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.


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”?


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.


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.


June 7th, 2014

There’s been a veritable explosion of outrage accross twatter and feckbook concerning anti-homeless spikes in a doorway in London: people have compared them to anti-pigeon spikes, and that we’re demonising homeless people like we would pigeons or other vermin.

The Outrage Bus has been struggling to cope.

And now, the anti “disciplinary architecture” nutters begin to appear- they seem to consider that any structures that are designed as to stop potentially undesireable activity, like this anti-skate-boarding studding, designed to protect publicly-funded street furniture from damage:

An example of studding on a public bench to prevent damage from skateboards

An example of studding on a public bench to prevent damage from skateboards

is an affront to their rights, conveniently forgetting that the public space is, well, public, and has to be shared with people of all viewpoints.

It got worse, with one tweeter identifying this as anti-homeless:

This is designed to stop pedestrians and vehicles crossing in an unsafe way.

This is designed to stop pedestrians and vehicles crossing in an unsafe way.

When it’s clearly designed to stop vehicles and/or pedestrians crossing that space, probably for road safety, but let’s not let the facts get in the way, eh?

Just a couple of thoughts: Firstly yes, the spikes aren’t nice, but then having people sleep in your doorway probably isn’t either. Don’t we all think the outrage would be better targetted at the very fact that we have people so desperate they have nowhere to sleep but a doorway or under a bridge? It’s like the facebook “like this to stop cancer” posts: pointless. If you’re really concerned and want to help, Crisis is this way, and Shelter is over here.

Secondly, if anyone is seriously suggesting we should design the urban environment to accomodate desperate homeless people because there’s nowhere else, then we have failed as a society.

That’s worth getting angry about.

Take the High Road

June 4th, 2014

You take the low road, and I’ll take the high road, and I’ll use more fuel..

We’ve been away to Scotland; more precisely Mallaig, the end of the Road to the Isles.

A common theme of our trips up north seems to be killer road allegations- though I suspect the 30mph advisories on some of the bends may be the attempted fix for this (for the record, with the exception of a couple of sharp bends under narrow bridges, there’s not a bend on the road that you couldn’t get round safely at well above that unless you have 4 bald crossplies and knackered dampers).

Anyway, our journey was uneventful.

Friday afternoon’s trip took us to Moffat and an overnight stop. Next morning, a fuel stop, and off up the A82 (another “killer road” that can provide some real entertainment if you like the twisties. It’s noticeable that a lot of improvement work is happening now: The section at Pulpit Rock that had traffic lights for years will soon be wider- a deck is being built out into the loch- and Crianlarich’s bypass looks imminent. A turn to the west just after Fort William, a trip past Glenfinnan and Our Lady of the Braes and Inverailort House (give me a pile of cash and that’ll be my highland home) and we’re soon in Mallaig: the A830 was quiet, and I didn’t have 4 bald crossplies ;-).
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Talking Law

May 2nd, 2014

As the Internet acronym goes, IANAL, and don’t claim to be, or indeed to know that much about legal process, but Tim Turner does: he trains people “on Data Protection, FOI, EIR, PECR and Information Rights“.

He’s written a very good blog post here on what actually is legal when it comes to direct marketing (what I would call spam…), and indeed, what isn’t, which would seem to make a pretty clear statement about this, for a start, and also, I was pleased to see, mentioned that lovely firm Amber Windows getting a kicking.

Please read the blog, and then start to think about the unsolicited calls, texts, and email you receive.


May 1st, 2014

I’d always been a bit doubtful of disc brakes on bikes: I’d always thought that the idea of braking at the centre of the wheel would mean less performance, given the torque needed, but I was proved wrong: even my cheap hybrid bike with simple, cable brakes (I was amazed to discover hydraulic brakes on a bike…) offers much better braking that the old one with rim brakes, surprisingly so: I’d guess that the leverage can be greater as the gap between the friction surfaces can be closer (as there’s no need to take account of a out-of-true rim).

Tonight though, I discovered the best advantage: the rim brakes on the old bike fouled the tyre when removing the wheel, which meant removing the shoes or deadjusting the brake, a right pain in the arse. Disc brakes? no bother- undo the quick-release and the wheel drops out (mental note: this must be a theft potential…). This means that when I had the puncture fairy’s first visit in 12 months of having the bike, I got it fixed quick, and still had time for a quick spin taking in the delights of Brownhills, even after the tedium of finding the tyre levers and patches.

[edit: fixed my woeful grammar and typing]

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