid laptop/tablet, and it works well, if we excuse it for Windows 8- the hardware is nice, thin, light, and i7 versions are quick, so it’s a good fit for the very mobile staff that
will be using it.

I remain convinced that Win 8 is a bastardisation of touch-screen tablet OS and a desktop OS that feels like an unholy marriage, though I’m hating it less as I get used to it.

What really creates a whinge is this little stroke of genius, which caused a support call and much fannying around testing chargers this week.

You can see the product launch meeting now:

Dilbert

Yes, Microsoft launched a device, launched a dock for it at the same time (we got the dock a day or two after the device itself), and managed to make the two not work together at launch. Cue a large loss of faith in what should be a good product.

*facepalm*.

You see this a lot with technology, and come to that, with poorly managed processes outside of tech:

1. Decide on arbitary launch date and fix everything to that.
2. Skimp on the preparation/testing, or ignore the problems.
3. Wonder why it’s all gone wrong.

The result is pretty much as you’d expect; you look inept…

Blackpool

August 18th, 2014

Our ongoing pier to pier network continues, and we were considering Worthing or Penarth, but I didn’t fancy the drive round the M25 for Worthing, and I’m likely to take a business trip to Cardiff early next year, which hopefully I’ll be able to sideline a trip to Penarth into, so where to go?

Llandudno’s pier is nice, but we’ve been there a few times, although not for a while. Colwyn Bay? The town was seriously grim last time I visited, and the pier is both in a shocking state, under dispute of ownership, and under threat of demolition, and therefore closed. A real shame, it could be beautiful, but even if the town was nicer, the pier is nicely cut off from town by the North Wales Expressway.

We decided on a combination of high pier count, and not too long a drive (so I thought, see later), and a bit of seaside trashiness: Blackpool.
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Dirty Boy

July 29th, 2014

I’ve gone on here before about how web filtering is wrong and doesn’t work properly, and how the bigger the scale, the harder it is.

We’ve also seen that, according to an Ofcom report (PDF, 1.1MB) customers have greeted the filters with rejection.

That’s quite gratifying, I think. People are being actively prompted to allow censorship, and are rejecting it. Of course, that the tech required is now in place will make it easier to do more packet inspection should law (or other means) request it…

Here’s the Open Rights Group‘s take on it, the approach is humourous, but the message is serious.

If you think this won’t happen, try the Scunthorpe Problem for size.

I’m personally of the opinion that an ISP should do one thing: provide the infrastructure to route packets to the internet, and maybe a few basic services (like DNS, SMTP etc). You might note that the sponsors of that video refuse to offer a filtered connection, something they’re to be congratulated on.

If, like me, you want to defend an open, uncensored Internet with reasonably privacy, then consider joining the Open Rights Group or the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Note that ORG is a UK organisation, EFF is US-based.

Loosely Comnnected

July 26th, 2014

This is quite a wierd one: some time ago at a company I work for sometimes, a colleague tried to replace some old 15″ LCD monitors with shiny new 19″ ones, to be confronted by extereme flickering. I had a look, tried the monitors with my laptop, and got a flicker-free picture. I made sure the leads weren’t too close to mains cable, but no change.

We assumed some incompatibility with the (elderly) PCs, and another colleague changed the PCs recently. In the course of doing so, he discovered the real cause. A power lead- just a normal BS1363-IEC C13 (colloquially known as a kettle lead), but, tellingly, with a rewireable BS1363 plug, not a moulded one. Remove the lead, problem stops. This lead was connecting one of the PCs that was working perfectly well, and flicker-free with the 15″ monitor.

I looked at the lead the next day:

The culprit: a badly fitted plug.

The culprit: a badly fitted plug.

and it seemed kind of OK at a glance, though that neutral lead should have been cut shorter.

What did turn out to be wrong was every terminal was loose: loose enough to turn by hand, so I presume that the intermittent connection caused enough noise to upset the new monitor, but not the old one. Disturbingly, this lead had passed a current PAT test, when potentially it’s a fire hazard: loose connections can overheat.

I don’t know if the connections had worked loose (which is one reason why connections in screw terminals should not be tinned with solder) or just sloppily fitted in the first case. The plug did rattle when shaken, but it would do that even with tight terminals, as the pins have a bit of play in the housing. Full marks to my colleague for spotting an obscure fault.

Another Brick in the Wall

July 20th, 2014

One for the Walsall history types.

One of Walsall’s better buildings, 41 Bridge St. You can see a picture, and read details here, on Walsall Council’s local listing page. or here on Flickr. Yes, amazingly, this building is not listed, just locally listed, and we all know what protection that gives.

Anyway, this is a great building, and is in use, so unlikely to get the attention of the civic arsonist. It’s rather beautiful, what with all the ironwork on the roof and such, but sitting outside the St Matthews Hall pub the other night, something struck us:

41 Bridge St, from where it approached Lichfield St. There's something odd about the 2nd floor,

41 Bridge St, from where it approached Lichfield St. There’s something odd about the 2nd floor.

a section of wall has been entirely rebuilt in modern brick: the roof and either end look original, and the new work is clearly intended to facsimile the original, but doesn’t quite manage it. I know this building has been the subject of renovation (I think I recall the ironwork being replaced/refurbished), but what happened here, anyone? It’s quite an odd thing- did the bulding suffer damage?

I remember the building as the Heart of England Building Society myself- formerly Walsall Mutual Building Society, apparently.

Poor Kitty :-(

June 29th, 2014

This morning’s bike ride revealed a sad sight: someone’s lovely ginger pussycat got himself (most gingers are male) run over hereish:

not far from the junction of Pool View and Barns Lane.

I moved the body before he got more squished, and came back with the car, and took him to Firstvets Aldridge (the nearest vet open today), and got him scanned for a microchip- sadly there wasn’t one.

He looked well cared for and had a collar, so someone will be missing their cat. If it’s you, my sympathy. Firstvets will keep the body for a while if you want to give him a decent burial. They reckon he wasn’t long dead, so it was probably this morning: we found him at around 9:20.

Presales

June 24th, 2014

Hopefully, none of by regular readers (both of them…) work in IT presales, because I’m about to upset them if so.

What the very fuck is the point of “Presales Consultants”? They inhabit an odd, other-worldly space where promises are made, brochures are truth, and all of the claimed features just work, like magic, with no problems, no requirements and no effort.

I was recently involved in the specification of a system. Two meetings were part of this: one with a project manager and a pre-sales guy, one with the same project manager and an actual engineer who installs the kit.

The first was full of vaguearies, listings of features, unconvincing promises and a complete lack of guidance about what options fitted the exact situation we had, and awkward silences where this was expected.

The second actually saw some real answers and a way forward.

The pre-sales guy is almost certainly paid more than the engineer, despite contributing nothing and pissing off the customer. So then, are the presales guys a waste of space, or am I in my closed little techie world, missing the “big picture”?

WYSINWYG

June 22nd, 2014

Most people are familiar with WYSIWYG- What You See Is What You Get- a computer user interace that displays things in a format that fairly accurately displays on screen what the final output will be, so that (as a simple example) rather than a bit of code:


<b>this text is bold</b>

you get

this text is bold

I’ve spent several hours of my life recently trying to find out why a program I have to use daily was refusing to email people. Here’s the UI:

Skeuomorphic twice over? A web app emulates a phone emulating a slider switch, badly.

Skeumorphic twice over? A web app emulates a phone emulating a slider switch, badly.

.

You’ll notice the option to email two people, controlled by sliders. These are a skeuomorph: soemthing that icorporates design features of something it emulates- in this case, a slide switch. In fact, it’s a double skeuomorph: it’s a web interface impersonationg a smartphone impersonating a slide switch.

I’ve got two problems with it. Firstly it’s unneccesary frippery and animation, and secondly, it plain doesn’t work. It’s distinctly What You See Is Not What You Get. I’ll grant you there’s a certain amount of PEBCAK here on my part, but the control is broken.

If you click on the left-hand side of the control, and swipe accross, like you might with the control it imitates on a smartphone, the control changes to YES. It does the same if you click the right-hand end, or if you click and drag, keeping within the boundaries of the control. The difference is that if you use the first method, like I did, it shows YES, but registers NO to the back-end software, and gives you a several-hour troubleshooting session to work out why the email didn’t send. An older version of the software has a simple check-box here, and I suspect that this is a simple case of layering a bit of wankery over the top for effect…

Opinions differ on skeuomorphs: some consider them to be problematic, and some think them great, for the same reason: they imitate familiar technology, and so either make people confused, or make then feel at home. This one definitely left me confused.

giffgaff

June 16th, 2014

Last September, I’d finally had enough of Vodafone; a phone network that, at one time, I was very happy with: I think that their coverage has acutally degraded- if not in objective terms, then at least in relation to my expectations and the marketing of a supposedly leading network, and I was surprised by how poorly Voda’s coverage met my needs. I went to the lengths of testing: coverage maps, I find, are at best a guide, and at worst misleading.

Long story short, I decided on giffgaff, on the basis that there’s no contract (effectively it’s pay-as-you-go, but the auto top-up and goodybag arrangement means you can get the benefits of not having to piss about the top-ups and having a fixed cost) and that the coverage seemed good enough everywhere I regularly went.

A revelation: I have a smartphone that now works as intended- in contact with the Internet most of the time, and that can, you know, make or receive calls. It no longer drops out of coverage randomly, which at times had made me think the phone performed below-par, simply because I thought the network couldn’t be that poor, surely?

On the whole the testing showed EE to be a bit better, performance-wise, but a good bit more costly. The nice thing is that now I have no commitment: should giffgaff be troublesome I can drop them instantly, but the first month of use is encouraging.


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