Friday, November 27, 2009

Back to being a Geek!

Learning Problems
I've been getting into programming stuff in C# and ASP.NET over the last few days, so you're in for a sprinkling of geeky advice for the next few weeks, as I work through the insanities of working with MS development.

Firstly, I'm using the 2008 Express versions of both. I bought a small book "Build a Program Bow!" by Patrice Pelland of MS that has SP1 versions of all the express systems (VB, C#, C++, Web Developer) and also a=one of SQL Server. I already have a developer copy of 2005 installed, so I didn't need to install that. The rest went in fine, and the C# part works fine - better than the full version of VS 2005,

Using ASPX hasn't turned out so easy, however. I ran into a lot of permissions problems, because I'd never used the IIS on the PC, despite it being almost four years since it was installed on my laptop! Eventually, by the expedient of making all folders open for everything, it started working. Then, of course, something else cropped up! The error message was this:
BC2017: could not find library 'C:\WINDOWS\assembly\GAC_32\System.EnterpriseServices\\System.EnterpriseServices.dll'
After a lot of searching I figured out that this file was sitting in C:\WINDOWS\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v2.0.50727, so I copied it over. Fine. Then I got exactly the same message for System.EnterpriseSeervices.Wrapper.dll. Same procedure to fix. All went well. However, after I'd rebooted it all went away and I had to copy the stuff over again! Drat!! Now I have a batch file!

Chrome Problems
Here's another interesting tidbit. I wrote a really simple piece of ASPX (below). It shows two buttons on a browser page and, depending on which one you click, changes the caption on the button. It all works fine on IE 7 (like you'd expect anything else!) on my local IIS server. However, Google's Chrome apears to have some problems with this: one button works fine but the other doesn't always do so well. Try it out and tell me if it's just my copy of Chrome!

[script runat="server"]
Sub submit(Source As Object, e As EventArgs)
if button1.Text="You clicked me!" then
button1.Text="Click me!"
button1.Text="You clicked me!"
end if
End Sub
Sub submit2(Source As Object, e As EventArgs)
if button2.Text="Boo!" then
button2.Text="Click me!"
end if
End Sub
[form runat="server"]
[asp:Button id="button1" Text="Click me!" runat="server" OnClick="submit" /]
[asp:Button id="button2" Text="Click me!" runat="server" OnClick="submit2" /]

Blogger Change
Have you noticed that Blogger has added a new editor? It has a nice control bar for selecting things like fonts, etc., but, right now, it doesn't appear to allow you to paste anything in! That makes life a little difficult!

That's all for now ...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Yarn, Tech, and a Blog

A couple of weeks back we were in Harrison, near White Plains, NY, helping a friend with her computers. On the way home the AG asked that we stop at a yarn store called KnittingNation in Nyack, NY. As always, we got a friendly reception and, as always, permission for me to take pictures.

Nyack is a nice town - really easy to get to (over the Tappan Zee bridge from NYC and the first right off the main road) - and a lot of neat shops and restaurants. To get to KnittingNation go down the main street until you get to Broadway, and take a left. It's on the left, opposite a tea shop rejoicing in the name of The Runcible Spoon, which may well be closed by the time you get back from seeing all that KnittingNation has to offer.

There's a big selection of yarn, books, tools, and accessories to browse through, and the owner (whom we met) is really friendly and knowledgeable.

The other customers that we met we friendly too, and there's a comfortable couch to sit on at the front - always a good sign.

So, in sum, going to KnittingNation looks like a good move. They have a long yarn list and they do courses and instruction for learners.

After we'd spent waay longer than we expected to at the LYS, we noticed a small Greek take-away on the way out of town. Two Greeks and a Gyro looks like a kind of Greek Burger king. However, once you get inside and meet the staff, and see the food, you'll realise that this is really a proper Greek restaurant with all the proper Greek attitudes to food and hospitality, just dressed up in early-21st century Americana!
Then you get your order and settle down to eat. WOW! You realise that you didn't really order all the things you wanted to order to try! You'll just have to back again. And again! And you probably will - it's that good.

In April last year Microsoft bought a company called Danger (a somewhat reckless name, one would think!). This company specialises on creating "premium software" for mobile devices (smartphones to you and I) to provide a "rich consumer experience", whatever that might mean. MS bought it just four months after it registered its first IPO. Obviously the guys at Redmond $aw $omething they liked the potential of.

Anyhow, T-Mobile got the software loaded up on their SideKick phones, which seemed like a cool idea. Then, as MS bought Danger, it suddenly became MS' responsibility to maintain all the back-end stuff that had been run by Danger. For example, all the messages, addresses, contacts, photos, etc. that are kept for use on a Sidekick device are stored on the servers so that the device in your hand doesn't have to be huge.

Fine - it all works great. Until it doesn't. In early October all the info vanished. MS have, reportedly, managed to get a lot of the data back (although how old it is is another question). You'll have noticed a few cynical remarks in the last link of MS' experience with the needs for backups; well, it appears that someone in MS might have placed a little too much confidence in the success of the immediate future.

The exec involved has a long career in MS' divisions handling Mac products and Entertainments products, which is fine, and I'm sure that she's a very good manager, but this looks like a really bad case of forgetting that a belt and braces strategy is usually safer then just winging it. In fact, if things actually happened as people are saying, then it would appear firstly that all caution was dropped, and then the department involved appears to be trying to cast the shadow of the problem on the other, non-MS, parties. Of course, being Sun and Oracle, they can be viewed as competitors .....

So, this can be viewed as a good example of the operations of Murphy's Law. It can also be looked on as an example of people trying to distract attention from their own shortcomings by casting aspersions on others. Oh yes. T-Mobile is giving its users a month's free use and $100 in compensation. For being their valuable customers. The trouble is that the users have probably lost far more in value than that. I wonder how many will be jumping ship real soon now!


Monday, October 19, 2009

Rhinebeck 2009 - 3

Well, this took a day or so to get to, but you'll have to wait for a post or two to find out why.
Between the first two barns was a rather unusual structure - a yurt. No! not a Hollywood-style plastic yurt, but a genuine Turkish yurt. If you think that they're only from the steppes of central Asia, think a little longer: the turkish people only arrived in what is no
w Turkey a little over a thousand years ago. The yurt is a convenient and portable structure well suited to nomadic people, and, as people found who entered this one, very warm indeed, even with two open doors.

Yurts are made of felted material - sheep wool or horsehair in Asia, probably, and are held upright wi
th thin wooden supports. Inside this one was a display of art on woolen items, including this piece of material with images of a bird and two people, found in a town called Catal Huyuk, from about 6000 yeas ago.

The people appear to be headless, which accounts for their positions - lying down. A bird-cult? Who
knows. Anyhow, the yurt was staffed by people from Ikonium, who are very friendly and have lots of fun stories to tell and info about felting to provide.

Between the second and third barns were a pair of lines of outdoor stalls - very cold for the poor vendors - where we found, amongst others, CreativelyDyedYarns. Dianne Lutz produces hand-dyed yarn of various mixes, including some wonderfully soft mix of wool and seaweed! I want it called Mermaid Tresses, and, like all her yarn, had beautiful colours.

Finally for this episode, some local colour. I believe this worthy was employed to
keep the sheep under control: certainly they were all well controlled.

More rambling very soon Photos all on Photobucket.
PS. The MD Sheep & Wool was back here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rhinebeck 2009 - 2

Okay, everyone - here come the pictures!
First, the line in. This was just a snap of the people arriving at 8.15 in the morning - opening was 9 am.

Although insisted that it was 42F, it really wasn't very warm all day. For example, you may think that this is a cute picture of a bunny rabbit, but, in fact, there are three white rabbits and at least one black one, all huddled together for warmth!
Above are silk & rayon velvet scarves. We were admiring the colours as the early sun shone through them.
We were looking for Kermit, but I think he's put some weight on recently !

Here's a longer look at some of the booths in the first barn, and the display of yarn at DyeDreams.

Left is a woman's cardigan from Jan, The Village Weaver from Sugarcreek, OH. She had some really nice cardigans and sweaters - for men and women - and I really think I'll be getting one - they look gorgeous!

Right is a collection of little stuffed animals. Things like these seemed to be quite popular at the fair.

The sheep incognito pictures from Conni Tögel were here, just like at Maryland. When you go to a fair with these you have got to see them - if you have the money, buy one! They are just so funny!

Well, Blogger seems to be having upload problems here, so I'll add more in the next blog.
Meantime, you should be able to go here to see all the pictures. Unfortunately, they're in reverse order and I haven't worked out how to get pics in the order I want them yet!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Rhinebeck 2009 - 1

For those not "in the know", the Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival is one of the major festivals for people involved in knitting in North America. It's in a small town of the same name in eastern New York state, about 25 miles from the Connecticut border, and the AG and I decided many long months to save up our pennies and go to it this year. So here we are, just waking up and getting ready for breakfast, in the Super8 in Danbury, CT, which is about 40 miles from Rhinebeck.

On the outskirts of the town we stopped at a fabric and yarn store called The Fabric Tree. This is mostly a fabric store, and the yarn section had a selection of Plymouth yarns. I caught this neatly fishy bag in the window.

st night we wandered around Danbury (a confusing town to drive in - especially at night). The last time I was here was when I was at a Ventura Publisher conference on the week of September 11, 2001, so I don't remember much of the town from then. It seems a nice place - we stopped in one grocery store for a couple of things and ended up buying rice and plantains 'cos they smelled so good.

It would be a nice morning drive in, we thought in June. Last week we were becoming a little less sure of that, as we watched the Weather Channel offer dire snow warnings for this weekend! Right now Danbury is a little above freezing, and Rhinebeck just on, but both are just cloudy and neither is expecting rain until later in the day. It looks like the bullet missed us! OTOH, it may all be wrong, and we may be several feet deep in snow up to our knees and more by the end of the day !

I'll be trying to remember to be camera-mad during the day, and post pictures tonight.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Now Hear This !!

This time I'm going to talk about the 'flu. If you don't want to read on - fair enough. If you have some strong views about getting vaccinated (or not), the please read on. You don't have to be convinced, but at least read on with an open mind, and try to follow my arguments (assuming I don't make some horrendous blunder in the middle !). References to what I've said before: see here for a short update on H1N1, and also here for an entry that has references to other sites with more info.

Firstly, some definitions. Influenza is a virus. That means that antibiotics are not any use against it. At all. The body (human or other) defends against viruses by "learning" to recognise the intrinsic "shape" of the virus and then attacking anything with that shape. Something with a very similar shape may be "recognised" in the same way (as being "close enough"), whereas a sufficiently different shape will not trigger the reaction. A vaccine to protect you against a virus has to be able to train your body to react against a new shape. The best way to do this is to introduce your body to the real thing - actually getting infected! However, that's not normally recommended, so we normally use an infection with a virus that has been killed. Even dead, it has the same shape and will teach your body what to react against. Some virus vaccines are alive, but very much weakened: these should really only be taken in emergency or by those not considered at high risk of serious consequences from getting the virus for real.

Talking about risk, you should remember that there are two very different risks here: the risk of contracting the disease and the risk of suffering serious or fatal results when you do contract it. Mathematically, if you have a 1 in 10 chance of getting it, and a 1 in 10 chance of dieing from it, then of the 10 people in 10 that get it, just one can be expected to die. This factoring is often skipped over, both by people trying to calm the masses and also by people trying to inflame fear and uncertainty.

So, to history. About 90 years ago, in 1917, it is believed that there was the beginning of an outbreak of 'flu in China, although this is only a little more than informed speculation and educated guesswork. Little seems to be known of it until later in 1918, when ut started spreading, first in the military and then into the civilian populations in Europe. It is often called Spanish Flu, because many of people contracted it in Spain, where there was also a high death rate amongst the affected. It spread via the trade routes of the world, and affected almost the whole human population, killing millions more than the Great War itself. For reference, see here.

One unusual characteristic of the 1918 'flu was that it's effects were most severely felt in the 15-34 age range, showing a death rate maybe 20 times higher than with previous varieties of the 'flu.

Since the four year of the 1918 Spanish Flu, the strains we have seen have returned to the virulence known before those years. We've had scares about Avian 'Flu, and other things in the last few years, but in 2009 we appear to be back in the cross-hairs again!

About six months ago
a disease that popularly became known as the "Swine Flu" hit Mexico, spread throughout the USA, and has since become pandemic throughout the world. A lot of people died of what is now called "H1N1 influenza", especially in Mexico, but quite a few in the USA and Europe. One characteristic that was noted by an interviewee on an NPR program one Saturday afternoon was that the H1N1 seemed to affect its victims in a way remarkably similar to the symptoms seen in 1918 - that is, the people most severely affected by it are the 15-34 age range! Now, on CNN today, comes an article that repeats this view.

Up until now it has always been considered that a valid explanation for this characteristic of the Spanish Flu was that these groups were preferentially targeted because they were the targets available. This age group was roughly that which was most involved in the previous four years of war. However, that should not explain the similar impact on the population of the USA, which had only experienced about a year of warfare, and of other countries' populations. This was a question that was never properly explained by the idea that it was people weakened by war that were more susceptible, hence the continuing scientific efforts to obtain "infected" DNA from exhumed corpses of the era.

So now for the idea of getting protection against the Thing. Before I start, I should state here that I am on a drug for arthritis (Enbrel) that is an immuno-suppressant, so I have already had a vaccination against the "standard" 'flu this year. Firstly because if I get it then I'll really get it badly, and secondly because if I get 'flu then the doctors won't have to wonder about whether its "standard" 'flu - it won't be. I have no problem in saying that I paid $25 for it at a Walgreen's in NJ, and that it hurt far far less than accidentally pricked with a pin or needle. For more specific info, please see here, which gives a good, concise list of things to think about. Walgreens and CVS, by the way, will give you vaccine without charge if you are unemployed and looking for work. The vaccine for the "standard" 'flu is prepared in exactly the same was as it has been for the last 10 or more years, and has very few risks (the last link describes the risks that do exist).

The H1N1 vaccine is a brand-new vaccine, but created in the same way as the "standard" variety, so will have the same caveats as above. It has been created from intensive research carried out world-wide since last Spring. There are two things to consider here: will it work and will it be available in time. Efficacy is something that only time will tell - we won't know until either nobody with it gets sick or a lot of people do. Availability is another matter. This version of the 'flu is not a seasonal variety, but can be expected to become more severe during the Winter, just like the Spanish Flu did in the four years it ravaged the world.

Some people are worried that the components of the vaccine - aside from the actual vaccine and water there are some preservatives, etc. - can be dangerous. The CDC has reported that some H1N1 shots will contain the preservative Thimerosal, and others won't. Your doctor will know what your shot contains - when I got mine from Walgreens they gave me a pamphlet that explained exactly what was in each type (there were two available), including things like other ingredients. Some people have expressed concern about Thimerosal for children because it's mercury-based, but the CDC states there is no scientific evidence the preservative is harmful.

Other people have expressed (to me) worries that the risks of taking the vaccine are greater than those of not taking it and possibly getting the 'flu. This is a very difficult equation to balance in order to see which way to go. On the one side there is a mathematically describable measurement of how likely you are to get the 'flu, and, if you do, how likely it is to be at any particular severity, from very mild to deadly. On the other side is the same piece of mathematics about the likelihood of being damaged by the vaccine, and the subsequent likelihood of getting the 'flu, and the consequences of that, too! If all that isn't enough, you also have to give mathematical values to how bad you consider degrees of sickness to be! The particular problem with all the above is that there are no numbers for them yet - these won't exist until the 'flu has happened to people, and, by that time, it'll maybe be too late!

So, life is hard. Yes. My personal opinion is that getting 'flu is such a bad experience (I had it when I was 18 and haven't forgotten since!) that I really don't want it again, especially as I don't have an effective immune system any more. So I'm getting the H1N1 jab as soon as I can.

Back soon - stay healthy !


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

... and the News from New Jersey ...

The AG "crafts". That is to say, she makes physical things that are of practical use to herself and others. Whereas I have, on occasion and when the need has been apparent, been known to produce carpentry and items of metallic mechanics. The AG, on the other hand, takes pieces of sheep and transforms them. Yes - I do the same - using my teeth, but she uses needles and wool - she knits. Socks, shawls, scarves, gloves, and hats. You've maybe seen some of these on this blog. She also takes existing knitware (old sweaters) and turns it into more useful things like handbags. She produces hats and gloves from polar fleece (i.e. shredded plastic water bottles), and pouches from handles of old shop bags.
So where are we right now, and why am I te all .lling you all this?

Read on !

weeks ago we went to a craft fair at the end of our road. The AG has done this before, but I haven't. Being the dyed-in-the-wool geek that I am, she was fairly sure that I was going to be bored out of my mind and going to slope off quietly to find a pint or ten of Guinness at the nearest pub. Well, curiously enough, I wasn't bored at all. In fact, I was quite happy for two whole days away from the keyboard. We sold enough to cover our stall fees, cover food for the two days, and pay a couple of bills. Not a huge amount at all, but encouraging.

But why was I not unhappy to be parted from my PC ? Remember: this isn't really something that's happened more than three or four times in the last thirty years! (and you thought that you were addicted to computers!). Partly it was novelty, and the enjoyment of being with the AG all day. A lot of it, however was, I believe, down to our neighbours. One, just on Sunday,was a lady selling decorated bottles. On the other side, however, was a family selling picture frames that the wife had made. They were attractive and well made, and the family themselves were warm, welcoming, and friendly to their "newbie" neighbours - us.

The next week we went to a town open day nearby, and had about the same amount of success, but without the same friendly neighbours. The new neighbours were friendly enough - don't let me mislead you - but those on that first weekend were definitely superior!

The Much-Troubled Laptop.
Well, the SD's Acer Aspire
One came to me last Thursday. It looked just as it would have done when it first came from the factory, except that there was no extra software on it. Nothing - just a note to say that there was a new hard drive in it together with standard software.

Here it is again - for real, this time, and not just company pictures. Here it's just starting up. You can see (if you enlarge the picture) the camera at the top-centre of the picture. You can pull images in from that into your applications if your application knows about a standard called TWAIN. If you're in a word processor (OOo Writer, for example) you select Insert and Picture. Then you choose Scan (not From File) and then Select Source. Once you've selected your source (Camera, Scanner, ...) you can go the same route and choose Acquire and get
an image. Easy!

BTW, if you're wondering, the laptop peeking in around the corner is the edge of my 17" Acer laptop, it's almost three years old now. It also had a disk catastrophe in the first three months of its life, and it too was fixed by Acer. No problems since then, I'm happy to say!

Anyway, I stuffed it full of software that the SD needs and sent it off to her on Saturday, so she should get it tomorrow or Wednesday. Have fun, M !!


...and the Home of the Brave ???

October 4th: From the Chicago Tribune:
Obama was told a trip to Olympics meeting may clinch Chicago win
Up until a few days before flying to Copenhagen, Obama was not sold on the idea. He was concerned he would be gone when the healthcare debate hit the House or Senate floor.
In the run-up to the Olympics vote, the White House was getting a clear message from the architects of Chicago's bid: Balloting would be tight, and a personal visit to Copenhagen from President Obama just might lock in a victory.
October 5th: From the Daily Telegraph:
Obama refuses Dalai Lama meeting 'to please China'
President Barack Obama has refused to meet the Dalai Lama in Washington this week in a move to curry favour with the Chinese. The decision came after China stepped up a campaign urging nations to shun the Tibetan spiritual leader.
It means Mr Obama will become the first president not to welcome the Nobel peace prize winner to the White House since the Dalai Lama began visiting Washington in 1991.
The leadership of the US appears to have found a very ineffective set of advisers for itself. This would not set the US apart from many other countries, of course, but it would set today's US apart from most of its own history. Depending on one's political viewpoint one can easily disagree with many of the decisions made by presidents over the last, say, 70 years, but one can usually see that the decisions were designed with a longer-term aim in mind. Nixon's moves toward the PRC are a good case in point. Clinton's measured reactions to al qaida and other terrorist attacks is another good example of restraint and preparation.
The current leadership appears to have recruited some advisers who suffer from the same malaise as much of the rest of the western world - the demand for instant gratification and the worship of the almighty poll survey.
President Obama has, at present, a fairly small number of important projects to manage, and, in my opinion, should not allow himself to be sidetracked into actions that may or may not contribute to his success in the major areas.
The major areas are, again in my opinion:
  • The formulation of a properly planned, articulated, and implemented strategy for Iraq and Afghanistan, changing the current reactive and mainly-military strategy into a strategy for rebuilding these countries, turning them into places where the people look on Americans and Britons automatically as their friends, just as the people of Europe did after the last world war.
  • The adoption of a stance on nuclear proliferation that can be supported by Russia, if not China. The adoption of this limited version of Realpolitik would improve US standing in the eyes of Russia and Europe as well as, hopefully, obtaining the desired prevention (see Dennis Ross' book on statecraft).
  • The pursuit of a publicly-popular and fiscally- responsible policy towards the financial institutions of the USA. These corporations have taken public monies and now proceed to disburse huge individual rewards while refraining from the actions that the granting of money was explicitly intended to achieve. The American public is genuinely unhappy to see that while their boss cannot meet payroll because he or she cannot get a loan to expand to win a new contract, the banks are happily spending huge amounts of money buying each other up.
  • The aggressive and enthusiastic promotion of development of a general reduction of the usage of energy sources that contribute to the destruction of the climate. "Clean coal" is, without a huge future investment, a complete oxymoron. Natural gas is cleaner than oil, but certainly not clean in any absolute sense. Nuclear fission power is, for the moment, probably the most reliable energy source that is also least harmful to our environment in the immediate future, despite the justified worries about the future of the associated waste. One must break eggs in order to bake a cake, as the saying goes: it will be necessary to make some limited damage to the environment in order to prevent much worse damage.
  • The public initiation of planning with Canada to coordinate the migration of agriculture as the global climate changes. If the climate warms and dries, as expected, in the grasslands and praries of the centre of the continent, the agricultural "prime zone" for many crops will move north, so the two countries must plan together to adjust their economies for this.
  • The increase of diplomatic efforts to achieve the beginnings of peaceful relations between the various countries in the Middle East. Every authority from every side seems to have entered this arena with lofty goals, only to fand themselves flattened in short order. Perhaps the promotion of less lofty aims will enable the countries involved to obtain a firmer grounding for long-term peace.
Flying around the globe at the beck and call of every group who can bend the ears of his advisers is not the way for the leader of any country to behave.

More Geekiness next time, I'm sure!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The ups and downs of teenaged geekhood

(or "The imminent demise of the Acer")
Almost three years ago I bought an Acer Aspire 9300 laptop. With a 2 GHz cpu and 4 GB of RAM, along with a 17" NVIDIA-powered screen it was, as a friend said on seeing it, one monster of a laptop! I was a little disappointed with getting Windows XP/Media Center Edition, but it worked really well.
For about three months ! Then the hard drive just up and died. Acer sent me a replacement, of course, 'cos they're a good company, but an 80 GB drive didn't really seem enough, so I bought a 120 GB drive and have used it happily ever since.
So that, I suppose, was one reason the DSD decided on an Acer, and I certainly wasn't about to say that it was a bad idea. Maybe I should have, but one bad hard drive is hardly an indication of a repeat of IBM's PC/AT (left) fiasco where the hard drives suffered a 25-30% failure rate in the first 12 months of life!
Whatever the reason, I was surprised when a rather upset DSD rang me up in the middle of the morning the other day to tell me that she couldn't boot the machine. She described all the info off the screen in minute detail, and it was pretty obvious that the disk was either damaged or disconnected.
She took off the back (bottom!) of the machine and listened hard to the drive that evening, and she could definitely hear the drive start and find track 0, so disconnection wasn't the problem. Oh well [sigh]. Life could have been so easy. So off to Acer it goes. It should be there by today, so we'll see what they say about it. Watch this space!

Software Space of the Week.
So you all know that I'm a geek in general and of databases in particular. Well, I stuck Apache onto one of my Linux machines (the one I'm writing this on, as a matter of fact), along with MySQL. "What's that?" you ask. MySQL is the most used database on the internet, being a reliable, low-maintenance high-quality database. While it isn't normally considered as being designed for huge databases, it is used by companies like Google and Facebook for their web sites, along with some six million other installations. Apache is easily the most used web server program - with over 100 million web sites powered by Apache!
These are the two programs I'm putting up for the DSD to play with, as she says she wants to learn to program a web site. For me, however, I also need something to work with to control these. After some searching over the net I found a tool called Webmin. Definitely a winner, this one! It runs on your machine, puts up its own little web serve, and offers a heap of info on all aspects of your system. Seriously neat. I have it on an Ubuntu machine, but it also runs on Windows too, which is good news for those of you out there with Windows home networks.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Google Stores

I was mooching around Google Labs this morning and found a "Store Gadget". Being the inquisitive little primate that I am I tried it out. It's kind of alright - it's definitely a beta product, though! You'll see it along the side of this blog, I expect.
It's an interesting and very good idea. However, right now you'll see it 4 times on the one page because I was having problems getting an image right. Therefore every time I've added in the image it appears to have replicated rather than replaced.
I'll be trying it again soon ... !

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Work vs The World

Right now, unfortunately, Work seems to be winning. In work we're getting requests from clients that appear, on the face of it, to be very reasonable ... but always waay late! Still, the work is fun (for me, at least) so I don't mind staying late or going in on weekends. Too much.

So I've been using my spare time - such as it is - to rip and burn old cassettes. Where I live (NJ) it's been seriously wet and thundery these last few weeks, so there've been times when I've sat in a chair listening to the rain outside, splashing from the roof, dripping onto and off of the leaves, running down the squirrels' backs, and onto the dogs' noses - making them bark - and had sound from the other side of the room of an Amazonian rain forest. Essentially no difference between the two ! I've been getting four or five done per weekend - it'll be some time in 2012 before I finish at this rate! And then there'll be the LPs!

[Geek Stuff]

Ive been wandering around a little of the web, looking for learning opportunities. There are just a few books that you can get hold of on Fictionwise, which is a shame, as I would like to use my old hp PDA more often. However, I have found some goodies.
  • If you're a SQL Server DBA, or wanting to get into it, Brent Ozar has some good stuff here.
  • Jen Kyrnin runs a series on that's all about Web Design. It doesn't often get nose-deep into code, but seems pretty good for practical design matters.
  • Mike Murach's publishing have a C# 2008 book out, and I'll be getting in to it soon. Getting it directly from them seems the cheapest way.
  • Talend is a company I ran across that offers open-source ETL software - interesting.
A few weeks ago I wrote a lot about my little Asus netbook. Well, my step-daughter now has one too, except that she chose an Acer One, in Dark Blue, so I'm hoping that she'll agree to help me write a review of that. She's also lusting after knowledge of the Internet, the Web, and all things to do with web sites, etc., and just generally showing off just how bright she is. I suppose I'll be writing everything I tell her down and publishing it here. Finally, I met someone today with a new Dell netbook, so maybe I can get some info for you about that one too.
A few weeks ago I brought my son back into the future by giving him a small hp Jornada 565 PDA. Now, of course, starts the serious hunt for connectivity. Right now I'm looking at this page for some ideas. Once upon a time I used a LinkSys 802.11b card with beta drivers, but the cards are long-gone, worse luck. His other machines are an Acer desktop with lots of power but condemned to running Vista, which kinda hobbles it, and a small hp desktop running Ubuntu 9, which does a great job on 128 MB of RAM, and is in great need of a couple of new gigabytes of silicon to help it !
[/Geek Stuff]
Lastly, a public service announcement. There's going to be a craft fair on September 18th on Tuckerton Road, on the border between Marlton and Medford, here in NJ. More info will be forthcoming, but the AG and I shall be working it.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Trend Towards the Small

Buying Hardware - Again !

A few weeks ago I decided that the little Asus that I bought back at the end of last year really needed a CD/DVD reader/burner. I decided on a little white Lite-On and changed my supplier, for once, and sourced it from CompUSA online.

Now, I have the feeling - gained from looking at their web sites - that either TigerDirect and CompUSA are owned by the same people or else they use the same web design company ! Their sites are amazingly similar and, after you've bought something, work identically.

Now don't get me wrong - I don't think that this is bad in any way, as I really like TigerDirect. Anyhow, Above is the little white burner that's replacing my old HP 300 single-layer DVD burner. It's very nice, and powers off the USB port on the Asus, so I now have optical disc reading and writing on-the-go.

And Again
Next to hit the wallet was the DD, who informed the AG and I that she would need a computer for school work next year (she'll be 15). Deep within me I really don't agree with the "need", as surely many parents won't be able to afford it, but I decided to bite the bullet anyhow, so asked her to do the research and tell me what would be good. She came back with a well-reasoned case so, much to her surprise, I think, I agreed, and a package arrived for her last Friday.

Having seen me happy with my 17" Acer, she asked for the Acer Aspire One, so I paid my normal visit to TigerDirect and here it is.

It comes with Windows XP - she specifically asked for that and not a Linux version so that life would be easier for her in school. I know that OOo works quite happily with MS formats, but not (yet) the XML ones.

As you can see, it's a blue-black PC very similar to the Asus that the AG appropriated from me!
It has 3 USB ports, microphone and headphone sockets, a LAN socket and a VGA socket, just like the Asus. The battery is a 6-cell LiON model, just like the Asus, and the screen is 10.1". It has the same Atom cpu, 160 GB hard drive, SD-card reader, and gigabyte of memory, easily expandable to two. The one thing that it does not have that the Asus has is a bluetooth link. Not that I've used it yet, but ...

Two things that it does not have are a floppy drive and an optical drive. I just asked her from chance whether a floppy drive would be useful and the answer was an enthusiastic "Yes", as floppies are very much the standard medium in schools. Shows how much I know! So a box will set off from the east coast, very soon, with a USB-powered floppy drive. Coincidentally, I originally bought it with my own big Acer, because it doesn't have a floppy drive either. I've never ever used it!

The need for an optical drive is a very different thing - you can't do without CDs and DVDs. So I opted for the Samsung shown above, as Tiger Direct didn't seem to have the Lite-On that I bought.

The Acer comes, as I said, with Windows XP. That's going to mean a registration session with Microsoft sometime soon. It also comes with an install of MS Office 2007, good for just a few weeks. After that you have to pay. Minimally $168 dollars. That's a lot to ask of someone who's only paid $300 for the entire PC and OS. Luckily, I have a copy of MS Office that she can use - as I don't, having upgraded to OOo - but many people don't have this luxury and have no knowledge of the alternatives in the marketplace, such as WordPerfect Office, OOo, and Star Office. All of these will produce pretty much everything that MS Office will, and cost less or are free.

The next software to ask for installation was McAfee's anti-virus software. This being a NetBook and very often bought by or for a young age-group, I think that the inclusion of an anti-virus pack is an excellent idea. However, this again is a limited-time offer, demanding that the user pay up after 90 days. There's another $79 (on offer right now at $49), but their web-site is strangely silent on the matter of updates and whether or not they charge annually (like most anti-virus products). We'll be looking at Avast too, I think. They have a personal version that costs only an annual re-registration.

Finally, it comes with a copy of Carbonite. This is an online backup program, that claims to take a look at your system when you stop using it for a while, and, if anything has changed, sends off an encrypted backup to Carbonite to keep for you. Their site claims that single-file recovery is "easy" and that you can also restore your complete PC if, for example, it's stolen. The cost is $5 per month and, to be honest, I think that it might well be a very good investment for a netbook that spends a lot of its life on the road.

Unforseen Consequences Department
I think that it's a good bet that Yahoo! didn't think twice when they retired versions 6 to 7.5 of their IM service (YIM), forcing upgrades to their users. Sure, you can get Yahoo! IM client for Linux, but who wants to have an IM window open for each of Yahoo, AIM, MSN, gMail, and who knows what else?
Yahoo kills Yahoo Messenger 6-7.5 and Pidgin fails
Pidgin is an open source program that allows you to have IM connections with people on pretty much every IM net, all in one window (or more, if you want) so you can keep the rest of your desktop for you. Pidgin, it seems, operated on the YIM version 7 protocol, so stopped seeing YIM when that protocol vanished.

It's taken just a month for Pidgin to work out what happened, move to the newer protocol, and get new versions out - it runs on Windows and Linux, and supports over 60 different user languages!

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
Yeah, well. That's true, and all that, but Mozilla are kinda pleased right now: Firefox is reaching its billionth download this week. Yes, that's billionth with a B! The polling guys are saying that they have over 20% of the browsers-in-use market right now. Wow!

Pink Floyd
If you like the Floyd, give The Australian Pink Floyd a listen. I've been listening to them on NPR here in Philly for the last hour and I'm a fan. They're playing across the US right now. See a review on the TributeHub site.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Wet Disaster

The AG washed some t-shirts this afternoon. All mine came out fine - clean as clean can be. Her one-and-only pink t-shirt in the lot didn't fare so well. In fact, after drying, flattening, and reviewing, it looks remarkably like it would after she'd carried a 56 lb bag of Welsh Nuts in to leave in the Coal Hole. In short, very large very black patches. Very very black patches.

Then we found what we'd missed. A Pilot Precise V5 RT ball-point pen. Aircraft-safe, it said. No proof against spin, heat, and Walmart's liquid detergent, however. About a quarter of the ink escaped into the barrel of the pen, and thence out into the t-shirt.

I like that pen. I really like that pen. I can best link to a Pen Blog for a good review. So I took it to bits and washed its innards with alcohols of varying types. And again. And again and again! Finally, it seems almost clean, so it's time for my erstwhile-lily-white skin to meet the product of the volcano. That terrible ogre so dreaded of generations of British schoolboys - of which I was one. The slimy and rough implement known as the soaped pumice stone. Why? Because I can't get any more ink off my poor mitts without taking the skin off to. So off the skin will have to come. Ouch!

Once I'm over that I've to get back to my Parceltongue lessons - did I say I'm trying to learn Python ? Well, I started off with books, but I wasn't getting far so looked around on the web and found Mark Pilgrim's Dive Into Python book online. It's an intro into the language conducted at a pace suitable for a relaxing F1 driver, which suits me just fine. For trekking off on mini-projects on my own I found Brad Dayley's Python Phrasebook (PDF here), full of tips, tidbits, and useful snippets of code to show you what to do and how to do it. If you already know Perl, learn about Python here.

So what's Python like ? Well, wild, woolly, and a bit wonderful, as well as weird. Sometimes really hard to read, and sometimes really easy to use. For instance, I have a zipped up file called input.txt in a file called The os library lets me get at files, and the zipfile library lets me zip and unzip files into archives.
import os
import zipfile
tFile = zipfile.ZipFile("c:\", 'r')
buffer ="input.txt")
print buffer
That's lots simpler that the hoops that most of the scripting languages like vbScript make you jump through. While it's a little mind-bending at times, I'm still learning, and lots of other languages are like that too - just take a look at MUMPS, for example - possibly the ultimate in laconic programming languages.

Take a look at this blog entry for a taste of the weird!

More - with yarn ! - next time.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009


No, not Raymond Burke's Connections. Just a heap of links that need to see the light of day for others to enjoy.

To the right, a picture by Richard Heeks, of Exeter, England, of the instant that a bubble is burst. It appears in The Telegraph, and is credited to Bancroft Media.

Network Monitoring Tools
Not something that everyone needs, but when you do, you really do !

Getting Your EMail
When you move your ISP, or it changes (e.g. is bought) you have to set up your email client yet again ... these are the magic incantations to type in to tell it where to go to get your email for you.

Swamp Soccer
The utter futility of it all boggles the mind, but it's still hilarious to watch.

Techie on the Web
The W3 site is the ultimate reference - watch out for HTML5!

Some Really Cool Software for Graphics and Web Page Design
Yeah, yeah, yeah [yawn] - so you've heard it all before. Okay already! Take a look anyhow. It's seriously neat stuff.

They Really Do Have Better TV in England !
Keep your eyes on the model - and the truth! (and "Yaah! Boo! Sucks !" to all you American puritans and prudes !)

Did It Really Say That ?
All these here just to show that maybe that sign really did say what you read - not what you expected to read!

When You Don't Get to Where You Thought You Were Going
An unfortunately common experience on the InterNet (should we all blame Al Gore ?), but some people are creatively trying to improve your day !


Monday, June 15, 2009

Very Geeky This Time

Well, this was going to be stuff all about Linux, as you'll read, but this came first. For those not into databases, skip down!

I had to improve some procs yesterday and found someone doing all sorts of weird conversions to get dates from datetimes. Hence these from my snippets.

Get Date Only from DateTime
set @date=CONVERT(varchar(8), GETDATE(), 112)
Get Time Only from DateTime
select convert(char, getdate(), 108) --hh:mm:ss
select convert(char, getdate(), 114) --hh:mm:ss:mmm(24hr)
Looking for Columns in all the Wrong Places
Looking for where a field is kept all through the tables in your database isn't much fun. This will look for and list all the columns in all the tables in your database.
SELECT table_name =,
column_name =,
datatype =,
length = syscolumns.length
FROM sysobjects
JOIN syscolumns ON =
JOIN systypes ON syscolumns.xtype = systypes.xtype
WHERE sysobjects.xtype='U'
-- and like '%[known column name]%'
Order the full listing by, syscolumns.colid instead, and you'll group all the field names by table.
Hi ! Welcome to the next alternative personality in this blog! I'm the person(a) who chose DOS unstead of SOS, because of the new PC's ability to pack a FORTRAN compiler. "Whaaaat?" you splutter in amazement - "What are you raving about?" ... but it's true. I had to choose between a PC (expensive, looked like a lab instrument) and an Apple III (expensive, cool, sleek, white). The PC ran MS DOS 2.2 and the Apple ran SOS (Sara's OS !). The Apple ran lots of cool games, but I didn't play games. I needed a PC that I could use in work. A computer that I could write programs on. One, in short, that had a FORTRAN compiler. The Zenith PC that I eventually settled on offered a choice of three OSs, although I chose DOS. It arrived with about a foot of manuals (8" binders, well packed with information on all the extra utilities on the extra disks (5.25" floppies) over and above the basic MS DOS disks. The extras, in fact, very much resembled a lot of the utilities available in contemporary UNIX systems.

Since then I've gone through almost the whole evolution of Microsoft and IBM-compatibility. I bought the Zenith because I wanted a better monitor than IBM offered. I upgraded the 10MB disk by adding a 20 MB one within 6 months, and by the time the Zenith was a year old I'd replaced the CPU with a faster Zilog model - 8 MHz instead of 4.77 !

After a while I sold the Zenith and moved on to a 286 machine, also a Zenith, as it happens, and then to a 33 MHz 386 with no less than 16 MB of memory (all that would fit on the motherboard!). All this time I was able to use the machines - running versions of Windows after 1985 - to write code in FORTRAN and ObjectPAL programs. That's a pic of Windows 1.1 on the right. Windows wasn't an OS (well, neither was MS DOS, really !) but it was a program that managed the screen. At this point MS had lost a legal battle with Apple and couldn't have overlapping panes in Windows - tiling only ! Windows had colour, though, and the Lisa was only monochrome. The Mac arrived about a year before Windows, and was certainly an object of jealousy!
I pretty well skipped the Windows 9x route, moving from Windows 3 to Windows NT 4, a smart move, which led to a brief sojourn in Win2K and almost 10 years now with Windows XP and XP/64.

The point of this little gambol through ancient history has been to show you that I had a serious choice to make back in 1981 about which machine to buy. The Apple was (to use Top Gear terminology) lithe, swift, and sexy. The IBM Compatibles looked like metal boxes spray-painted with colour dyes designed for tinting cardboard cartons - beige or beige! In fact, that's what they were!

However, for me, I chose the one that I could work on.

Now I'm looking at the same potential choice. I've been running Windows XP and been ignorantly happy. I've looked at Vista and decided that unconstrained software growth is not the way to go. Three years later Microsoft publicly agreed with me. Windows 7 offers certain extra things for upgrading, but they're mostly for the "average user" or the games-kiddy. I'm not inteested in glitz for glitz' sake, but offer me a good price on a faster graphics card and I'm all ears. I'm the kind of guy who runs his PC logged in as admin, who has to buy special gadgets to cool his laptop, and runs a full-out database system (MS SQL Server 2005) and a development system (MS Visual Studio 2005) on his laptop. Pretty isn't really "me".

My choice, as I saw it, for the OS of my next PC, was between Windows XP or a flavour of Linux. Win XP because, having seen Vista, I never wanted to see it ever again! Windows 7 wasn't - and still isn't - an available possibility. The alternative was Linux ... but which one? Red Hat ? SUSE ? Solaris ? BSD ? Mandriva ? PCLinuxOS ? Mephis ? Zenwalk ? In the end I settled for experimenting with Ubuntu 8.10. Mainly because I found two or three (English) Linux magazines and they seriously praised Ubuntu. I also picked up a CD of version 3 of the suite ("OOo") off another magazine.

My first test was to install Linux on a small PC - a very basic HP 740n. When I say "basic" I mean a 1.5 GHz cpu but only 256 MB of RAM (yes! more than 256 times more than my first
Zenith ever had !). I popped the distribution CD into the CD ROM drive, booted the machine, and told it to take the whole disk and make it Linux. Which it duly did. So my son suddenly had a PC but with a new and different face.

It didn't take him long to get accustomed to this, thought, and he's even done some of his school homework on it. The stuff has to be handed in in MS formats - Word, Excel, and Powerpoint - but that's no problem at all with OOo. Not something I could ever really say about WordPerfect Office, or the Lotus office with AmiPro, nice as AmiPro was.

About a month or so ago I wanted to tweak something on that machine and managed to mung the GUI. Totally! Had I been a Luinux guru I could have fixed it. But I wasn't - and still am not. Now I could have re-installed it, and, had I been using Windows, I would have had to. However, Ubuntu had moved on in the meantime and I installed Ubuntu 9.04. Now this is a definite improvement on 8.10. It's noticeably faster and will surely get better still when I finally get around to upping the memory to max out the old HP. In the meantime, Nick has a very serviceable PC that he can even play space and racing car games on. And they don't slow down intolerably because of the lack of memory, believe it or not. Nick "got" pretty much everything about the new OS the first time I explained it, and he isn't any more "PC Savvy" than any other game-infatuated 12-year-old. Within days he was downloading and installing programs as if he'd been doing it for years.

That's what really convinced me that Ubuntu was very possibly the way forward. I can obtain development systems for many languages on any system these days, but, for a system with such a small user base (compared to that of Windows), Ubuntu help and support on-line is stellar. From meeting VB at the stage of VB.NET 2.0 I can tell you from hard experience that good on-line help is utterly invaluable.

So, my next machine may well be a little ASUS desktop, but, whatever it comes with, it's ending up with Ubuntu. No question about it.
After the SQL into, I have to break the news that I'm using up all my spare time learning a new language. No - not Spanish or Italian! It sounds a little Potteresque to those not used to computing, but the name of the language I'm learning now is called Python. It's rather a cool language and, in a few days time, I should be able to put down the crutches and start hobbling in it.

Out in the real world, the AG finished an awesome witches hat - all spiky and obviously great for making creepy silhouettes while riding your broom across a full moon. She's also made a woollen tricorn hat (which everyone insists on calling a Pirate Hat). Pictures of these to come. She also finished and sent a pair of Tiger Socks to my dad in England, meaning that three generations of Irwins can now wear AG-created Tiger Socks of their very own !

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

SQL & Socks

Firstly, the techie stuff (as I'm also watching Star Trek) and woolly stuff later on down.

Geek Stuff

I've been troubled with heat, slow speed, program lockups, and general vanishing hard-disk space on my laptop. I run MS SQL Server 2005 and VS 2005 on this machine for development, and, more and more often, running both intrfaces has locked them, with one or the other usurping the processor, taking 97%+ of cpu time.

This evening I was checking disk ocupancy to try to discover why I was running out of space. I was using a copy of FolderSizes, and found that at some time in the past I had been experimenting with scheduling backups for a database, and obviously never turned it off. Now turned off, I've removed several GB of backup files and life is better.

Something else I saw was that the log file from one database, itself 2 GB in size, had increased to about 25 GB, causing my system to run short. Truncating the log file got it back down to 2 MB! Here's the code:

use DataBaseName

backup log
DataBaseName with truncate_only

dbcc shrinkfile (
DataBaseName_log, 1)

This is definitely a wake-up call for all of you small-system DBAs: SQL Server documentation is quite clear that the database retains the log data until you clear it out. What the docs cannot tell you is how big it will get nor how quickly it will grow - that is totally up to your application. I managed to use up 25GB because I started with 2 GB of data and spent about a month doing analyses on it. Pretty soon I'll be able to get rid of the original database itself - phew!


Here's something nice to eat. It should take you about 30 - 45 minutes from the time you enter the kitchen to the time you're mobbed as you sit to eat. It's called Mike's Bacon-wrapped Chicken, and I serve it with corn and couscous. I'm not going to be absolute with quantities - obviously you'll need more for more people.

Firstly, get all your ducks (chickens ?) in a row - this'll make everything go lots quicker, and get you to the table sooner. You'll need a sharp paring knife, tongs (like you might use barbecuing), but not huge, a cooking spatula and spoon. To cook in, a frying pan and two cooking pots. You'll also want 2 or, maybe, 3 bowls to put cut veggies into. Determine what people will want to drink before-hand and arrange someone to handle that for you.


Start with a smallish onion. Peel it and chop it in to pieces about two tenths of an inch in size. Put them into a bowl and reserve. Add about three or four crushed and chopped cloves of garlic to the onion. Chop up one or two peppers (any colour, but one of each is best). Make sure you dump the central area around the stalk, and all the seeds. Reserve them into a bowl (or two, if needed). Get out Rosemary, Thyme, Salt, Pepper, and (optionally) Nutmeg.

Put water into one pot and frozen corn too: put the heat under that to medium. Put some butter into the other pot - again dependent on how many people / how much couscous. You'll need almost a cup of couscous per person, together with chicken broth for the couscous and either white wine or more chick broth for the main dish

Take a chicken breast per person, wash, and dry them (just in case there's bone fragments from butchery). Trim the extra fat off each and cut each breast into roughly 3 or 4 equal-sized pieces. More important than being perfectly equal is that you cut the really thick parts of the breast parallel to the table to try to even up the cooking times for all the pieces. Finally, you'll need some wooden cocktail sticks - about 3 or 4 per chicken breast.

Take out one strip of bacon per piece of chicken but keep it aside with the cocktail sticks.


Start medium-high heat under the frying pan and put some cooking oil in to warm. Personally, I use Safflower as it has a high smoke-point, so things get brown nicely, and it also doesn't taste the food much at all. Get the oil reasonably hot and put in the onion and garlic mix in to start cooking.

Once the onion is beginning to look cooked - about a minute or two - add in some salt and pepper, stir up to mix, and then start adding in the chicken. Don't worry if it doesn't all fit in - two stages will be fine. Raise the heat at this point and fry off the chicken for about two - three minutes a side. We want the chicken to be browning now, but not cooking in the middle.

Once the pieces of chicken are browned, take them out (tongs!) and put them on a plate to cool. Put in any that are still waiting and cook them. As soon as the chicken is all done, replace it with the peppers, some Rosemary, Thyme, and Nutmeg, and lower the heat to let them fry gently in the onion and chicken juice.

Meanwhile, take each piece of chicken, wrap a rasher of bacon around it, and pin the bacon on with a cocktail stick. Store in one of the bowls used for the veggies now in the pan.

As soon as the chicken is wrapped, return it all to the pan or, of it won't all fit, get another pot and transfer some of the veggies there, follow with the chicken, and add the rest of the veggies. Not add wine or broth. If in the pan, then about half-way up the pieces of chicken; if in a pot then until you just begin to see the liquid level. Either way, as soon as the liquid is in you should raise the heat to bring it just to the boil before lowering it again to a simmer. We can best keep this simmering for about five minutes or more.

Next, raise the heat on the corn to bring that to the boil before letting it just keep warm.

Now the couscous. This is a starch that cooks incredily quickly, so we can afford to keep it until the very last few minutes. You'll find the butter in the pot: it should be melted by now. Raise the heat to about medium-hot and add the couscous grain. Use a spoon to keep stirring the grain as it gets coated with the butter and starts gaining temperature. If you listen (yes, listen!) to the pot closely you'll be able to hear it start to hiss as it starts to fry. This is fine for a while, but eventually the couscous will start to brown (from a golden-yellow to a brick-red) and tat that stage it gets bitter, so you don't want to go too far!

Once the couscous is hot you can pour in the chicken broth. Start with a cup for two of couscous - as it hits the bottom of the pot there should be a kind of a "whoomph" sound as the broth turns to steam. This is good, as it pushes liquid all through the grain, cooling it quickly. Put enough broth in that all the couscous is in a very slightly soggy mass. Don't be scared to put in too much broth - too little leave "raw" grains with will seem like grit. Take the couscous pot off the heat and continue to stir quite quickly. It will absorb the liquid: if it looks to be too dry then add some more!

Now you are happy, leave it off-heat for a few minutes and turn off the corn, pour it through a sieve, and put into a bowl to serve.

Next, use your tongs to take out the bacon-wrapped chicken from the pot or pan into a serving bowl and raise the temperature under the rest to max. Add more wine or broth if needed: we want a kind of gravy here with lots of bits, so it needs to reduce for a minute or so: to do that it also needs something to reduce from !

While the veggies / broth mix is boiling, take a fork and stir up and finally fluff up the couscous. Pour it into a bowl to serve too: and fluff it up again now. Aerating the grain will let steam percolate better and make sure that grains still in need of moisture can get it.

Now everything else is ready for the table, kill the heat under the veggie-liquid and pour that into a bowl. Bring everything to the dining table to serve.

That may seem like a lot to do, but in all honesty it takes me about 30 minutes to make enough to feed four and have enough for four more little lunches to take to work. Don't expect to do it that fast to begin with - in fact, get someone to read out the instructions to you as you go, to save stopping and finding your place every few seconds.


It was the spawn's birthday last week, so among other things, he got a pair of wool short-socks. Well, he will do, when the AG finishes the second one!

We went to Woolbearers last week, so there are three balls of black yarn waiting to go into the AG's Witches Hat for Hallow'een. Tomorrow it's the Grindhouse Café in Haddonfield for Stitch 'n' Bitch. If you're there, come and meet us all.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Linux or Windows

Last week I finally got a motherboard transplant to work - from living in an absolutely outrageously oversized case (big, rounded, scarlet, and with hips, no less) to living in a normal beige ATX box. I had to transplant some of the fans, of course, and there's an 8-inch fan that I'd like to put in too but can't find a good place for it (maybe I'll cut a hole in the case!).

This thing used to run Windows XP-64, which I got about 3 months after it escaped from Microsoft. It's been a good OS, although lacking in drivers initially. For example, HP never upgraded many of their drivers for it, but Brother and Konica-Minolta both did, so those were the printers we bought. See here for a review of it.

It's a reasonably powerful machine - 2 GHz AMD cpu and 2 GB of RAM - especially so when I bought it in the late summer of 2005. I ran a lot of virtual machines on it. So, once I re-housed it, I was faced with the obvious decision to make - which OS to use. Anything less than Windows XP was obviously out. I wanted a change from Windows XP/64, and, having regretted giving my son a machine with Vista on it for the last 16 months, Vista was definitely not going to be it!

Windows 7 isn't out yet, so that just about writes Windows off. I don't think it'll run Leopard, so I took a look at the Linux alternative. Ubuntu 8 looks nice - I've created a few machines with it and had a good result. I have a copy of Solaris, but who knows what IBM will do with it (why would they kill AIX in favour of Solaris?). I looked at a few others, decided I rather like the new KDE desktop and its features, and then found the Ubuntu 9.04 was out.

So I read all the reviews and, as it looked good, downloaded both the Desktop and the Server editions (there's a Netbook edition too, but I'm not buying hardware just yet!). I burned CDs on my trusty Windows laptop (the Acer Aspire 9300). Neither would load properly. Bad burns ? I tried. No - same error. Bad downloads! So I pulled them again. Burned again. Went to bed!

Next morning, I put the Server disc in to the reader and booted. After about 20 questions and enough time (just) for me to eat my morning bowl of porridge (see later), it was up and asking me to log in. Wow! I haven't seen an OS load that fast since we put Windows NT 4 onto a 4-cpu DEC Alpha machine! Up it came with a pure character interface. Oh sugar! I really don't feel like learning Linux command line this morning! So I Googled how to install GNOME, found the instruction (last post):
/etc/init.d/gdm start
and re-booted the machine. Now I get a black screen with a little graphic asking for name, and then password. After that, I'm in to GNOME's default background (light blue with a stylised "G" logo). Very clean, very nice. Off to work.

By the evening I was really ready to try things out, so I went exploring. The install seems to take up about 13 GB of space, including GNOME and all the applications that Ubuntu comes with, so the OS itself probably takes less than half that. Windows XP Pro takes over 8 GB and it's ten years old, so anything less than that is quite good, considering.

So, what have I been using it for? Well, so far I've been using it to burn backup CDs. I ran into a problem with my original Benq 1640 drive - Ubuntu doesn't see it as a burner - just a reader. I replaced it with a $30 Lite-On (five years newer and faster) and burns fly. What I'm doing is backing up all the stuff from the old disks that used to be in the Windows XP/64 machine but that's rather complicated. I mount the disk in a Firewire-connected carrier that plugs into an old Sony VAIO laptop (old enough that it runs on Windows 2000, and a coupon for Windows XP came with it!). The VAIO shares the drive, so my Acer can see it, and I pull the files onto the Acer and organse them. After that I grab them from the Acer with the Linux machine and drop them onto the disc symbol and burn them. As easy as Windows has been promising but with little helpful things like telling you if it thinks that the folder tree is too deep before just burning it and failing half-way through the disc.

I've been playing with the product. I also have it on my Acer, and also on the baby Asus machine, running under Windows. In both of these the JVM takes a long time to load and start, before the app. (Writer, Base, or whatever) is loaded. With Ubuntu 9.04 almost all of that wait vanishes. I can only think that the JVM is permanently loaded, but it's much faster.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Do you know where you are ?

Well of course you do! You open your phone and use the GPS receiver to tell you , complete with map.
But what if it doesn't, one day ?
It'll never happen, you say. It's a government project and things like that don't fail. . It's too big and too important to fail you say, as the words "Lehman Bros." creeps insidiously into your brain. A small shiver crosses your skin as you think of being out alone in the desert , broken down, phoning for help, and not knowing the answer when the operator asks you where you are.
Why this beginning to my blog today, you ask. Am I honing my art for writing the first in a series of blockbuster B-movies ? No. What caught my eye as I was at the Haddonfield Stitch 'n' Bitch this evening was a headline on the TV about a problem with the GPS system. Apparently the Air Force has been having such fun chasing bandits in Irak and Afghanistan that it hasn't managed to keep up with repairs on the small constellation of satelites that provide the signals for the GPS system.
The system is made up of a constellation of 24 satellites placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense. GPS was originally intended for military applications, but in the 1980s, the government made the system available for civilian use. Periodically satellites fail and are replaced - this is normal.
However, right now the US Air Force, which has responsibility for maintaining the system (which is also used by the US military, of course) has apparently been having problems in designing and lofting replacement satellites. The satellites have multiple redundant backup systems, so failure isn't very frequent, but apparently many are down to and using their last set of spares for several functions, so just one failure might take a satellite out of the system.
One satellite won't kill off the entire system, but to get decent accuracy your GPS device needs to have four above the horizon to see.
Next year is predicted to be the year that satellites start dropping off without being replaced, says a government report out in the last few days. If you want to be really bored, it's here. Basically, it says that the Air Force hasn't been replacing satellites fast enough, hasn't coordinated development of new versions with purchasing and launching schedules, and hasn't been successful in building ground control facilities to control the newer satellites. To put it even more bluntly: the Air Force was tasked with maintaining and developing the system, and hasn't done so.
Is there an alternative, one asks (thinking again of the cold Arizona desert at night). Well yes, there kind-of is, but not yet. It's about three years late and is now due to enter service in 2013. It's called Galileo and is a constellation of 30 satellites due to be lifted by Ariane over the next few years It is supposed to have better resolution than the civilian GPS, but who knows when you'll be able to use it in the USA, as the phone makers probably won't make bi-system phones.
Finally there's another European program, Egnos, that's supposed to improve the accuracy of the GPS system. However, that may not fly if the GPS dies out!
So, if you want to find out where you are next year, keep up those donations to the Air Force
The picture at the top is from an AP site, and they got it from NASA. It's t
he Sombrero galaxy as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Rather cool.