Bog Roll ::

It's Not Magic, It's Work!

31 Mar 2004

Blog at work

Our Group boss at work suggested that we dispence with silly American tokenism, and properly apreciate staff who have successes, however small. It was suggested that this be done on the company intranet with some kind of success story board. Before someone foisted a crappy piece of Windows rubbish on those of us who do run the company intranet, I suggested that we could use a blogging tool, such as Blosxom.

Today I started to play with Blosxom at work, very cool, very nice. We shall see if the boss likes it later this week.


Blog at work

Our Group boss at work suggested that we dispence with silly American tokenism, and properly apreciate staff who have successes, however small. It was suggested that this be done on the company intranet with some kind of success story board. Before someone foisted a crappy piece of Windows rubbish on those of us who do run the company intranet, I suggested that we could use a blogging tool, such as Blosxom.

Today I started to play with Blosxom at work, very cool, very nice. We shall see if the boss likes it later this week.


XML-RSS-Tools 0.13 is Broken!

I don't know what the problem is, but on a SPARC/Solaris 2.8 box and with Perl 5.8.1 catalog-tests 7-9 fail. Alas the CPANPLUS report doesn't tell me enough to know what the problem is...


29 Mar 2004

XML-RSS-Tools 0.13

After a quick test on a work Windows/Perl 5.8 and a Linux/Perl 5.6.1 system, I'm confident enough to upload XML-RSS-Tools up to CPAN. I'm sure there will be problems, but hopefully not of the ultra embarrassing type!


Overton Biodiversity Society

We have been working hard on the OBS web-site loading up a bunch of changes last week, and adding lots of new content this week - to be uploaded before Easter.

At the society AGM, we had a lot of positive feedback so we are motivated to continue working on the site.


28 Mar 2004

XML-RSS-Tools

After doing nothing for ages I've decided to release XML-RSS-Tools, however I'm going to check it on some machines at work first, to make sure it works in a range of environments first.

Time to go and make Naan bread now...


26 Mar 2004

Antique!

Today a friend told me he had upgraded his computer. His previous computer was an AMD K6 system I built for him over 5 years ago when I lived in the US. His new system is a fancy Intel P4-3GHz based system. Makes my 8 year old Intel PPro-200MHz seem very antique!


25 Mar 2004

Orphaned Module

This week on Perlmonks someone mentioned a perl module, that takes a number (e.g. 1000) and converts it into words (e.g. one thousand). I went over to CPAN to have a look, and there is indeed Lingual-EN-Numbers which converts numerals to their English words.

If you read the docs, it's says it actually doesn't do English, it does American, and nothing else. If you look at the source, it actually has tables for American and British sic. numbering, and while it has millard correct, the British data is otherwise somewhat buggy and in need of patching.

The module is nearly 4 years old, still at version 0.01, and my email to it's author was rejected as undeliverable by Yahoo! A Google search found another potential and more recent email address. While I should create a patch, and try and find it's author to send the patch too, the module really needs a redesign, and simpler interface — it doesn't need to be object orientated really for example.

I wonder if I should I do this...?


24 Mar 2004

Premium Bonds

I have a few Premium Bonds. They are tax efficient and fun - though not the best investment you can make. Recently I've had a good run of luck, winning twice in September, and then once in January, February and March. Okay, the winnings each time have only been £50, but it's a bit of fun, and about the same average interest rate as a basic bank savings account.


20 Mar 2004

Mozilla 1.7β

Just as I was saying nice things about the Opera Web Browser, the Mozilla Foundation release the 1.7 beta version of the Mozilla Browser. The Mozilla Browser and Mozilla Firefox share the same page rendering engine, "gecko", so pages look the same in both browsers, but have different user interfaces.

I constantly flip-flop between the different browsers, the Mozilla Browser has easy configuration for almost all the features, but has the extra bulk of the mail/news client and Mozilla Composer tool, which I never use. Firefox doesn't have the bits I never use and does feel faster, but is more awkward to configure and less mature than it's parent. Opera is quite different — being based on totally different code, and has another set of strengths and weaknesses...


The Opera Browser

Opera Logo

I like the Opera Web Browser. It's half the size of Firefox, and in many respects just as good. The one thing I miss though is the easy ability to block in-line adverts. Both are better than Microsoft's IE, which can neither bock adverts (in-line or pop-up) nor get page layout correct.


17 Mar 2004

Rossendale - Open Source?

Like with many governments, the UK is starting to look at open source software as a method of keeping costs down and quality up. Recently, several high profile project have looked at open source software, though some are probably just bargaining chips against closed source vendors like Microsoft.

Today, in The Register, I saw a report that my home town is one to lead a consortium of local authorities to investigate open source software - UK gov backs £1m blueprint for open source switchers.


15 Mar 2004

Good Customer Service.

Yesterday I contacted two outdoor out-fitters, to ask them about retailers. Ex Officio replied and suggested stores in the UK that may carry their goods. It was only a few minutes worth of email, but it was polite and helpful, and may bring them more money in the future. Gelert didn't even reply.


14 Mar 2004

Customer Service

I like to walk. I'm not a die hard walker, I don't go on holiday to the Himalayas to trek up and down mountains for a month. My idea of a walk is a 12Km day walk, finishing up at a nice tea shop or a good pub. When we go places, we try to get out and about and have a walk.

We have some walking kit. Decent 3-season boots, and a selection of modern performance clothing. In the UK it's important to have something water proof, and for me I need something that allows me to stay cool and keep the sun off in warm weather. Over the years we've bought various technical kit from various suppliers, and paid quite differing prices.

I've a few Ex Officio shirts bought when I lived in the US. They are great for warm climates, and I really like them. They also have good customer service, when I wanted to know what colour something an online discount retailer was selling, a nice person from their office accurately described the colour, and I ended up buying the shirt. Even their UK distributor was polite and efficient when I sent them an email.

I've also dealt with Gelert, who also make the same kind of (quite good) clothing. I've emailed them twice and they never replied to simple questions, like where are the retailers that sell your clothing range? or do you have a catalogue?

Is good customer service that hard?


Civic Duty

Today, there was a litter pick in the village. At least 50 people, young and old, braved the weather to remove other people's rubbish. We collected about one full bin bag of rubbish each in our party, so I should imagine that over all, as a group, we collected a fair amount of discarded beer, cider & larger bottles and cans; cigarette packets; and sweet & crisp wrappings.


13 Mar 2004

Over "Designed"

I hate it when web site are more complex, and over designed than they need to be. For example anyone who uses a Javascript link where a normal href would do, should have their head boiled in their own entrails.

Frames can be used properly, however all too often they are unnecessary and usually break all sorts of normal behaviours. The same can be said of Flash, it's okay for some narrowly defined roles, but for over 90% of the time, Flash is the wrong answer.

Today my anger is aimed at TV and radio companies that make getting at a media feed on their web site an obstacle course. I shall ignore the pure evil that is Microsoft, but why the exclusive use of the latest codec? Not everyone has or can have the latest media player with the latest codec. Why do they break the normal media player interface with the stupid on screen plug-in interface, I want to connect to the feed, and then do something else, I don't want to waste a whole tab in my browser just to listen to BBC R4.

In my hall of shame for today, we have europe1 for using Flash, Javascript links, frames, IE specific html, and Windows Media Player. To add insult to injury they also use a version of Media Player that even a Windows 98 machine can't support.


11 Mar 2004

Overton Biodiversity Society

Today we uploaded our revised version of the Overton Biodiversity Society web site on to a public web server. It's not a major triumph in the annals of web design, but it has been a useful learning exercise, and quite fun to do.


10 Mar 2004

More Hardware Near Death Experiences

Today I noticed that the casing of my elderly Dell Inspiron 3500 notebook is starting to fail around the left hand screen hinge point. The machine was bought reconditioned from Dell 6 years ago, so it's done well, but plastic fatigue has finally caught up with it.

I had planned on replacing my slightly older desktop system first, but now it looks like I'll have to replace the notebook first. PowerBook or iBook....?


09 Mar 2004

(Unix) Media Players

I have simple needs, something to play audio CDs, something to play MP3s or Oggs, something to play MPEG video and something to stream audio or video off the Internet. All these functions don't need to be in the same application, video playback is quite different from audio playback.

On my Windows machine I use to use Zinf to play Oggs and CDs. It was simple unobtrusive and worked well, and I was happy. There is a Linux version, but not one that will work on the current Debian stable, so I had to choose something else. XMMS is what comes recommended, and like Zinf, it's simple and with a plain skin, is perfectly functional.

Next comes video, and this is where the pain starts. The video player people obviously have a lot of different codecs to deal with, but why do they all try to do everything, audio as well? I first tried Xine which seems okay, though it's prone to crashing. Next I tried MPlayer which seems to do everything, including segfault, and today I'm trying Video Lan Client which hasn't crashed.

What really annoys me about all these apps, and WinAmp and Quicktime is there awful interface, why does everyone try to make them look like actual hi-fi kit, and why do they all have these awful bitmap skin interfaces? Why oh why is there a visualisation thing, what's it for? The only good thing about the skin interface technology is that now and then I can find a skin that I can actually read to see where the play button is...


07 Mar 2004

X

Today I started to tinker with my elderly Sun SPARC station. To anyone familiar with X/Unix, running one application on another computer is nothing fancy, and I have done this in the past, but I always get a buzz out of doing it. So this blog entry comes from the SPARC box - well actually the Bash shell on the Linux box, but it's on the screen of the SPARC box...


06 Mar 2004

A Prairie Home Companion

When I lived in the US, one of the more civilised things I found was National Public Radio, like the BBC, only not as well funded.

There were several excellent programs on NPR, my favourites being A Prairie Home Companion and Car Talk. Since returning to the UK, listing to these show has proved more complicated. Though both shows have for a long while had good RealAudio feeds, 56Kbps dial-up isn't the best way to listen to anything.

Since upgrading to ADSL I have had better luck, however at the same time I upgraded Debian, and didn't install a RealPlayer until this weekend. I've got quite a few hours of NPR radio to listen to now!


Anzac* Biscuits

Unlike most people in the UK who seemed to have been brought up on Flap-Jacks, I was raised on Anzac biscuits. As a child either my grandmother or mother would bake them, and we would have them to "dunk" in tea. I've never encountered anyone else in the UK who has ever heard of them, though I gather that they are/were very common in Australia and New Zealand.

Since both my grandmother and mother have passed away, I now have no one to bake me my favourite biscuits. I've tried to make them in the past, but it was not a success, today I tried again. This time I was armed with my grandma's recipe, fully converted into metric units. They are cooling as I type, but other than being a bit too sweet, they look and taste great!

  • 200g Self-Raising Flour
  • 300g Granulated Sugar
  • 150g Rolled (Porridge) Oats
  • 150g Dessicated Coconut
  • 125g Butter or other fat
  • 25ml Golden Syrup
  • 25ml Water - though you may need to add more
  • 5ml Sodium Hydrogen-Carbonate (Bi-Carbonate of soda)

Mix the dry stuff in a mixing bowl. Melt the butter, and add it other liquids into the dry stuff, and mix. You want a sticky goo, so if it's too dry add some more water. Make small balls with your hands, and squish on a greased baking tray. Bake at 170C, until they look golden brown, cool on a wire rack, and eat with a nice cup of tea!

* ANZAC = Australia and New Zealand Army Corp


04 Mar 2004

Even rats wont eat it!

On my way in to work this morning I saw some discarded McDonald's food on the pavement. This stuff is so awful, that even rats wont eat it...


03 Mar 2004

XML::RSS

Kellan has released a new version of XML::RSS. I'll have to find my PuTTY format SourceForge SSH keys, convert them to OpenSSH, and then update the web site.


SPAM

After a lull over Xmas, the volume of spam I am receiving at home and work has risen sharply. At home Procmail and spam-assassin deal with most of the spam, and there is only a little left in my in-box to remove manually.

At work we run our email on Windows servers with Microsoft's Exchange server. As far as I can tell it's very good at generating false positives for viruses, and doesn't seem to do anything about spam.


Zip Drive

I have a SCSI Zip drive on my PC, that I've not used in years. It's from the generation that suffered the infamous "click of death" syndrome, and so I never trusted it all that much, plus CD-R is cheaper and more useful.

Today I got an email asking if I could read data on a Zip disk, so I just tested to see what would happen. I just tried to mount a disk, and it all worked, so far so good. Most my old Zip disks don't seem to work all that well, it's a good job I copied anything of value to CD-R a long time ago.


01 Mar 2004

Suicidal Hardware

Today has been not been good on the hardware front. To start with the Halifax ATM I tried to use this morning wasn't working, then the printer at home had a fit, and finally the bread machine tried to commit suicide by throwing it self off the kitchen work top on to the floor.

However none of these actions actually resulted in any deaths, my bank still appears to be solvent, I fixed the printer, and the bread machine still works fine - though the power socket it removed from the wall will need some TLC.