Archive for the 'General' Category

Sticking it to The Man

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

I’m now, around 2 months after surgery, finally starting to feel a bit recovered- but still having to take things very, very carefully. At point of coming out of hospital, I could just about hobble a few yards on 2 sticks, or rather elbow crutches. I’ve built that up, very gradually, to the dizzy heights of half a mile with one, wandering around the house with none, and managing a trip around the supermarket with the trolley to lean on, and I can drive short distances. Soon, I’ll hopefully be better (but fatter, see below) than beforehand.

Being temporarily disabled opened my eyes to a few things.

1) People, overall, are very kind and helpful, from pub and restaurant customers to bus drivers and passengers, and taxi drivers- but people *stare*. It’s good-natured- they want to be sure you’re OK- but still uncomfortable.

2) Having to use taxis a lot gets expensive quickly. Getting to my GP surgery if someone couldn’t drive me in a car was a ridiculous journey: it is all of 2 or 3 miles, and can be done on one bus *if* you can walk about half a mile to a bus stop, which I couldn’t at that point- so taxi it was. Anyone on a low income would struggle, and even for a simpler trip to Walsall, that walk to the bus stop (only a few hundred yards) can seem a long way, and getting to a walk-in NHS centre to get staples removed would have been next to impossible except by car or taxi.

3) Room to move becomes important, and people parking on pavements, self-closing doors, and narrow doorways in buildings become really difficult.

4) Sitting on one’s increasingly capacious arse (a result of boredom eating, and going from cycling 4-5 evenings a week and walking to local shops to doing almost *nothing*) sounds like fun, but rapidly isn’t. The garden is overgrown, the cars are unwashed, and I have the time to do them, but can’t do so. Friends have helped, but I cannot rely on that all the time, and don’t want to either. By the time I *can* do it, I’ll have to go back to work :-(

5) I spent a few weeks being almost totally dependent on others- I could get to the toilet, I could get showered, and dressed (even if it took 15 minutes and a dazzling amount of expletives to put a sock on…), and it wasn’t a good experience, despite my better half being very supportive. I could get to the kitchen, but could only carry stuff I could get in a pocket. What would I do if I lived alone?

6) While Internet shopping handily solves some difficulties, being unable to lift/carry items within the house makes getting the shopping from the front door hard. I’m not suggesting they should come and put it away for me; merely that on the face of it, it seems like a fix, but I still needed assistance.

7) One’s drinking social life becomes impaired. Pubblog has had few updates, and #100pubs is looking very, very sick.

Basically, it’s stunning how many everyday things get harder, more expensive, or both, and at the risk of repeating myself, people would do well to remember this.

PS: when you start watching On The Buses repeats, and being genuinely aggrieved if you miss it, you’ve probably been at home too long ;-).

Turning the wheels

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

As I’ve been recovering from surgery, I’ve not been using my car, so to preserve the battery (now around 9 years old), I connected (well actually, my other half connected) my excellent CTEK battery charger, at first using the croc clips, then, when I was able to, using the comfort connector- a socket that is connected to the car permanently.

Doing this upset things: when I went to try and start the car, I got a load of warning lights, and plugging in the diagnostics revealed a fault code for the steering angle sensor:


00778 - Steering Angle Sensor (G85)

Clearly dicking about with the battery terminals had lost the basic setting.

The sensor simply tells the ECU how far the steering wheel has been turned, and is needed, and calibrated, so that the Stability Control knows which way the wheels are pointing, and also so the Steering Assist ECU can adjust the steering weighting according to speed and how much steering lock is applied. As such, you have to tell the Stability Control (part of the ABS controller) where straight ahead is, with this procedure, and then allow the car to calibrate where the two ends of travel of the steering rack are by following this procedure, which is why it’s remained undone until now, now I’m able to drive short distances and manage the steering with little power assistance.

In the event, it took several attempts at the second procedure, which is why today found me sitting in an quiet industrial estate, with the car running and a laptop on the passenger seat, and even then, it took a short drive and several lock-to-lock moves to clear. The steering was both very heavy and devoid of feel until all of a sudden, the fault lamp cleared, the steering got lighter, all started working correctly, and a scan produced this:

A happy steering assistance ECU

A happy steering assistance ECU

All a bit complicated, really, but that’s the price we pay for all the fancy active safety gear, and another sign of how car systems interact: the steering angle sensor will report an error in the steering assist ECU, but the basic settings are set in the ABS/Stability controller, and both controllers get upset if this setting is lost.

Shout

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

The 80s Tears for Fears song Shout contains the line

These are the things I can do without

and that came true last Friday. Warning: middle-aged whinge content approaching.

I’d already arranged to meet a friend in a local pub, when my neighbours suggested a meal out. I’d got plenty of time, so we trotted (well, walked) off to a local pub. The food and beer was fine, but one thing *really* grated: the volume.

The music wasn’t the problem. What was the problem was a group of people, clustered around the bar (Grrr!) seemingly unable to conduct a conversation at normal volume: even the act of moving out of my way so I could get to the PDQ machine was accompanied by a needless cacophony of shouts (to which I muttered “for fucks sake” under my breath (hopefully)), and something about the acoustics of the room made it impossible to hold a conversation ourselves (though, as we’re all distinctly middle-aged, it could be the start of our hearing deteriorating in a noisy environment).

This was repeated later when I met my friend in another pub, but also with a band playing. Loud.

I really don’t mind music in pubs; or indeed bands in pubs. In fact, I love music in pubs, if it’s decent, but why always so loud? The loud music, of course, then creates the shouting if it wasn’t there already.

This thing really feeds into my perfect pub post: and it’s worth noting that the pubs I really like often have no music, like this one, this one or this one, or music you can converse over, like this one and this one and, again referring to my critera, the old model of multi-room pubs (before they all got knocked into one space) really helps here: it may have been an answer to the smoking issue too (as many pubs had a smoke room back in the day).

This is starting to sound like a grumpy old man’s desire for quiet pubs with no life to them (last Sunday, I visibly winced when one heavily refreshed customer suggested my local needed loud music on the jukebox to “liven it up” (on a Sunday evening, FFS)), but I’ll address that in two ways. First of all, I know I’m not alone, and secondly, having been in this place at work-chucking-out on a Friday, with it rammed to the point of standing room only, and felt the buzz in the place, which, frankly, was infectious, but still been able to talk to my companion, because people were talking, I can honestly say that at times I crave a bit of life to a pub.

So then: am I just getting old (though, in truth, I’ve hated over-loud pubs since my teens), or getting (even more) boring? I know Andy will agree here, but he’s older than me (and possibly, if the two of us are present, this post may become hypocritical…), and others may not, and I suppose here there’s a point to be made that pubs are, well, public spaces, so have to accommodate different tastes.

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”?


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