Archive for the 'General' Category

A Bad Apple

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

Andy, Ross and BrownhillsBob may be expecting me to have a pop at Apple here (as is my way), but I’m not going to, or at least only a brief whinge, with the main target (again) being idiots that claim to know a product, but don’t.

Those of you with long memories may remember this lengthy rant. A short swipe at OSX, and a big load rant at fucking Symantec (as a colleague commented, is there *any* company Symantec have bought and not fucked up the product?), and a big rant at fuckwits who don’t understand what they are being paid to do.

The OSX server mentioned in that rant failed. To be completely fair, it’s worked completely reliably for six years now, which is impressive. So I’m not going to complain, and it was clearly hardware that was bost.

A few attempts by colleagues and myself to resurrect it failed, so we called the support company (sadly the same fuckwits from the story back in 2009). They wander in, (bringing a manual, which sets off alarm bells- I’d expect a field engineer to not need it….) say the server’s not supported by Fruitco any more, that parts are a nightmare, briefly try (and fail to get) Target Disk Mode, (which, I note, doesn’t work with disks attached to a hardware RAID card, so wouldn’t have helped), shrug a bit, say that our diagnosis of a buggered RAID card might be right or maybe it might be the logic board (as there’s little more than those 2 fucking boards in it, this is hardly advanced diagnosis, and leave.

At this point, I begin to wonder what we’re paying the fuckers for, and I start restoring the files to the only place we have a Backup Exec agent and 1TB of spare storage: a Windows Server 2003 box. Most of the data restores, but some recent work is lost as it didn’t make the tapes (the Mac workstations being too old for Time Machine), and some initially didn’t restore due to file naming incompatibilities (take it from me, anyone using mixed operating systems (our backup is Windows-based) should read this, and this: most of the restrictions are with Windows, but you never know what OS you may be sharing files with. I personally think it all went downhill once spaces were allowed in filenames :-), and here’s my brief whinge: I know the limitation is Windows, but allowing “:” and “\” in a filename is just fucking wrong, and supporting your hardware a bit longer would be nice.

Now then, what to do? The users are (mostly) working again. First of all, the original support co is ditched. We call another supplier, and the difference is incredible: engineer arrives, asks all the right questions, listens to what diagnostic steps we’ve tried, sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, diagnoses a logic board failure, and offers to take the server back to the workshop to attempt recovery of the recent data for a very modest fee. Guess who’ll be getting the support contract, and potentially an order for new machines in a while?

It also makes me think I should have taken better note of the warning signs six years ago: these people claim to be supporting us (and originally claimed to know the product, but, as is so often the case, don’t. I’m glad to say that I didn’t arrange their involvement.

A Frosty Reception

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Having fixed my bike on Christmas Eve, I thought I’d take advantage of the daylight and fully functioning gears and go to Chasewater for the first time in months. The canal was frozen, and the towpaths covered in frost, but the only time I had a slip was climbing Ogley Junction bridge, making it neccesary to walk over it. Other than that, the frost hissed away under the tyres harmlessly, though I took it very carefully over the railway aqueduct, with it’s exposed brick path covered in frost.

I’ve biked a bit in the recent cold and since the fix, but only short hops on main roads, and it was nice to get back on the canal: few people were about, the sun was bright, and while it was cold, the sharpness of it felt good.

The local swan family were about, but split by the icy canal between Clayhanger and Anchor bridges the cygnets now pretty much fully grown but still grey in places, and hoping for food from me:

A fully-grown cygnet at Anchor Bridge

A fully-grown cygnet at Anchor Bridge

The neighbourhood cats around Ogley Hay were making use of the ice to cross the canal and extend their territory, but didn’t stay still long enough to get my gloves off and photograph them.

Chasewater itself was almost deserted: a couple of joggers and dog walkers- and the seats were all covered in frost or water, so I didn’t hang about. I didn’t even attempt to ride up Ogley Junction bridge this time, but it was still a bit of a game: evidently my cheap and nasty “whatever it came with” bike tyres, while a conmpromise most of the time, are better than one would expect on ice: perhaps bike and car tyres have some similarities at the budget end of the market.

I ended up home by 9:30- with cold hands and face, but feeling better than when I left out.

Pub Closures

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

I’ve been (again) thinking of pub closures lately; this has mostly been prompted by the reports from Andy that the Pyle Cock is to close next year (as reported here) and picked up by WV11 here. The Pyle Cock has long been one of my favourite pubs, one that I don’t visit enough, because it’s 2 bus rides away.

There’s an interesting post here (and the comments are worth a read too) from The Pub Curmudgeon. My view don’t entirely align with his (or the linked report) (he’s of the view that the smoking ban has had a large effect, and the linked article dismisses PubCo behaviour to some degree), but it does make the point that pub closures are a complex matter: it is not just beer pricing (via taxation), competition (from supermarkets) or the smoking ban: all of these factors have a role to play, as does social change- as the comments point out, increased car commuting (and greater distances to commute), and a change in working patterns also play a part. It’s noticeable in large cities with more people travelling by public transport, pubs continue to thrive, but again, it’s not that simple.

Good pubs thrive, and taking the Pyle Cock as an example, it’s difficult to see why it is closing: it was for sale for a time, and has now been sold to a developer. That suggests a PubCo taking the option to cash in on real estate, but anecdotal reports suggest the pub was not busy in general, though the current landlord has been given notice, rather than quitting himself, it would seem, so perhaps it was making *enough* money: the beer was always good and the atmosphere was fantastic, old traditional pub.

Oddly, just up the road, the ever lovely Vine
is thriving and busy, with a new, young landlord and fantastic beer, and I’m told the nearby Dog and Partridge is fine too. It’s hard to see, though, what is so very different that makes the Pyle Cock unsustainable. It remains a fact that good pubs, even those not serving food can do well, and I’ve recently been in a very traditional backstreet pub with no real ale or food that seemed to be very busy (including with smokers, outside on a cold day), which makes me wonder exactly what the factors are that close pubs?

Digital Audio in a FLAC

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Reading The Register earlier this week, this story popped up.

I thought it was interesting that the article talks about various encoding methods, master tape quality, speaker and amplifier quality, and the problems of re-encoding into Apple lossless (full marks, incidentally, to Fruitco for implementing a lossless codec, though why not use FLAC?), but manages to skip over a critical point of digital audio: the DAC.

There is of course, a lot of bollocks spoken and written about audio: this leads to crap like what this article is handily debunking, *edit* LOL */edit* but one thing is for certain: if you’ve picked a god encoding scheme and a decent bitrate, the digital path is less important than the analogue one (digital signals do not degrade gradually, analogue ones do) and the quality of the conversion is critical.

The analogue stages in most phones and computers is simply not designed for high quality, and the article doesn’t mention this: if you’re using a PC or a phone to play music, if you’re fussy, you really need to do the conversion externally to the PC itself- so either amplifier with a digital input and a PC with digital out, or a USB DAC, or maybe good bluetooth headphones, though there’s a caveat on compression and limited bandwidth with bluetooth audio, which may mean you lose what you gain, but having said that, given that bluetooth headphones are likely to be used on the move with a lot of background noise, it’s probably not important.

Flock Me

Sunday, 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.

Blackpool

Monday, 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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Presales

Tuesday, 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”?

Drinking Socially

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Yesterday saw a trip to Wolverhampton, and specifically The Great Western for fine beer, food, and good company (in the form of Country Bumpkin and his cousin and a couple of friends with no online presence (so no link..).

It’s been a long time since I’ve done this: far too long. Lots of laughs: Motley Crue’s little brothers turned up, for a start, but general good humour, and Andy bathing himself in beer helped too.

Crapisfactory

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Some of you may have noticed I like pubs. I also quite like restaurants, and indeed, one of my favourite pubs is both.

Yesterday, we went out for a Valentine’s night meal. Very nice too, at a well-respected local Thai restaurant. We went by taxi, as, quite frankly, there was no way I was driving and the weather was grim, plus we’d had to book an early table.

A great meal. Good price too, but there’s no bar to sit and drink in, so we went round the corner to The Crown to get a drink, and order a taxi.

It struck me how much I dislike this kind of place. It’s no longer a pub: it’s a “restaurant” that happens to serve beer, and at a price. You just know the food will be microwaved, and while it’s 2-for-1, the prices are inflated to take account. The staff are pleasant enough, but it doesn’t sound sincere- it comes from a manual, with an air of faux obsequious tone that jars with me: I’m not a sir, please don’t patronise me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s OK, if you’re happy with that kind of place, but this sort of homogenised, corporate, bland, marketed, formulaic approach to food and drink just depresses me: It’s like a thin parody of a pub or restaurant. It would be better were it not pretending to be a traditional pub: it falls into the same bracket as other “restaurant” chains like Frankie & Benny’s, etc, which is why the new cinema and leisure centres in town aen’t thrilling me greatly. A cinema will be nice, but it seems that I’m in a minority in not wanting more identikit chain restaurants.

Slide Rules

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Yesterday put me in a good mood: My continuing investigation of my late father’s slides had come to a halt: the over-40-year-old projector mentioned in this post frankly was too unreliable and too scary to leave switched on for any time, and had limited magazines, and the more modern one broke its changer mechanism. While I have a slide scanner, and a battery-powered viewer, they’re very inconvenient ways to deal with hundreds of slides.

I’d purchased a replacement projector- identical- via Gumtree, but unseen. When it arrived, it failed to light, and the seller was, shall we say, uninterested- caveat emptor. A brief attempt at repair or perhaps creating one worker out of the 2 failed: I’m usually quite good at getting things apart and back together, but the sheer quantity of pingfuckits in the device and reluctance for the case to open when I got the first one apart told me that way was madness.

I considered everyone’s favourite online tat bazaar, but unless one came up locally, so I could see it working, that was a non-starter, so I made a post on the Walsall Freecycle group- and it was a matter of hours before a kind benefactor in Rushall offered 2 projectors, with magazines, that both work after very minor fiddling. While the idea of Freecycle is, well, free, I’ll be making a charity donation in recognition of someone’s generosity, and the fact that otherwise I’d have risked money again. In the spirit of this, can I suggest joining the Walsall Freecycle group (or your local one if you live elsewhere)? You might get rid of stuff you need to and help someone out.

I’ve now spent a few happy hours looking through old slides: I know in there there’s one or two that may interest people: they’ll get scanned and posted when I find them.


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