Archive for the 'General' Category

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.

Happy Christmas

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

A bit earlier in the day for my Christmas message: the way the season has fallen means that everything seems to e sorted early. I’m sat inside, watching my neighbours put up our lights, which seems the good way to do it. I’ll maybe buy them a pint later.

Once again I’ve managed to put faces to a few new people from online in the last year, and very pleasurable it was too. There’s still friends to meet, but Brownhills Bob has already listed them, as usual.

We’re looking forward to Christmas with 2 pussy cats for the first time, rather than burying one :-/, and so far, we’re not ill.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Alf

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

An unusual Monday evening a few weeks ago saw us at Birmingham Symphony Hall for Alison Moyet’s The Minutes tour. Booked literally months ago, with one thing and another we’d almost forgotten about it.

I’d been very much in two minds: I’d loved her work in Yazoo with Vince Clarke, and early solo work (Alf & Raindancing, but not so keen on later stuff: I like synthpop. It was a pleasant surprise, then, to find the traditional “two quiet blokes behind electronics” and an announcment from the lady herself that The Minutes was a return to a more electronic sound, and even better to find the second track being Nobody’s Diary, a personal favourite, with Vince Clarke-esque playing. The rest of the concert was a mix of The Minutes and older songs- some with a new twist to them, and a great gig.

It’s been years since I saw pop at Symphony Hall, and I’d forgotten what a great venue it is: we were on a balcony, so loads of room (important for me), and a comfortable seat which moves. The sound was great too- the famously good acoustics of the clever design combining with some good sound engineering to make the sound clear and balanced.

Something Somewhere

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Time for a whinge: another mobile data whinge, but I’m going to pick on someone here.

Vodafone.

I’ve been a customer of theirs for many, many years now, after a falling out with Orange over a several hundred pound bill and threats of baliffs, and before having a smartphone, I was fairly happy with them.

There was always the noticeable failure of any coverage in the local pubs, and the odd wobble near work but otherwise things worked.

Things were different with a smartphone: the total lack of any data throughput near home unless on wifi or using a sure signal really began to annoy, and it only just about working seemingly anywhere I go (Pelsall and Rushall regularly, and also when on holiday) really annoyed. Vodafone then pushed me over the edge (hah!) with a tweet promoting their 4G rollout in Birmingham (which is one of only two places I’ve seen genuinely good 3G performance):

Screenshot from 2013-09-17 19:50:44

They replied:

Screenshot from 2013-09-17 19:52:59

I’ve been there, done that (Voda’s techies were very nice, and explained that yes, coverage was poor there….). At this point, some Lichfield followers chipped in:

Screenshot from 2013-09-17 19:57:37

Which makes a bit of a lie out of Vodafone’s statement, at least locally.

My whinge here is the same as before: The networks will push the latest & greatest, and we’re all told about the massive benefits of mobile data, but the substance doesn’t meet the facts, and big, rich companies aren’t investing. On holiday recently, we struggled to get any service for a good proportion of the time, and data was useless.

So then. I’ve had enough. Vodafone will be dumped at end-of-contract. I already have a Three PAYG SIM, and will try GiffGaff (who are a MVNO for O2, like Virgin are for EE/Orange/T-Mobile) and any others I see fit. First trial of Three sees very impressive coverage here, but it may not be so good elsewhere.

For the comments: Who is the least shit mobile operator? For a while, at least, I’m prepared to go SIM-only, and maybe buy a handset if needed.

Wolverhampton Drinkies

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

A social encounter with friends saw us making the trip to Wolverhampton yesterday. We elected to avoid the 529 Chav Express, and after a short hop on the 10, caught the 89 from Shelfield, the slower, but less unpleasant option. We bought nbus tickets, as we’ve been caught out by non-NXWM buses before now. The West Midlands is badly in need of either online ticket sales, debit card ticket machines, or an Oystercard equivalent: finding £8.40 in change is a struggle, as is feeding it into the ticket machine.

After a false start trying to find the Lych Gate Tavern, we discovered it right in front of us, and enjoyed a few pints in pleasant company, then went off to old favourite The Posada, before curry at the very pleasant Dilshad. The journey home did involve the 529, as the 89 goes from $deity-knows-where, but things were quiet :-)

“Clean Wi-Fi”

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

They’re at it again then.

The politicians, despite being met with indifference over the wholesale filtering of domestic Internet connections, our right honourable overlords now wish to promote “good, clean, wi-fi” in public spaces.

Whatever the fuck that means. No porn, maybe? The conspiracy theory types will say this is just the thin end of the wedge for censorship. We could have all sorts of content considered ‘unclean’.

I’ve already discussed that providing wi-fi for public access can be hard, and this is a further obstacle. It’s unclear what the term “wi-fi provider” defines- it could be anything from the biggies like BT Openzone down to my local friendly garage or pub who have chucked a Netgear domestic router in for customers to use.

I’ve already said how hard it is to do filtering properly, and you don’t have to take my word for it.

It’s a bit easier to do on a larger scale, with some enterprise-grade hardware and a subscription, but this costs thousands of pounds a year, and still isn’t 100% accurate.

The domestic routers a lot of small potential wi-fi providers use are the same sort of stuff we all use at home. Here’s my router’s filtering setup page:

router setup page

A typical domestic router’s filtering setup: dependent on manual entries. Click to embiggen.

It’s reliant on maintaining a list of dodgy sites and entering them. Other routers can block based on DNS hostnames, but this, once again, relies on manually keyed blacklists. This is not going to encourage the provision of free wif-fi if people have to stump up time and money, or face legal problems if they don’t.

Here’s a wild idea: if you’re a parent, talk to your kids about the content available on the Internet (the chances being, if they’re teenagers, they can probably teach you a thing or two). Don’t devolve parenting to tech, and if you really have to, do it on the device, where you have control.


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