Apr
14
2009

Software dev needs time!

Computers in all forms are a part of everyone’s daily lives. They run our communication, our learning, our information, pretty much anything you can think of. Now not every bit of software makes 999 calls possible or directs ambulances, but all forms of software affect peoples lives in one way or another.

Yes, we know you think software should just appear and your developers are clearly not worth your time if they can’t write more than 300 lines of code a day, but perhaps you should stop and think about how much poor software could cost you.

Testing is your friend, as is not releasing it until everyone is happy.

So when you rush out that software next time, spare a thought for the un-caught exception which caused a vending machine to spit pound coins out one after another until it runs out.

Congratulations Ben & Jerry’s, your poor software has cost you money. Next time, maybe that extra time will save you some in the long run.

Apr
05
2009

Made of fail

Today has just been one of those days.

I have been broken the last week with what feels like one of the more vile forms of the flu and Demelza left for Italy today to go for a holiday with some friends. Both of these things suck, but not nearly as much as I have today.

This morning I have barely been able to construct a coherent discussion or argument with Nik. I have struggled all day to build sentences that, for lack of a better word, make sense.

This is liveable with if it wasn’t for the strangle mistakes and bad luck that seem to have followed me round all day.

I think this is summed up today by the trip I made to Sainsbury. Our Sainsbury’s  has a set of escalators that deal with the single story people need to go up to get to it. To allow trolleys to be taken on them, instead of the usual steps, ours is more of a set of long ramps.

As I arrived at the shops the “up ramp” was stationary so I had to walk up it. The “down ramp” was working just fine. OK, a little annoying. 10mins later and I am coming out of the shop only to be greeted by a closed “down ramp” and yup, you guessed it, a fully functional “up ramp”.

I don’t know why I bother.

Apr
03
2009

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!)

Apr
02
2009

Killer joke

Ever get the feeling your girlfriend is just keeping you around in the hope she can later kill you and steal your money?

Either that or she was a serial killer in another life. Love you too dear 😛

April fools card joke

Mar
31
2009

How much is enough?

I have 133 applications installed on my computer. I’m not sure if this is a lot or not. I always like the idea of my machine being this lean, fast machine that works well all the time. However, I also want it to be able to do anything at the drop of a hat. I can’t help but notice these are two contradictory ideals.

Scanning down the list of applications I can’t help but notice a lot of it was installed for a single task and left. Should I be removing these and then installing them again if needed (almost all the software on my machine is free/opensource) or should I be leaving them there given they don’t take up much space.

I don’t know, I think for now I will take it on an app by app basis. Some of this stuff needs to go, I’m almost certain I will never use it again, but some of I would rather keep kicking around, If only to save myself trying to find it. Perhaps I need to start working on a software repository of known good stuff.

Mar
27
2009

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?

Mar
22
2009

Apple = Fail

It is well known amongst friends that I have never really been a fan of the Apple OSX since I started using it. It is too simple and too dumbed down. It is full of inconsistencies and inaccuracies. As such for some time I have been presenting some of what I find when I can be bothered. Today it has yet again annoyed me into pointing out a couple more of its flaws.

So our wireless network and my laptop seem to be arguing again. Not sure what is going on, I would love to fix it if OSX would give me a helpful error.

screen1

Yeah, really handy there Apple. Every time I tried to connect I got that helpful gem of wisdom.

Some of you may have noticed that it claims none of my preferred networks are available. You will then note that I am meant to pick a network from the list of ones that are available. Just for kicks I have included a shot of my preferred network list.

screen2

Yeah, thanks Apple, well done guys.

I then gave up with the wireless and plugged it into the core switch. Went to the network and looked for machines on the network. Below is a shot of what I saw.

screen3

You see, Apple being the smug guys they are think that it is really funny to show a screen with a Bluescreen of Death for all Windows machines on the network. Very funny guys… except, couple of issues here. Firstly, there is only one Windows machine on this page, the rest are running all sorts of Unix based OS’s (like OSX is). Next, there are a couple of machines missing. My machine isn’t in this list, nor is Dom’s. Both of our machines are Vista based and have public shares on them. There is however one Vista machine on this list, it is Nik’s. Nik has recently re-installed his machine and as yet it doesn’t have any shares yet.

Go figure that one. These people and their mickey mouse operating system scare me.

Mar
18
2009

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.

Mar
15
2009

Fussy eater

A while ago I was given a perfect condition Acer laptop. Nothing that highly spec’d but still modern and perfectly fine for Windows XP.

Perhaps some back story is needed. A friend of mine’s dad was having some issues with his laptop. She called me and I spoke to him. I helped him out with a few problems from anti virus not working to spyware and malware getting onto his system. All just phonecalls and me typing suggestions. Nothing that special, the sort of thing I do all the time. A month or so ago said friend got in contact to say the laptop issues were over, he had bought a new laptop. Fair enough, good for him. Then I was asked if I would like it. As far as he was concerned it didn’t work and had stability issues. I explained I didn’t really need it and all I would do if I could get it working would be install XP on it and leave it until someone’s computer breaks and hand it to them to keep them going.

Week later it turned up in Brighton in a huge box via the post. I duly thanked him and set about having a look at it. It seemed too good to be true. It was in mint condition, I mean, it looked new. I broke out my XP disk and set about installing XP pro on it. I got it running in an hour, installed the drivers. All seemed to be going well. Then I put it down, leaving it on for an hour or so and came back to. It refused to take any input. Nothing from the keyboard or the mouse. It was clearly all running but just not responding. I reset and left it again and the same happened.

Clearly it had some stability issues. It didn’t seem to be getting too hot, I took it apart and dusted it out just in case. Still the same thing happened. OK, so now I booted it up into the BIOS and left it running for a few hours. No lockups, none at all. OK, maybe it was just Windows.

Then I installed Ubuntu Linux, then as before, left it running a few hours and checked up on it. All just fine.

OK, so clearly not hardware. Then I remembered that when I first had issues with it under Windows I had the drivers all installed. Maybe one of those was the issues. So, today I finally got around to trying out Windows without the drivers. Well, I say I got around to try that, I started the install, then about three quarters of the way in it stopped accepting inputs. Surly It can’t be just Windows?

I have just downloaded and am now installing Ubuntu Studio to see what it makes of that. I have always wanted to play with this distribution anyway.

Assuming this works (which I expect it will) then it would seem I am left with an anti Windows laptop with a “designed for Windows XP” sticker on it. Irony anyone?

Mar
06
2009

Advanced Facebook

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

DSC_0074_cropped_small 

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

Feb
25
2009

I’m a neat freak!

OK, well this I didn’t expect…

Living away from home has taught me many things. It has taught me to cook (not just muffins and cakes but real food). It has taught me to (at least try to) manage my time in a sane way. It has taught me In part to be more independent and more self sustained (although I had a fair bit of that before I moved out). However, the point I have most changed on because of living away from home is in household chores. When you live at home the place is for the most part pretty tidy and you don’t really have to do much about that, it just happens. I’m sure my mother could go into the detail of exactly how “it happened” but lets face it, it was never my forté .When it comes to your own room you care less. Fine, it is a bit messy, but it is not where you live, you just sleep there. When you move into somewhere shared and rented etc you have just the one room you can say is yours as such. Then all of a sudden having to clamber over 3 piles of papers isn’t just an inconvenience, it is downright annoying all the time. It simply isn’t sustainable.

In a little under one and half years I have gone from someone who didn’t mind that much about mess to someone who craves order and perfection. My room is always tidy, I am always sorting papers and checking things are in their correct place. I don’t just hoover my room, I work my way down through pretty much the whole house. If there is stuff on the drying rack by the sink I always put it away making sure it is all clean. Even my room at home is now tidy and assuming my parents don’t fill it with stuff then it remains that way.

There is a part of me that feels this change is more than a little creepy. After all, whoever heard of a tidy boy? Maybe it is just another part of growing up for me, maybe I was always a tidy person, just stuck in a more lazy body than I knew…

Maybe it is just Demelza’s influence that has brought it out… well in part at least.

On a plus side, at least I can find stuff!

Feb
22
2009

Welcome to my life…

Hunting for something quite specific in the registry which may or may not be there turns out to be really boring, really annoying and an excellent snapshot of my life…

Click for the big picture

welcome to my life

As a side note, the new sidebar on the left is of my own construction thanks to something called Samurize. This allows you to add all sorts of “meters” which can measure pretty much whatever you like on the machine. Quite fun, quite sad and actually really handy. I have managed to replicate in a much nicer form the features I was using in the Vista sidebar plus a few extra ones.

To give you an idea of how powerful a tool this is, that clock in the top left was made from scratch, as was the CPU core meter.

The volume and notepad are still sidebar gadgets and the volume replication is what is driving me mad. Ah well, another day perhaps.

Anyway, if you are one of these people like me who like to know exactly what is going on with your machine at any point this is a very worthwhile tool.

Feb
18
2009

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

Feb
17
2009

Passwords

Statistics on passwords are rare things. Anyone with the tiniest clue about computer security knows that passwords should be stored in some encrypted form to ensure that if someone did break into your system they couldn’t just read everyone’s passwords. Clearly the world is not just full of smart people so when a largish website got hacked a little while back and its passwords were found to be in plain text the result was inevitable, they got released to the public.

Here is an article with some details on some of the statistics drawn from said publicly released passwords. There are some odd ones in there and some slightly scary ones. http://www.physorg.com/news153650514.html

However, the story doesn’t end there. You see, I happen to be part of a big site that stores it’s passwords in this painfully bad plain text way. I also happen to be fairly high up there and have at times helped out with the codebase and database. In fact, I still had an old database backup kicking around which I hadn’t got round to removing. Now Physorg had 28,000 passwords to look at. I on the other hand have over 130,000! Suffice to say, this is probably more passwords than almost anyone else in the world can get hold of due to most sites default security.

Of course with a resource like that I couldn’t help but do a little statistical analysis. Here is a list of the most popular passwords along with the number of times each was used in the 130,000 people.

Password Count
88u6755r34 1367
123456 1269
password 836
mchs2005 471
12345678 390
Allahakbar 284
12345 357
humyhumy 356
catsca 336
binky 321
junior 315
123456789 301
tree777 295
brolly 259
dolphin 237
aaaaa 233
liverpool 231
qwerty 226
compaq 207
princess 200
vagina 185
mj8jr2 183
iloveyou 173
111111 155
82308230 152
hello 149
music000 145
whatever 131
class3kill 126
monkey 126

The first thing that strikes me about these results is the number one password is a very very odd one. In fact, my guess for some of the more random results at the top is they are due to spammers. The site this data comes from has issues with several members making loads and loads of fake accounts.In fact, I have passed this data onto the site owner as a possible way of identifying this person more accurately.

Next we have the string “123456”. This password makes up almost 1% of results. This is a huge number and actually pretty scary really if you think about it. What is even more scary is that if you take the numbers 1 to 9 and 10 as a string (aka, 1, 12, 123, 1234, 12345, 123456, 1234567, 12345678, 123456789, 12345678910) you end up covering almost 2% of all the passwords.

I also find it a bit of a worry when we have things like “password” and “qwerty” appearing high up the list too.

The other thing i noticed from this data is the number of real world words appearing. By this I mean things susceptible to a dictionary attack.

I thought by now, especially teens (which is who this is data is from) would know what is and what isn’t a good password. Ideally it should be something unrelated to you (so not your date of birth!), something not in the dictionary, contain at least a mix of letters and numbers and if at all possible, be a miss spelling with random capitalization. So, something like gU1t4 for guitar, or how about pU2z1e for puzzle. It should be something that you find easy to remember or work out. car number plates are good, but don’t use your current one. old phone numbers, maybe with letters in the place of some numbers.

Failing that, use something like Keepass. It stores login details including passwords and locks them all under one master password that you should never write down.

Feb
10
2009

Just too wide!

As someone who normally works on a screen that technically has a ratio of 30:8 I am all for widescreen. I think the terrestrial move from 4:3 to 16:9 was great idea. I also love seeing films in full 21:9 at the cinema. If feels much more involved when you watch something that is going that far beyond the old square screens we were once used to. There is only one problem with films at 21:9, all the widescreen TV’s we have are 16:9. In fact, resolutions that we have come to know and love for their quality such as 1080p are still only 16:9 despite films being shot in 21:9.

Finally it seems someone has decided to address this annoyance. Phillips have stepped up to the plate with the first 21:9 TV for public consumption. Great you think, wouldn’t it be nice to get rid of those black bars top and bottom of the screen when watching films. Well, good news, Phillips don’t like black bars either, bad news they don’t like them a bit too much.

Phillips in their infinite wisdom have decided that wider content is better, even if that content was not meant to be wide in the first place. So, when the TV gets given 4:3 content, it stretches it to 16:9 and when it gets 16:9 (so normal TV) it stretches it to 21:9. This of course makes everyone look a bit more squat than they should. In fact, it makes everything look a bit squat.

This in my opinion is just plain mad. Why would someone who loves watching films etc want something that distorts almost every other bit of content they give it. Now this issue came up in an interview with Phillips on the BBC’s Click programme. Phillips response is they think people will want more immersive content more. Unfortunately the interviewer never pushed the issue, and in my opinion they should have. Phillips are bringing out a nice bit of kit that is actually something new in the TV market, and then they are completely breaking it with the software they are putting on it.