Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Did I Break My Camera?

I have had a Canon T2i (right) since around June of 2011. It's a very nice camera, and I'm still learning the complexities of all its options - my previous high-quality camera was a Fujica ST605 totally-manual 35-mm SLR film camera (below) that I bought in 1979. I ended up with two ST605 bodies, one with a 28-70 Tamron lens and the other with a 70-210 Tamron one-touch zoom lens.

Back to the T2i. As I say, I've had it a couple of year now, and gave myself a birthday present of a Tamron 70-300 lens a little while ago.

So I was on holiday with the AG in Germany over Christmas - we stayed in Köln - and, of course, I brought the camera for holiday snaps. All in all we had a great time, as Köln has several Christmas Markets (Markt am Dom right) and also far more yarn than the AG was expecting.

After a day of taking pictures I settled down and uploaded them to Dropbox using my new Acer ChromeBook. I did some work on the ChromeBook and saved the files out to the SD card (it had 64 GB so plenty of room). A little later I picked up the camera and went out to take more photos, only to find that the info screen didn't light up and that I got a message "Err 80" in the viewfinder. Back to the ChromeBook to research the error!

A lot of people reported this as being a general error message, but often a shutter problem. I certainly had a shutter problem - it was being a Shut, not a Shutter! Pulling the battery and replacing it reset the camera and fixed it for a short while; using my 70-300 Tamron lens exacerbated the problem, with frequent "Busy" signs in the viewfinder as it hunted for focus, and eventually the camera started to take a picture, flipped up the mirror, and froze, mirror-up!

After going through every camera-related trouble-shooting operation that I could think of, I recalled that I had once owned an Olympus Z-3030 digital camera. The problem with the SmartMedia cards that it used was that if you didn't format them in the camera, and/or if you used them for certain types of file, they became unusable. The beginnings of a light over my head started to glow!

So I pulled out the (64 GB) card I was using, borrowed another (1 GB) from my wife, and the problem vanished. Err 80 was suddenly history. On looking (with the ChromeBook) I found that I had left two or three .pdf files on the card after using it in the Chromebook. Removing these restored the camera operation!

Tech Notes

  • SD Cards for Cameras. There's a class rating for these. If you want to use your camera for taking video then look for class 10. You'll find it marked on the card as an amazingly tiny number inside about 80% of a circle. Very difficult to read!
  • ChromeBooks. I have an Acer 710-2688, in a boring grey colour (offset now by colourful stickers from Köln !). It has a very good screen res., 4 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of SSD. I really like it for browsing the web, etc., and the AG has one too now, as her Asus Eee1000 has reached 5 years old and its Windows XP is becoming more of a liability than an asset. It's also getting very slow, especially compared to these Acers. 
  • Windows XP (1). Time to leave it behind, everyone. If your machine will run it (i.e.  not a netbook and less than 5 years old) then go get a copy of Windows 7 and replace Windows XP!  If you have custom programs that really really won't run on Win7, get a copy of VirtualBox, install it, and install your copy of Win XP inside that (see here). Without the browsers! 
  • Windows XP (2). If you've an older machine that just won't take Windows 7, or an Atom netbook like the AG's that just isn't powerful enough, then take a look at what you actually do with your machine. Do you really do any more than use the web in different ways? You write papers, use spreadsheets, make presentations? You can do all those with GoogleDocs. Email? Google's GMail. Storage? Dropbox! So, with the exception of iTunes, a Linux system will give you pretty much all you need. If you don't want to spend the $260-odd on a new ChromeBook then splurge instead on a new hard drive (get an SSD, even! This one costs $70 - gasp!). Get a copy of Puppy Linux and burn it onto a CD (or get one from the cover disc on a Linux magazine in Barnes and Noble), swap the new hard drive in to your machine (hang on to your old drive!), connect the CD reader, and boot from it into Linux. Then tell it to use all your brand new hard drive and let it become your new OS. Once you're up and running with Linux you can grab a 2.5" drive enclosure (e.g. here), put your old drive into it, plug it in to a USB port, and you can get at all your data again. Linux will read and write NTFS (Windows) drives fine, so there'll be no problem getting at your files. As I said above, you can use Google Docs to read MS Office files. 
Have a great new year in 2014

Friday, November 22, 2013

OS Upgrade ... (Part 2)

Well, last post I touched briefly on starting a new operating system (OS) upgrade. Rather like what you do with Microsoft when you upgrade from Windows XP to Vista or Win7 or Win8. You hold your breath and pray. Really really hard. To all the Gods you can find mention of!

Well, the reason I was upgrading was that Ubuntu (and all Linuxes, in fact) do a kind of rolling release schedule, where the Upgrade Manager (or similarly-named program) polls the sources for all the software you have installed. If any change it makes a note of what's changed and what things it depends on. Then it periodically announces that you have upgrades waiting (I set that to weekly).

Pretty much always it goes off without a hitch, and you just keep working while it's doing its thing. A couple of weeks ago, however, it downloaded and installed new software to control my (NVIDIA) graphics card. That would have been fine, except that there has to be a corresponding alteration in the software that uses it - the kernel software. Unfortunately that didn't happen, so when I rebooted next I didn't get any GUI. All the programs were there - they just didn't show anything!

So after a couple of days I decided that as I was only at version 12.04, which was about 18 months old, I could surely migrate forwards and hopefully things would get better. Unfortunately not. So I bought a new hard drive ($70 for 500 GB), pulled the main drive of my laptop and plugged in the new one, put a bootable DVD in the drive with Linux Mint 14 on it, booted and installed.

At this stage I had no idea whether I would get a usable system - all I knew was that the image I saw from the live (bootable) CD was rendered by something called "Gallium 0.4 on NVCF". It turns out that this is the front of a driver software from a group called nouveau, and that it works very well indeed!

So, for non-standard software, I run the following:
  • Oracle VirtualBox - Provides me a virtual computer within which I can launch something else. Mainly this is Windows, as my email runs in Windows and I work with MS SQL Server, so my work is there too.
  • dvgrab - A command-line program that records video from the IEEE port. Right now I'm recording a copy of an old Jay Leno program so my wife can watch it - she's with some friends who live "BC" - "Beyond Cable"! They're "BC" - "Beyond Cell" too!!
  • K3B - A program to burn CDs, DVDs, and BluRay discs.
  • Quod Libet - This is a small audio player.
  • Chrome browser.
  • xSane - A program to work the scanner part of my hp psc 2410 MFP.
  • RipperX - This rips CDs. That's it. Sooo convenient!
  • UltraEdit - The best text editor, hands down!
  • Geany - Programmer's IDE.
  • Hugin Panorama Creator for creating single images from multiple shots, so I can make photos of wide or tall buildings.
  • Calibre and FBReader for managing and reading eBooks
  • VLC Media Player for movies (also available on Windows & Mac)
I'll probably get FireBird (i.e. InterBase) running eventually.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Coming to Thanksgiving

Lots of little snippets this time.
My Laptop
As I'm sure you're all aware, I'm a programmer. In fact, I'm a database developer, ETL and reports developer, data analyst, and DBA. I use mostly SQL Server, but am known to help people out who are using VB, ASP, PHP, MySQL, Oracle, and other things too! I just got Guru level accolade on Experts-Exchange for helping people with SQL Server 2008 problems.

Anyhow, a while back (November 2011), I bought a new laptop, 'cos mine was getting a little long in the tooth. The wife practically collapsed at the price (>$1500!), and I've upgraded it since, but it was a really good deal for a 17.4" screen, 8-core Intel i7 cpu, 500 GB drive, and 12 GB of RAM. I've since expanded it a bit - another 500 GB of a second disk and maxed out the RAM at 32 GB.  I think I reviewed it back then: here's another review from about the same time that I've found.

So, to get to date, I've had this monster for just on two years now. It really doesn't seem that long, and I haven't seen anything out there to beat it down! In a year or so I'll probably start looking for a replacement - they've added a few features to it (System-76 are here) but I doubt I'll be replacing it any time soon, as it's doing fine. Right now I'm upgrading operating system versions, which is always fraught, but there you go!

My wife, OTOH, the AG of legend, has a little Asus netbook running Windows XP. It's fine, except that Windows XP is running out of support, meaning that I really have to get her to something more modern before the malware attacks start in earnest.

Aah! Food!!
  1. Get a couple of pounds of chuck and cube it (1"). Brown it well, and put it into a slow cooker. 
  2. Get about a pound of sliced mushrooms and heat them on medium-low heat and stir occasionally After a few minutes they'll start giving off liquid. 
  3. After about ten minutes in all sprinkle about three tablespoons of flour, mix it into the mushrooms, and  cook on for about a minute (no more!).
  4. Next add in a couple of bottles of brown ale (Sam Smith's Nut Brown Ale or Theakstone's Old Peculier are great) and stir well.
  5. Bring to a light boil and stir while the liquid thickens. Then pour into the slow cooker.
  6. Add a chopped up large onion and about a pound of chopped carrots. Also a bay leaf, some pepper and a little salt, and a little caraway seed. 
  7. Leave on low for about eight hours.
  8. Serve with boiled new potatoes or, as I did, with freshly-baked bread (did I tell you what a wonderful cook the AG is?). Her bread is wonderful!


Wednesday, September 18, 2013


No, it isn't a curse! It's a meatball with herbs!
Yes, that's right, I've been cooking again.

This time I made little asian/middle eastern meatballs, grilled them, and served them with rice and some salad. For those who need a visual cue take a look to the right - that's from the food Network, and essentially what I made.

The ingredients are listed below.

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until pretty-well blended together. Then pull pieces out and form them into little balls, between 1 and 2 cm in diameter. It doesn't really matter if they're all small or all big; just pick a size that you can push a skewer through and stick to it! The cook in the photograph formed long ones, I use round ones - it really doesn't matter!

1 spoonful of minced garlic 1 pound ground lamb or beef
almost a cup of well-chopped onion 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon ground coriander 1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Once you've got your mixture in organised pieces, put them on a plate of baking tray and leave them in the fridge for from 1 to 12 hours. This lets them rest and the flavours blend.

Take them from the fridge and skewer them ! 3 or 4 should fit on a large skewer.

You can grill them on an outdoor grill or indoors if your oven is equipped with a grilling element on its ceiling. About 5-7 minutes should give you a soft and juicy kofta (not bloody and not crisp all the way through!).

Warning: if you do them indoors make sure your flatmates are either included in the meal or out - the smell of cooking these has been known to turn harmless little old ladies with blunt dentures into ravening tigresses!

Serve them with rice or couscous and a vegetable, or in Pita bread with salad (shredded cabbage and tomatoes).

Have fun!


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Storage can be a Strange Thing

No, I don't mean the kids claiming that there are monsters under the bed when you know for an absolute certainty that there are only boxes of underwear and socks there. Oh! And the cat, so that's where they heard "the noise under the bed"! Am I Susan sto Helit to be chasing monsters with a broom?

Anyhow, after moving yet again earlier this year we have accumulated two storage units near where we used to live and another where we live now. A few weeks ago we intercepted some people clearing out their uncle's unit and grabbed the bookshelves that would otherwise have gone to Goodwill. So now the new storage looks like a library with a heap of boxes in the middle!

So, the Time of Consolidation is now upon us! I'm fed up of paying too much for all this, so I go in to get a small unit last Saturday and find that the unit next to ours is up for grabs! Bril! So now we have two big ones here ("New Storage") and a very big one and a small one there ("Old Storage").
Then on Monday the AG was in working in the units and I get a call.
"The lights are all out. The power's out"
"Where are you?"
"In Storage"
"New or Old?"
"Go down to the office and hang out there - they have windows and light. You won't be able to leave with the car because the locks are all electronic"
"Oh. Ok"
So I left a little early from work and went back to get her. And talk to the people in the office there too. Turns out that there really weren't any problems. Except the answer to one question:
"What do you do to get out after everyone has gone from the office in the evening?"
"Call the police"
Hmmmmm. The end result of that will be confusion and a large metal fence with people on the inside trying to get out and armed police on the outside. Scarily reminiscent of the Berlin Wall and various gaols in places like Texas! Hopefully the police don't end up threatening the trapped !


Saturday, May 04, 2013

Yarn Year Six!

So, for the sixth year in a row the better half and I are shacked up near (well, fairly near) to the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship, MD, in order to visit the Maryland Sheep and Wool Fair tomorrow. This year we're at the Holiday Inn Express at BWI airport. A very friendly hotel, with an attached Dennys.

There will be some photos up here tomorrow evening, assuming that the wi-fi here at the hotel cooperates. This evening we got here at about half-past eight and the hotel net was pretty much totally overwhelmed!


The obligatory Tech content this post is to remind you that SQL Saturday #200 will be happening on June 1st at Microsoft's offices in Malvern, PA, just outside Philadelphia. The home page is here and you should definitely go if you possibly can, as it will be full of interesting info. Technically-minded business people should also seriously consider going, as there'll be a lot of business-orientated content.


Monday, April 22, 2013

All Sorts of Tech!

Yes, it's quite a while since I was here! In that time I've move house and moved jobs - now working for an internet company in Center City, Philadelphia. Many of the problems are familiar, although the resolutions can be different, because of the different environment. Being a contractor offers so much freedom !

Tech 1 - SQL Server
Anyhow, the first snippets of tech are from Microsoft's SQL Server.
There are a number of things that you should build into your code that I still see missed in many people's work. One is checking that the data you get from outside is actually worth having. I saw an offering of a CSV file the other day that started off looking like this:
""""""|""""""""|""""Bob""""|"""74993""""|""""BA""""|" .... .
The content providers had received instructions to delimit all text fields with """ and use "|" as a separator. Of course, they had not realised that the outside quotes were being used as delimiters by the person making the definition, so used the whole lot. In fact, simply separating the fields with pipes would have been enough:
and far more understandable!

Next, when you perform some operations keeping a log is a good idea. For example, writing to a log whenever a report is run, or from each of the procedures that are used in reporting, can be amazingly useful in finding out just where delays and errors are occurring. Just keep a log table with a key identity, a datetime field, and a couple of string fields for info. Write a procedure to execute when you want to write to it, and have that code include the logged in user too! That brings me to my next point:

Getting your identity. Use this for logging who did something. Also use this for deciding whether a user is allowed to do something (although you should really be using roles and groups!).
select suser_sname()

Finally, here's one you should already know. If you're going to get the value of the identity column that you just forced to generate that value by inserting into a table, use
select scope_identity()
and not

Tech 2 - Ubuntu
I recently decided (finally!) to upgrade my Ubuntu from version 11.10 (Oct 2011) to 12.04 (April 2012). Nothing daring, you understand! Of course, I haven't been running the standard desktop interface - Unity - on my system, so when I moved on it didn't get upgraded (why should it!). Instead of which I got a semi-functional GNOME desktop (most of GNOME, but with some bits missing!). Well, nobody's perfect, so I decided to try something completely different and go back to the minimal desktop - XFCE - that I'd tried out and liked on a very underpowered Asus book-sized machine that I currently have bolted to the back of a monitor!
So I looked up the procedure, found a good description here, opened up a terminal window and entered
sudo apt-get install xfce4
and watched as about a million instructions whizzed by! Eventually it all came to an end, but nothing seemed diffferent, so I re-booted, got the logon screen, clicked on a small button and selected XFCE, and then logged on as normal.
Wow! What a difference! Aside from the fact that all the broken bits now worked, and all my programs were still there, and none of my data had vanished, it now looks totally different

If you zoom in you'll see the top bar has about a dozen icons for programs I run a lot, followed by seven that are actually running in this workspace right now.
Next come four pairs of minimised screens, showing the four workspaces, a clock, the Dropbox icon, and the indicator that I'm connected by wire to the web.

The workspace selector shows four workspaces - each with two screens for me because I have two screens! - and a greeked-down representation of what's going on. The furthest-left is what's in the larger screen-grab - nothing much except VirtualBox running. The second workspace is running a copy of Windows XP/64, and the furthest right shows a virtual machine running Windows 7, itself with two screens.
So XFCE fixed my problems and is a very functional GUI for Ubuntu. Of course, it helps to have gobs of memory in your machine, but that was my Christmas present - upgrading from 12 GB to 32 GB of RAM, and it really didn't break  the bank!

Tech 3 - Android and SQL Server
Sorry, no! You can't run SQL Server on Android (I'm not sure Android runs VirtualBox yet!), but if you have an android tablet and subscribe to SQL Server Pro magazine, you should definitely think of getting Texterity's application for reading your magazine - on- or off-line. I read it on the train in to work, and don't need a link, so who cares about tunnels! Check out the app here.

Just a quick cat-pic.