Jul
03
2017

Saying “those who have done nothing to wrong have nothing to hide” is playing with fire

May
01
2017

Voting Conflict

I retain that each time voting comes around my biggest challenge is having to decide who I distrust the least instead of the other way around. This has never been more true than it is now.

Brexit looms large over politics at the moment and it has left me with further contempt for our political system. That said, I still believe that voting is a civic duty which I should perform every time, for every time I chose not to vote, others will and I would rather make an active choice than idly watch other choose for me. Unfortunately this still leaves me having to make a choice and my current trust level is giving me a real headache here.

Theresa May has called a snap election having already triggered Article 50. So one way or another we will leave the EU. So far despite campaigning for Remain she seems to be steering a very hard right course in my view.That is simply not something I can vote for. I am and will continue to be an advocate for the EU and I would rather see the closest possible ties with the EU. This hard right turn is not something I can in any way support.

OK, so that’s easy right, I just don’t vote for her… well, maybe. You see, there is a strong possibility that she is being forced into a hard right thanks to her slender majority in the Commons. Her opposition is coming in the form of the Lib Dems, the SNP and a rudderless Labour not to mention her own MP’s who were Remain focused. With all this opposition her majority starts to look wafer thin. It is highly plausible that she has little choice but to appeal to the right of the party if she wants to get anything done.

It could well be that she has called this snap election at a time when opinion polls show her well in the lead. She could come away with a strong majority leaving her less at the behest of her hard right party members and she could steer a more centre ground course.

A more centre ground thing in my opinion would be a good thing. After all, when we had our referendum it’s not like the vote leave campaign won 90% of the vote, but that is what it feels like with the hard Brexit we are being offered. It might be that the hard Brexit deal on the table at the second is all negotiating fluff and bluster, but who can tell. The reality of the situation is we need the have the most amicable deal we can with Europe. Playing hard-ball with them only stands to damage us more than them.

The other by-product of a crushing Labour defeat would be to leave Jeremy Corbyn with no choice but to stand down. His political gamble would be shown to not be paying off and that would leave his position more obviously untenable than it is now. With him out of the picture the Labour party could make a break for the centre ground again and hopefully regain some seats next time around. Or if not seats, at least some of the requisite credibility that half decent opposition needs to actually oppose anything.

Of course, if my gamble on what Theresa May actually wants to do with a large majority is wrong then the last thing I want to do is vote for her. Anyone who isn’t basically a UKip voter should want to push back hard against the self flagellation version of Brexit she seems to be offering at the moment. If she really did want this mess then I would encourage the centre and left grounds in our political landscape to join forces and block her from getting anything like a mandate for this mess.

That said, unless there is a anything but a miracle we would just end up with Theresa May as PM with the self same slender majority she has now and again, a hard Brexit. If that left/centre miracle does happen however we will be left with Corbyn as PM. A man so authoritative his own party won’t follow him. And rightly so, his views on Europe seem to be about as laissez faire as they come.

So for me all of this boils down to what I think Theresa May really wants to do with her time in office. Do I think she wants to move away from the hard right views she is currently steering towards? Her views pre Brexit suggest she isn’t 100% behind her own party line at the moment. Do I think she will do a better job than most around her and dealing with this mess and actually she deep down is fighting for the strongest union that I would like to see? Or do I think this really is what she has settled on, WTO rules and a no compromise deal with us out at all costs?

As things stand the only option I have is to vote and take a chance. Who knows which chance I will end up taking though.

Feb
17
2014

Price of a digital life

I was going through a spec for a media center machine for home and got to the point where I spec’d the hard-drives. It seemed silly to put in a 2TB drive given I already have masses of storage space. Then I thought about it and looked at the cost and realised it would be silly not to put in that much. The price has just dropped so much faster that we have found ways to use it (although we are getting better with HD videos and alike).

This got me thinking about how much space I actually have and what it would have cost at a time when we simply didn’t have this insane amount of space.

First I counted up all the digital storage I had to hand:

DeviceCapacity in GB
CSK System128
CSK Media1000
CSK Temp320
CSK Data250
CSK Data Backup250
Destiny System1000
Destiny Backup1000
NAS8000
Media Center System120
Media Center Video2000
Tablet Main64
Tablet SD32
HTC One32
HTC One Mini16
Apple Powerbook G480
Memory Stick8
Camera SD2
Camera SD2
Camera SD0.5
Camera SD0.5
Camera SD0.5
Total14305.5 GB

Then I looked into what that amount of storage (done in price per GB, not like for like) would have cost over the previous decade. Unfortunately I could only find prices in dollars so I looked up conversation rates at the time of the price which gave me the following data:

YearCost in GBP
2000£174,519
2001£69,965
2002£43,460
2003£22,176
2004£15,254
2005£5,962
2006£3,900
2007£2,862
2008£1,971
2009£609

For real fun I then looked up the cost for 1981 using Apple hardware (with a cost of $700 per megabyte). I had to assume the exchange rate of 0.6 as I could not find the numbers. All of that came to £6,152,509,440. So by 1981 prices I have over 6000 million pounds worth of storage sat taking up photos and films…

By today’s prices all this comes to £436. Now that is progress.

References: Prices 1, Prices 2 and Currency conversion

Dec
18
2013

Mindless Task

In the last year or so I have begun the process of doing what is probably the most depressing task I have ever tried to do. I am putting together information that would be useful in the event of my death.

This is not a Will or my last wishes as such (although to a certain extent it deals with some of that). This is my passwords, my online history, my accounts over the web, our home network, the wireless, the backups and the accounts. Basically the building blocks of my digital/paperwork life that so many things require.

In the last few years I have heard of a number of people who have died before their time, who took with them the passwords and the knowledge that maintained things important to those around them.

For example when one man I knew died his family could no longer get into the family file server he had set up which contained all their digital photos. I know of another where the rest of the family could not access the computer or the banking records or even quite get to grips with the filling system that was in place.

While I have always taken very seriously the idea of backing things up, I came to realise that while I did the basics like my pictures, music and files, I didn’t back up what was in my head. All the hundreds of passwords, account logins, e-mail addresses and even how it all hangs together.

In doing all of this work (still a long way to go) I have come to realise something else. I am not just doing this to make sure Demelza and my very small (but growing) family doesn’t have additional complications that I can avoid, but also it saves me having to remember it all. I have come to rely on my mind for so many things and maybe I need to start forgetting a few things and let computers and paper do what they do best.

I don’t want to depress people… I just think sometimes our backups forget the little things.

May
13
2013

Obfuscated solution

According to Code.org this is the year everyone should learn to code. If this isn’t your year then it should be the next one or the next one, but most importantly, you should learn to code. Why you might ask? Well the video claims you will be tomorrows rock stars, you will change the world, solve problems, get all the millions of jobs being created especially for you and perhaps most importantly, receive free lunches at work.

They have the backing of some pretty big players in the tech world, from Microsoft and Facebook to Twitter and Valve. They claim that as companies they are crying out for more coders and that may well be very true, not like they have a vested interest or anything….

I have a big problem with this (and yes as a coder technically I too have a vested interest going on here). The problem is I don’t think coders are the solutions to the problems they talk about and to the problems we face in the future, I think people who can think are.

I will let you into the big secret that this video seems to avoid…. there are both good coders and bad coders. The fact that a bad coder can still code is evidence enough that code is not the final answer or even really, half the solution.

We live in an ever more complex world where problems and solutions are becoming so complex that implementing the solution has become the simplest bit. The hard part is understanding what the problem is and figuring old how to solve it. Now I get that learning to code can teach these things. It teaches you to break problems down, to focus on the system while at the same time drilling down into the specifics etc but it is not the only way to teach this, nor does it feel like the way that will reach the most people.

The reality is trying to encourage people to learn to code is the same as trying to get everyone to learn mathematics in the past. Yeah it is some way towards your goal of problem solving, but you won’t appeal to the people that need this most. The people this appeals to will already be coding anyway. Why not simply give people problems that need solving and then let them get on an actually try? Point them in a direction and see what happens. Let them find their own way into learning and then they can take some joy in it instead of being force fed whatever solution works for a few.

I once did a subject called maths. I hated it and found it complicated. Then a few years later I did a subject called reasoned programming. That on the other hand was great. The difference? The name.

Nov
15
2012

False economy

After recently writing about how I’m not always sure energy saving is always worth it I was reminded of an example of someone getting it very very wrong.

Several years ago when living in Brighton I was in a Superdrug store. It was the middle of the summer and it was pretty warm outside. They had signs up at the entrance to the store saying their air conditioning was not working and they were sorry for the heat.

Inside the store is was absolutely roasting, much hotter than outside. Around the store they had portable air conditioning units spread all over the place. Probably about 10 in total.

The real kicker though was these units did not have external exhausts. So while pushing cold air out the front they were pushing hot air out the back. What I love about this is with the extra heat generated by the device itself unless my basic understanding of physics is wrong they were actually spending a huge amount of money heating the place.

Oct
23
2012

Is energy saving worth it?

I’m always finding people wanting to do their bit to save electricity… but some of the ways they do it don’t make sense to me. Further to that some of them are wrong and some of them don’t seem worth the trouble to me.

The following are things I have noticed or tips I have picked up over time.

  1. You don’t have to switch everything off at the wall. Electricity flows and if it has nowhere to flow to then it stops… If a device is doing nothing (and I do mean nothing) then it will consume no power. Kettle, toaster, electric heater for example all do nothing when not in use (unless you have something fancy with a screen on it).

  2. Turning off your ADSL router harms your connection speed. Your speed is negotiated between the box in your house and the exchange. The exchange tries to run you as fast as your line will take… but if your line keeps dropping out this is usually down to errors on the line which happen at your limit. As such it will slow your connection speed down to make sure your connection is more reliable. The more your turn it off the slower it gets.

  3. Never turn printers off at the wall. When you turn them back on they power cycle the cartridges wasting you more in ink than you probably saved in power. If it has a soft on/off switch use that instead.

  4. When running in standby it means your TV is ready to receive the guide updates as they are transmitted. Ever noticed your guide was not going as far ahead as it should. You probably left the TV off when the updates came round.

  5. Most devices are cheaper to run on standby than you think. Rough rule of thumb: for every 1 Watt of power it uses on standby you will pay £1 a year for it. So I am quite happy to pay £5 a year for having my TV guide up to date.

  6. Not everything uses what it says it will. Your TV might say it uses 100 Watts on the back, but this will have been calculated on specific settings. If you turn your brightness down from those settings for example it will consume less power.

  7. The most expensive devices to run are those that produce heat or have to move something heavy. So electric oven, dishwasher, washing machine, grill, electric heaters, immersion heaters. If you have an economy 7 tariff then your electricity could be about half the price overnight (normally 12-7am or 1am-8am). Running your dishwasher, washing machine and electric heaters most during this time will save a fair bit.

Can anyone think of anything I have missed?

May
17
2012

Catalogue of errors

You would have thought these days ordering a few things over the internet and getting them delivered would be simple enough… Well, turns out not quite…

Last Sunday I finally bit the bullet and ordered a good number of new computer components for my much delayed machine rebuild. At the same time I also ordered some harddrives for the NAS. When pricing it all up it turns out I could save (even taking into account shipping) about £90 by ordering from 3 different suppliers. So on Sunday I put the order together.

All the orders were told to deliver to work (which work doesn’t like but my manager said it was OK).

Monday morning first item arrived. It was the motherboard from ebuyer. As I opened it up something didn’t look right. I studied it a little further and then sat at my machine and looked a couple of things up. I realised I had ordered the one down from the one I wanted. I thought about it for a bit, considered keeping it and in the end after weighing up the pros and cons, decided to return it for a refund an order the one I did want. I booked a TNT pickup which arrived a few hours later and took it away. At lunchtime I put together a new order for the one I did want and added an extra couple of things I had forgotten (including a DVD drive for Demelza’s machine).

Tuesday morning the DVD drive arrived (all on its own). The impressive thing about this was it was the item ebuyer said would take the longest and it arrived 2 days before it was meant to.

Tuesday afternoon the two harddrives from scan arrived when they said they should. The other item that was also being delivered was the main order from overclockers. I could see from the tracking information that it should be at work by lunchtime. Then I noticed something on the tracking details. It was being sent to home. Home where no one would be in. I phoned up overclockers who explained they had to send it there because of the way it was being paid for… would have been nice of them to tell me that and not take a delivery address. By this time I could see the order failed to deliver at home.

I then looked at my redelivery options online. I could have it sent to another address, great I thought until realising I could only change it to within the same postcode (so same road). Not as helpful. I wouldn’t have had the chance to check this was ok with a neighbour. I then looked up where their collection location was. Turns out it was about 35mins by car out of my way so that wasn’t really an option. Then I spotted they had an option to deliver to a safe place so I ticked that and gave detailed instructions that there would be a plastic box behind the side gate with a padlock in it so they could lock it shut when done. I also explained it would be chained to the house (not that I was that worried, nothing ever seems to get pinched round out way, but they said it had to be a safe place).

Tuesday evening myself and Demelza spent about an hour sourcing all the chains, boxes and locks needed to create this secure location for them. As part of the delivery companys system I had to take the card they popped through the door and leave it in the safe place signed so they could pick that up at the same time.

Wednesday morning the right motherboard and assorted extras arrived 9am on the dot at work. The main order that was to be left in the safe place was due in late afternoon. So not much to see there. When I got home after work I discovered that they had indeed found the safe place as I had described. They had also taken the signed card out of the box. What they had not done however was leave the parcel in there. Nope, they left that with our neighbour instead and left a note through our door saying which one. While you would think this was helpful unfortunately said neighbour was then out by the time Demelza got home and didn’t come home all last night.

I can see how they were trying to be helpful leaving it with next door instead of outside, however I had provided a secure waterproof location and it wasn’t raining. There was no reason not to do as instructed. Because of this last night I could not install the new drives in the NAS and start building the array. A process which I fully expect to take 24hours and is something I cannot speed up. Now thanks to them not doing as instructed I have lost at least 24 hours assuming next door are back today. Taking into account I need to NAS upgraded before I can do backup’s of my machine and then I have to run the backups before I can rebuild my machine this may well have ruined my plans for a machine rebuild this weekend. I don’t have the time to do it in the week and the weekend after that is my birthday. I have yet to complain however I very certainly am going to.

As an aside I also have to complain to royal mail today because they also left a parcel at home yesterday. This is the new router for the great internet connection upgrade of 2012. Their note through the door said they left it in our “agreed safe place” which it turns out was right in front of our house in view of everyone going by. No Royal Mail, I had not agreed a safe place with you ever, however if I had it would not have been here, it would have been round the back of our house, not in plain sight! So if they think they have an agreed safe place it needs updating.

So all in all I am quite angry about all of this. If all the companies had done as they said they would and done as they were instructed to I would be well on my way to upgrading my machine this weekend. As it stands that may not be possible.

May
06
2012

View’s of an ad man

The thoughts and opinions of this man (Rory Sutherland) should never be ignored. He has some very interesting good ideas which need to gain more traction in the government today.

The following should be his latest TED talk embedded, I advise you to watch it. If you have not seen him before I also advise you to take a look at this video: www.ted.com/talks/rory_sutherland_life_lessons_from_an_ad_man.html

Mar
08
2010

Food for thought

This is a subject I am always ranting and raving about, and this week is no different. I present two cartoon/workflows which make my point rather well me thinks.

I live in hope that one day the entertainment industry will come to the conclusion that to get people to pay they have to offer more, not irritating paying customers into not staying paying any more.

Originally from: http://lifehacker.com/5475113/remains-of-the-day-why-piracy-works-edition

Originally from: http://www.bradcolbow.com/archive.php/?p=205

Feb
08
2010

Computing misconceptions

As many people know, I know a thing or two about computers. If anyone asks my industry or my field I normally say computing. I say that for simplicities sake, because otherwise it leads to too many questions. However, of late I have come to realise that is akin to calling a shelf stacker at a supermarket part of the food industry.

While technically correct, it avoids the detail that makes the difference.

As soon as someone hears that I do web development and “build websites” as I put it, they want to know if I can help them with their computer. While as it happens I often can, in reality the computer is just a tool to me in my industry the same as it is to a secretary in an office. While you would expect them to be able to use the machine, you would not expect them to fix it when it went wrong.

People seem to think that everything to do with computers is all the same and that if you can do one thing in computing you can do them all. If only it was as simple as this.

To illustrate my point I’m going to explain something I was asked to explain the other day. I was asked how websites work. Remember to keep in mind as I explain what a tiny tiny fraction of computing this is.

Most websites begin with a database where all the data in the system is stored. This is accessed through SQL (1 language) which I then connect to with in my case PHP (2 languages) which then does all the processing of that data. In my environment I use CodeIgniter (1 framework) to do the main calls, process and validate the data and then pass it to Smarty (1 mark-up) to be displayed.

From there the Smarty template contains the HTML (2 mark-ups) which describes all the components of the page and what order they are in. That HTML is sent to the browser along with the CSS (3 mark-ups) which describes to the browser how all that HTML should look. The page might also contain graphics which need to be made in a graphics package of my choice (Photoshop for me). Once on the page there is then one final layer which is the Javascript (3 languages) which sits on top of the data, the HTML and the CSS and allows direct manipulation of that data including sending things back and forth to the server. As an added twist I write all my Javascript using jQuery (2 frameworks).

So all in all to create a simple website for me it requires knowing 2 Languages (PHP, SQL and Javascript), 2 Frameworks (CodeIgniter and jQuery) and 3 Mark-ups (HTML, Smarty and CSS) as well as one graphics programme on top of that.

Then for good measure I need to understand some Unix (operating system), some Apache (a web-server) and all the other techs that go with each of those. Oh, and having a good understanding of XML, JSON, IMAP, POP etc all help day to day too.

Now consider that each of these sections could be several years of learning and trial and error in their own right to truly master

So all this covers a small part of web development and all of this is evolving and changing on a quite literally daily basis and people wonder why sometimes I can’t be bothered to fix their computer.

Jan
27
2010

Not Banking on it

I have been using on-line banking for not much less the time it has been around. It is more than just a useful tool, for many it is almost their only contact with their money

I understand people still have some security issues, but really, with a little common sense applied and the current tech that goes into banking like key generators you should be fine.

There is one thing however that I don’t understand. It feels like it is being held back for no good reason. For something that has been with us on the web for some time, it feels no different.

I admit my main experience of this is NationWide, however from what I have seen, others are no better.

For example:

  • Why do we not have nice shiny interfaces?
  • Why can I not tag payments by type and draw graphs of them?
  • Why Can I not put in regular payments and forecast savings?
  • Hell, why are the views so cryptic and the interface so clunky?

I know there are a number of these tools on-line which address most of my issues, however they require you to give them your sign-in details which not only breaks the TOS with the bank, it also just feels wrong and breaks my common sense rule.

Where is the Gmail of on-line banking?

Jan
25
2010

Make do and Mend

I can’t help but feel a sense of achivment and a sense of sadness this evening for something that seems to be a dying frame of mind these days.

Since I have been home this evening I have repaired 3 pairs of trousers and am working on my fourth. Nothing major, a couple of seems coming appart, a button come off and a hem that has come out in the middle.

All of these trousers are perfectly fine except from a few stitches coming undone in some fairly important places. One of them I will admit is quite worn, but I like it that way. The total amount of money it would have cost to replace these particular trousers would be somewhere around the £100 mark (one pair is a fairly long standing and hard living North Face pair I have had for a long while which don’t come cheap).

I will admit to using a cheap small sewing machine Demelza got a year ago or so to do all this, and while I could have done this even more cheaply by hand, my hand stitching is not quite up to par in some places (what is it about a straight line that is so complex!). The point is, even using a sewing machine, in this one instance we have in effect saved £80 (£20 sewing machine for thoese who can’t keep up).

A few years ago with rationing still ringing in their ears the general public at large would have considered this not only easy to do, but also the only sane choice. These days people seem more than willing to part with yet more money to replace something which was far from gone.

I will admit that several years ago I was probably the wrong side of the line, but a couple of years living with Dan (who is one of the ultimate “Keep Calm And Carry On” people I know) and I was soon on the right path.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting spending all waking hours tending to the vegtable patch or clothes with more patches than sleeves, but just a little more bias towards mending and making do.

This of course does not just apply to clothes. Never would anyone in their right mind in computing let an old dead machine go to waste. Of course it will be thrown out, but first it will be stripped for parts, anything that might come in handy and save a trip to PCWord and the land of silly prices.

Nov
16
2009

Lost in translation

Take a classic track such as Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”. A priceless track which has never gets old.

You have it on CD which has a bitrate of 1411.2 kbit/s

This is a nice quality recording. OK, not the quality it was recorded at, but the best you will get.
Actually, to be fair this is the two channels for stereo, so really it is 705.6kbit/s.

But you can’t play a CD on your iPod or better MP3 player so you have to import it onto the computer first.
This gives you maybe a 128 kbit/s or 192 kbit/s file in something like MP3, AAC or WMA. These apps can be set higher, but they are default settings, it is always best to go with those… right?

Then you add it to your iPod or better MP3 player through something like a USB cable (no fear, data can’t leak out of the cable).

You could play it at this point, but if you want to hear it you are going to have to connect it to some speakers or earphones.

Are you still using the earphones that came with your player? Were they nice and white and did they look pretty and stylish? Did you ever think about the audio quality on them? No, you were just too busy standing out from the crowd with the same earphones as everyone else.

Maybe you want to listen to your music at home too. These speakers with iPod docks seem to be everywhere and don’t cost too much, I mean, they are a little steep, but they look good right?

Of course you never notice that the cones on this stylish player are about 10cm’s across and have about the same output range as a dead rat.

So, what have you paid for the privilege of listening to sub standard music?Next time you want to listen to some music, do yourself a favour, consider a cheap CD player, cheap AMP and a couple of bookshelf speakers, if only for the sake of the music!

(Blog inspired by: some video on the BBC site that I now can’t find…)

Jul
21
2009

The myth of intuitive

Today in a description for a Bluetooth headset I read the following line:

“Intuitive, single-button control”

To me this reads as something of an oxymoron. How can something with multiple functions and only a single button to achieve them with ever be called intuitive?

Intuitive is a word that gets thrown around rather a lot in IT. Normally it is used to describe something people can just pick up and use with no training or instruction. Apple likes to use the word a lot in in relation to its devices and software. But tell me this, on the iPod, does the idea of moving your thumb round and round a dial ever equate to an up and down motion? Does three diagonal lines in the bottom corner of a window on any OS suggest to you that this is where you click to change its size? Does a circle with a line breaking it in the vertical suggest on and off or power?

The simple answer and conclusion from this is that there is no such thing as an intuitive interface or control mechanism. An easy to use interface is simply one that builds upon knowledge you already have.

To return to my Bluetooth headset, the one I was looking at was a few models up from the one I have now. It has the same one button structure as my current headset. Although I would not describe this interface as intuitive, if I ever was to use this new device I would assume double tapping that single button will call the last dialled number, pushing and holding for 6 seconds will change to pair mode.

These are not intuitive interactions, but they do come from knowledge I already have.