Tinker time

We are always so scared about children getting hurt we never give them the chance to find out for themselves…

This is just a short presentation by a guy who runs a “Tinkering School” for kids where they are given real tools and real materials and actually allowed to do things. What they achieve is really quite impressive.


Is Google really the best search engine?

Some of you (tech foo dependant) may have seen that Microsoft have released a new search engine to replace Live Search called Bing.

This in itself is not that interesting. It does have a couple of nice features in things like the image search and the drilldown on each item in your search results. I do recommend that you have a go with it, if only to have tried Google’s competition.

What I would much rather talk about is a service called Blind Search.

It is pretty simple, it takes the query you enter and comes back with three columns, each containing the results from either Bing, Google or Yahoo. To find out which results go with which search engine you have to vote. This is actually a pretty cool idea, it takes branding away and forces you to base your decision on the pure results. What I find really interesting about this is you would assume Google to be on top of this…

In fact I found Google to come back with my least favourite set of results pretty consistently.

This was not something I was expecting at all. According to the 30 or so searches I have done on the site it turns out I prefer Yahoo.

I have no plans to switch to Yahoo in the near future due to them having the most cluttered homepage known to man, but it is still interesting to see how poorly everyone’s saviour Google can perform.


What is clutter?

So I’m moving out of the house in Brighton this weekend. I have lived down here for the last two years and in that time, although my living has been fairly spartan there is still a fair bit of stuff in my room.

Turning into a neat freak has certainly had a hand in helping me stay fairly organised, but it doesn’t seem able to stop the clutter… well, maybe it has, I don’t think I’m really sure what I regard as clutter.

For example, I am always fixing computers and picking up spare parts. Every time I am about to throw some random bit of hardware that doesn’t work I take all the screws off it and add them to the (sorted) box I have. I hate having a screw that just fits when I could have one that really fits. The same applies to bigger bits of hardware such as MODEM’s and graphics cards. To that end I currently have 5 spare graphics cards and 3 spare MODEM’s in my room. OK, now it doesn’t take a genius to know that is too many, but exactly how many is the right number? Fine, one lets me help one person with that problem, but I don’t get new graphics cards every day. It would be really annoying for everyone involved if I ended up needing two.

This sort of problem, however small, seems to apply to a lot of my stuff. I like to keep things around that would be handy to have in the future, but at the same time I don’t want to be surrounded by stuff that never gets used.

I do something similar with clothes. When something is old and worn out it just moves into another pile so it’s kept for events (mainly Scouting based it has to be said) when I want something I don’t care much about.

How about magazines. I pick up PCPro fairly religiously each month if only for the DVD of software it comes with. I regularly find myself going back a year or so in magazines to find some article or bit of software they talked about. OK, so I could throw out everything older than a year but I guarantee the day after I do that I will want something from 13 months ago….

I want less stuff in my room, I want less clutter, but what will it cost me in convenience to do that?


They’re just kids!

What is childhood? As a society we seem to have got it into our heads that it is a magical time of fun and play, a safe and secure time where you are free to be “a child”. We protect “childhood” with the sort of diligence that would cure cancer or stop Aids, yet what is it we are actually protecting?

From time to time the media harks on about how children grow up so fast these days. The parents lap it up and double their efforts of protection. But don’t we want them to grow up fast? What is childhood if not a time to learn and progress into being an adult?

If I remember correctly common wisdom says our ability to learn begins to decline from the age of 8, yet we want to waste this time with false truths and pointless ideas. The more false truths we tell them the more we stunt their ability to make logical leaps of their own and push their own learning boundaries.

For example, it is very common for parents to avoid the question of where they came from. Now I’m not saying tell them all the details straight away, they are still young and learning is a process (journey not destination etc), but at least don’t lie to them. Give them enough to let them ask questions and learn at their own pace.

A few years ago my little brother was about to start the sex education part of the national curriculum. There was a parents evening to explain to the parents what they were going to be taught etc. Several of the parents objected to the meagre information being dished out to the children, citing wanting to protect them. I feel for those children and the harsh realities they will face one day. Besides, kids have a habit of knowing something well before their parents think they do.

The irony to all this is that not that long ago children were down the mines and working the fields to earn a living and provide just like everyone else. Now I’m not calling for a return to those times. I still want to protect childhood, but I want to protect it for learning and development and not to fill it with falsehoods and half truths.


Did you know?

Sometimes we forget how fast times are changing, especially when you are caught up in the middle of it. Some of these statistics scare me, other I don’t think go far enough, I find that in itself pretty scary.


Danger within

Pick a random item you would find in the home, workplace, local shops etc.

Decide if there is anyway you can do any damage to yourself or others with it. (clue, plastic bags are killers, as are stuffed toys, pens, kettles… you get the idea)

Tell everyone you can think of the danger poses to the rest of us, complain to the government that they aren’t doing enough to protect us from this hidden danger.

Then complain loudly when our rights and privileges are removed by the government on a daily basis.

Repeat and continue until bored.

Congratulations, you are a writer for The Sun newspaper. (This isn’t a good thing!)


Wingnuts strike again

“It is better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re stupid than to open it and remove all doubt” – Mark Twain

As if you needed any more convincing that the people at PETA were crazy, their president Ingred Newkirk has decided to post her will. You can find it here: http://www.peta.org/feat/newkirk/will.html

Just a couple of highlights:

“That the ‘meat’ of my body, or a portion thereof, be used for a human barbecue, to remind the world that the meat of a corpse is all flesh, regardless of whether it comes from a human being or another animal, and that flesh foods are not needed”

“That my skin, or a portion thereof, be removed and made into leather products, such as purses”

“That one of my eyes be removed, mounted, and delivered to the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a reminder that PETA will continue to be watching the agency until it stops poisoning and torturing animals in useless and cruel experiments”

“That one of my thumbs be mounted in a downward position and sent to the person or institution that, in the year of my death or thereabouts, has gone against the changing tide of societal opinion and frightened and hurt animals in some egregious manner”

“That one of my ears be removed, mounted, and sent to the Canadian Parliament to assist them in hearing”

Personally I think all members of PETA should submit themselves for animal testing, because unless they have some advanced computer model they have been hiding from the rest of us, this is the only way to develop the drugs they themselves use every day. More to the point, lets see how willing they are to avoid animal tested drugs when their lives depends on them.

I am all for not being cruel to animals etc, however I also ask for a little sanity to be involved as to the wider issues of what they ask. Until that happens PETA will continue to be nothing more than a joke. Sea kittens anyone?


Get what you pay for?

I have for many years had trouble free computing.

OK, maybe that isn’t quite true. Let’s try again. For many years I have never had a computer break down in any way whatsoever. I have never lost a file, I have never broken a piece of hardware. Actually, not quite true, I broke a single external harddisk which I took everywhere and to be quite honest, expected to fail. Disks were never meant to be moved around like that, they are too fragile.

I have spent a long time fixing other peoples computers and something strikes me. It is always the cheap bit of kit that fails. It is the cheap power supply which dies and takes the motherboard with it, the cheap disk which last a year and dies, the cheap case where the fans clog and die etc etc.

Let’s give a couple of examples.

My case cost about £70. It is fairly expensive as cases go for the size. It is of high build quality, it is big, heavy and solid. I have never had any issues with it. On every air intake for fans there is a filter. I am always having to remove dust off the front of these. Every time I remove the side off the case there is almost no dust in there. As such my fans still run just fine, they can still run quiet and the rest of the machine is in good order.

My power supply is made by Antec. These people have been the gold standard for any IT enthusiast since as long as I remember. There is good reason for this. I have a large high powered computer, it has 5 disks, a 4 core CPU and 2 graphics card. I am still running it on my 5 or something year old 550Watt power supply. It has to be fairly fully loaded and yet it still runs just fine. I have seen much larger power supplies give up and die at the mere sight of this hardware. Also, everyone I know who has ever killed an Antec power supply notes it never took anything else with it. This is a common problems with cheaper kit. As with before, Antec is not cheap.

Hard disks have moved on a bit in recent years. When you start seeing 5 year warranties on disks you know it is going well. Although, bear in mind that the disk my OS is on is again 5 or so years old and still going. I would say this is at least in part due to not picking the cheapest disks out there.

I will admit some of the bits in my machine have changed, but all the computer hardware I have ever bought is still in active use. My old motherboard, RAM, CPU and graphics card are in my brothers machine and running just fine everyday.

I will be the first to admit that my computing life has been far from trouble free, however, hardware wise I don’t really have any issues to my name. Compare this to the countless machines I have fixed, clearly there is more than just luck going on here. Perhaps the next time your thinking of buying a new machine that extra £50 might save you something.


Advanced Facebook

Looks like Facebook knows what I am going to say before I do


(this was last night on the mobile Facebook. I had just written that comment)


A word for the wise and the not so wise

It has to be said, this talk from Barry Schwartz is one of the most worthwhile things to come out of this years TED that I have seen so far. It is all about how rules and regulation and fear are stopping development on so many levels. He makes the case for wisdom to be allowed to flourish and it is something many people need to see. In case the video below doesn’t work or for those who would like more information about this talk, you can find it here too: http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/462


Can you say “Mac”?

Are you running a Mac?

If so and you haven’t seen this trick before, bear with me.

Go to your applications folder, then the utilities folder. In there you will find an application called terminal. Open it up.

Then type “say hello world” without the quotes. If the sound is on your computer will speak whatever you put after the word “say”.

I know this is old hat to most people I know, but then again, if you are the average Mac user this will be like gold dust to you.

I think the next time someone asks me to fix their Mac I am going to script it to say “the matrix has you” at random intervals…

Oh the possibilities…


Why call a moron?

Why is it it seems almost all people in Tech support are complete and utter morons?

I was having a read of this page which details customers chats with idiot technicians:


I reminds me of all the stupid encounters with tech support I have had over the years. Normally the first major problem I have to get them over is that I have already restarted the computer and that having them tell me to do it doesn’t make it suddenly have any greater effect. The next thing I normally need to get them over is that the issue is complicated. They always greet me with surprise when i detail the issue, half the time because it turns out they have never heard of it.

My favourite example of this was a year or so ago when I was having trouble sending emails on my mobile through Gmail. Now the fact that T-mobile advertised their mobile data plan as a nice way to get to services like Gmail suggest they should really know a thing or two about making it work.Turns out they didn’t in fact, the only way the issue got solved was by me saying it so slowly for their tech to understand i figured it out without them.

Then you have to get them over the idea that they can’t just feed you meaningless suggestions with no real connection to the problem in hand. For example, when Tiscali wanted me to change my packet size to speed the connection up. I pointed out that this would give me about a 1% speed increase and I was looking for about an 800% increase. They then agreed that maybe that wasn’t the issue and we moved on. In fact, That issue took days!

It makes me think that actually, the one part of the IT industry that is really not being fully tapped is support. Tech support people who know how to do more than just turn it off and on again, Tech support people who don’t think “Linux” is an application or that your screen is blue because of a virus. Hell, most tech support calls could be fixed in minutes if the technician actually listened to everything they were told and thought about it instead of running from a script.


Apples for apples

So, Apple, masters of design, why do the shadows for icon in the dock bounce with them?

Why did you decide to change the dock application running icon from a black triangle, clearly visible, to a little blue neon that blends in?

Why when I have an applications folder stack does it find the newly installed application but not it’s icon until after a reboot?

Why does my battery claim not to be charging when plugged into the mains, yet when I unplug, the laptop is still running. It was holding steady at 70%, then, (while not charging) jumped to 71%. Go figure.

Why did it take them this long to write a decent bluetooth stack?

Why aren’t I in bed yet…


Christmas cheer!

Today has been a long learning curve. When I say “today” I technically mean yesterday, but I always consider today and tomorrow to be relative to my sleep, not the time.

Today I have felt pretty pants all day. Not Christmassy, fairly moody and all I have really wanted to do is be left alone. Of course that is far from what happened, what actually happened is I was bugged left right and centre about fixing technical things, computers, media centres, working out why a radio stream wasn’t holding, working out why an aspect ratio wasn’t working in recordings… you get the idea, lots of bugs and issues that I just haven’t cared about all day. I have also been fairly argumentative to top it off (yes, I know, even more than I usually am).

I am pretty sure I know why today was such a bad day. Demelza was staying the past week and a bit and yesterday she went back home for Christmas, and while this doesn’t leave me in tears, “it sucks” doesn’t quite do it justice.

In all of today I have however learnt one thing about myself. I have always assumed I neatly rode line between introvert and extrovert and never really fell either side of it. I can today with some certainty say that I lean to introvert. I needed peace and quiet today to recharge.

With that analysis out the way I do now have some Christmas cheer. Unfortunately it has come in a rather sad form, but it is sticking which is nice.

My website has a gallery. It has had one for a number or years and it works fairly well. Over the last few months I have been re-writing it to have a multiple upload script so I can add whole folders worth of images at a go. I have also been taking in meta data like camera shutter speed etc and adding tags to images. As such it has been a full re-write. I got the basic set of features working about a month ago when I finally transferred all the old images to it. Unfortunately, when I did this I noticed a CSS rendering bug (AKA, the thumbnail view looked very strange and just didn’t work). This bug completely threw me because it didn’t happen with the Flickr images page.

This new gallery is the last price in the puzzle of moving my site to the new theme however and this has been very frustrating. The incentive has always been there however to finish this or work out the bug.

So, after a conversation with Dan on MSN about how he may actually roll out the new version of his site before I fix this bug and roll out the last price of my site gave me an extra reason to work mine out. So, i set about trying another method of displaying the thumbnail grid view with CSS only. I tried it and the same thing happened, it was a mess. At this point i realised I had a common bug. 2 mins later I had solved it… just typical isn’t it.

The issue came up because some of my image titles were going onto two lines. On my Flickr page they only ever used one. The padding above my images never took this difference in height for different titles. One height variable later and it is solved. ” other simple changes and the new gallery is now live. All the old data is there, all the comments, all the old links work and finally, in a long time my site is on the same theme. It finally looks like a site again.

Please feel free to try it out and tell me what you think: http://www.craigk.org/pictures/

Of course there is lots of work to do first, but for now i feel i better use my new found Christmas cheer for something more immediate, like Christmas.

Happy Christmas.


My Documents

The clue is in the name. They are my documents, not yours. When I install an application I don’t want a folder just for it to dump it’s files, I will decide where I want them.

I mean, come on, how many people sort their files by what they are? Seriously, everyone stores them based on the project they are in or in a group of sorts. For example, you don’t have JPEG’s, GIF’s, PNG’s, BMP’s etc, you have “Pictures”. The same applies to everything else.

To this end, thankyou for “My Chat Logs”, “My Received Files”, “My Shapes”, “My Web Sites”, “My Weblog Posts”, “MyHeritage”, “Notes”, “Expression”, “Visual Studio 2005” and “Visual Studio 2008”. You were never wanted and all your did was waste my time and my space. Please don’t come back.