Thursday, March 31, 2005


Hearing The Stupid

So Stilly has discovered silent raves. Usually when some random, strange idea appears, I think "oh, okay. I guess that could be cool". But not this time. This is just stupid. Why would I go to the Glastonbury Festival so I could not listen to music?


Electronic Books

I've always thought the idea of books on computer is a great one in theory - you can have an entire library on somoething the size of a large book. Plus, you can search for certain bits of the text, easily get definitions for words and all sorts of other funky stuff that I sometimes find myself wishing for when dealing with a lump of dead tree. With things like Project Gutenberg and even Kazaa, you can get access to almost any famous or significant book in the world.

But, as I said, this idea is only good in theory. In practice, I don't like to read off a screen (at least anything of any real length). I don't like to scroll if I'm reading lots. I don't like no being able to move around easily, or lie down, or go outside (and a laptop doesn't help as much as you'd think). I've done it - I read the Hellbound Heart last year for example - but it's not great.

So that's why I thought this was interesting. Sure, it's not perfect - the "pages" are stored as jpegs, so for anything other than manga or a graphic novel you're going to be wasting a lot of space, and I think I'd miss having a physical page. But it's still pretty cool.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


Best Personal Ever

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


La La La, Not Listening

If anyone is wondering, A Perfect Circle is great music to use when people start talking about episodes of Lost you haven't seen yet. It's lould, so it blocks all out sound, and it's naturally at the top of my iTunes list, so I just have to hit play to make it go.


Go See Sarah McLachlan

Thursday night Karina and I went to the Sarah McLachlan concert at the Royal Theatre. My one-word review is "fantastic!".

The support act was a singer named Butterfly Boucher. She was Australian, but has been overseas for something like seven years, because that's pretty much the only way she could get anyone to listen to her music. She'd been touring with Sarah McLachlan in the US, and had been invited to Australia as the Australian support act.

Butterfly Boucher was one of the most talkative people I've seen on stage (well, at a concert anyway), which made it a bit different. After hearing her music I was a bit surprised she had trouble getting airplay in Australia - there have been a few similar acts in the past year or so (Missy Higgins and Sarah Blasko both come to mind). While I wasn't blown away by her, a large portion of the crowd seemed to really like her, and seemed really keen to take her up on her offer to sign any CDs during the break.

At about 8:50, the lights in the theatre suddenly dropped. I could see people pouring back in from the lobby - it was like someone had kicked an ants nest in reverse. A couple of minutes later, the stage lights came on and the band (already in their positions) started playing. Building the Mystery was the first Sarah McLachlan song I ever heard, and is probably my favourite, and it made a fantastic opening. It was probably the coolest start of a concert I've seen - although I probably wouldn't have thought so if I'd been one of the people desperately trying to find my seat...

She played a selection of "her favourite songs" off the last three albums (Afterglow, Surfacing and Fumbling Towards Ecstasy), which in an hour and a half set, is about two thirds of all the songs. I was a little disappointed that she didn't play anything I hadn't heard before (covers or new stuff), but it was hard to be disappointed when what you're listening to is sounding so good.

Probably the best indicator of the quality of the concert was the fact that when we got home we put on Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, and spent all day Friday listening to whatever track the stereo decided we should hear.

So yeah, fantastic concert. But one thing people should remember - don't be so keen to beat the rush out of a concert. If the lights haven't come on yet, you'll probably end up missing some songs. And I'll laugh at you as you come running back in.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


Birthday Hits

Ever wondered what song was number 1 when you were born? Well, neither had I until someone pointed me towards this site.

US: Upside Down by Diana Ross
UK: Don't Stand So Close To Me by the Police

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


How I Know I've Been Reading To Much Horror

I had a moment last night where I thought "wow, maybe my mind is spending a little to long in fanasty land". I caught the second half of Perfect Murder, Perfect Town (it really would have sounded better the other way around), which is a dramatisation of the JonBenet Ramsey case.

I knew most of the details of the case - I guess pretty much everyone knows the basics, but I did a bit of reading on the case a few years ago. The most interesting theory I found was that she was killed by her brother. There was one fact I noticed however that I hadn't remembered. Patsy Ramsey had cancer a couple of years before the murder. Things looked pretty grim for her, but as sometimes happens, she recovered.

Now this is where I had my "I think I need to read something else" moment. What if, facing death, Patsy had decided to make a deal with the devil. She was healed. Then, either as part of the deal or because Patsy failed to fullfill her end of the deal, a demon came for JonBenet. The parents desperatly tried to cover it up by making it look like a botched kidnapping. Unfortunately they had been caught by surprise, so their efforts were less than perfect.

After I had this thought, I quickly filed it away under "Random Ideas for a Good Story" and made a mental note to stop reading Clive Barker and Stephen King for a few months...

Friday, March 18, 2005


Microsoft Concierge

Before I suffered the pain of installing 2k3, I tried to find out if I could upgrade. The logical place to look was Microsoft, so that's where I headed. After not being able to find anything, I got referred to the Microsoft Concierge (which seems to be down at the moment, so I can't provide a link).

It was quite a simple idea - a chat window opens, I type in my question(s) and a human (or very well done AI) on the other end finds me the answer. I had a bit of trouble with the chat window - it times out a few times before I actually got a connection - but it certainly wasn't anything bad enough for me to decide not to use the service.

Once I got the session happening, I asked my questions and the guy asked me to wait while he checked. He came back to me saying that he didn't think it was possible. The session then timed out again before I could ask a follow up question. But I got the information I wanted.

This morning I had an email from Microsoft waiting for me. They wanted some feedback on the service. I answered as best I could - I often find the "how would you rate this service between 1 and 5" questions tricky, since it's never that clear cut. But I expressed my views in the comments fields.

My conclusion? I would use the Concierge again. It was a really nice thing to be able to ask my specific question and get an answer in real time. It was a bit flaky, but it's the Interneet, so what do you expect. Good idea, Microsoft.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


Flash Games

I love the fact that people spend time making crazy-fun flash games. I also love the fact that so many don't seem to be in English, but it doesn't stop you from playing the game. - you've got to walk home from the pub after a big night. Keep the guy steady by moving the mouse left and right. Apparently the record is 82 metres, but I find that doubtful - in the short time I spent playing it, I could consistantly get to around 70 metres, with my best being 76. - it's meant to be a parrody of the crazy dating games that only exist in Japan. You have to smash a bike into some random guy, and the further he bounces the more points you get.


Changing Lanes

I hate changing operating systems. Or, at least I hate changing versions of Windows - I don't remember much pain from changing my MacOS version and I haven't been playing with Linux long enough to know what that's like. But I know what changing Windows is like. And I hate it. Lots.

I've been needing to change from XP to Server 2k3 for a little bit now, so this week I finally bit the bullet. As it turns out, there ins't an upgrade option for XP to 2k3, so I had the choice of either installing 2k3 along with XP, or formatting my disk* and starting again. I've tried the first option before, and the result is less than useful - all the files stay around, but the applications aren't actually installed. Plus, you end up with two Windows directories and a whole world of hurt. So I went for the format option.

The actualy process of installing Windows doesn't upset me to much - set it running, answer some questions (remember to delete the English (US) language completely and set English (Australian) as the default) and do something else. The part I find really soul crushing is trying to recreate your personal virtual world.

Think about it - you get a new computer. As you use it over the course of weeks and months, you install applications as you need them (or find them), you find some awesome background pictures, get your address book and mail rules all happening nicely, and generally make your computer yours. Trying to think what to save before you format a disk, and then trying to get everything back to how it used to be is next to impossible.

It's one of those things where you know you're going to forget something, and you know that in a couple of weeks you go "oh, I've got just the thing... Wait, I DID have just the thing". And then you've got to deal with all the things that don't work as well now. Take my keyboard for example - previously, I could pause my music with just a touch of a button. Now, I actually have to bring iTunes to the surface before the media controls work. Sure, not a big deal, but annoying.

I know that I'll get comfortable with my new world soon enough. But the transistion still makes me sad.

Sunday, March 13, 2005


Anthony's TiVo

So last week I offered to take home Anthony's TiVo, and Anthony agreed. Sadly, it wasn't a case of him deciding to give me the cooler version of a VCR. To do the initial setup of a TiVo, you need an internet connection, and thanks to the proxys at work and no internet at home, Anthony couldn't do it himself.

Since I got it all working this evening, I figured I'd blog about it.

With the OzTiVo setup instructions and the TiVo onscreen information, the setup was mostly pretty painless. My ADSL connection made life a lot easier in getting the guide data (and no one tripped over the blue cable running from the front room to the modem).

The first problem I ran into was the fact that my VCR wasn't listed on the available modles, and when I tried to find another one that worked, the remote shut down. Which meant I had to reboot the TiVo and start again. Fortunately all the settings were saved and the Guide Data set was just a matter of checking that everything was still current (2 mins rather than 20).

After just ignoring the VCR, I managed to finish the set up. Unfortunately, the TiVo then needs 4 to 8 hours to organise the data, and since I'd finished the setup on Friday morning just before work, I got the keep the TiVo over the weekend.

I played around with it a bit tonight. I tried to tape the Simpsons, but that failed for the simple reason that I didn't have the areal plugged into the VCR (currently I have to swap a cable around depending if I want the signal to go through the VCR or straight to the TV). I was impressed that it didn't just record half an hour of blue screen.

Once I solved the signal problem, I decided to watch something while I did the ironing. That something turned out to be Charmed, which I honestly didn't even know was still on. It took me some time to get set up, so I paused the show until I was ready. I fiddled around with the remotes for a bit too. About 10mins in, various messages from the VCR started appearing and the channel randomly changed and then changed back. All because I kept changing the incoming signal. Karina pointed out that the recorded image was a bit jumpy in places (I didn't notice - I was to busy ironing!). This went away when I caught up to the live feed of the show, so I guess there was an issue with the stored data.

In general I was impressed with the TiVo. While it was just as cool as I imagines, it was smarter than I thought. If the skipping problem was rare/fixable and I could get it working with my Sharp VCR, I definately think it would be money well spent. Of course, if you can convince your boss to buy one and let you borow it (and then you keep "forgetting" to bring it back), it's even better value for money...


Making the World Love Us

Stilly has mentioned that he thinks blogs can lead to a better customer-client relationship. While I don't disagree - I think the idea has a lot of potential - I found myself today yet again wishing for something a bit more direct.

In my last job, there was pretty much just me and the boss of the company. It meant I'd generally hear about almost every concern the users had with the software - either directly when I was on-site, through phone calls or through my boss. If someone told me something didn't work, I could fix it, and tell them. Or I could explain how they were actually meant to use it. Or I could tell them why a feature was shit.

In the six months I've been with Tower, I've met a surprising number of people who us our product. Well, maybe it's not that surprising, given Canberra. But a lot of the people I've spoken to have had some issues with TRIM. That's to be expected - any software as advanced and complex as TRIM will cause people problems. I'm still in the habit of trying to find out just what people don't like about TRIM and why.

But I don't have anything useful I can do with the information.

I want to be able to say to someone "I spoke to a guy yesterday. They seem to have some issues creating Records - sounds like their Record Types are a bit fucked. They also sound like they'd benifit from some better training, since they don't seem to be using TRIM enough. Oh, and they seem confused about being able to store classified documents" and know that at least a phone call would be made. I'd like to be able to say "apparently these people are having memory problems with their Event Manager when they try to use their custom interface." and know that next week we'll make an offer of assistance. I would really make me happy to be able to say "whatever the integrator has built is causing problems" and know that someone will look into it and be ready to crack heads if the rumour is true. I want to be able to tell someone that people have TRIM installed on their machines but they don't even know what it is.

I guess I just want everyone to love our software. I want to be able to say "I work for Tower" and have people say "Oh! We use TRIM and it's fantastic!" (which, to be fair, I do get sometimes as well). So what I want is to be able to say when people tell me they aren't happy with our product, that if they give me their number, maybe I can get someone to look into it for them.

Friday, March 11, 2005

It's always the way. After posting yesterday about how my RSS feed kept breaking and how the BlogSpot people didn't seem to want to help, I sat down yesterday evening to send them another email. And what was waiting, but a reply from them.

Steve, the BlogSpot tech-man was very nice, and asked if I could send him the error message that was being produced when I tried to publish a full feed. Sadly, in my messing around yesterday, I managed to get a full-post feed publishing correctly. So now I have nothing to show.

So next time it breaks, can someone send me a copy of the error?

Thursday, March 10, 2005


Blogging About Me

Okay, so I'm feeling kind of left out of the whole blog conversation that seems to be happening around me at Tower at the moment.

The basic jist (for the one random person who stubled in here to read this who isn't actually someone I work with) is what sort of stuff would a future employer uncover about you by Googling, and how much you actually talk about on your blog.

I know exactly what you get when you Google for me. It's something I try every couple of years or so when the idea pops into my head - the most recent being a couple of weeks ago when I was discussing something similar with Stilly. It's handy that my last name is slightly unusual. The first is about how I scored with some Arsenal ladies, then there's some about how I actually wrote some books, and then you start getting to the real me. It's actually an interesting slice of my Internet history - some random comments to a review, some comments about me recording some music, the crappy home page for one of my uni group assignments and some mailing list archives. Last time I tried it, the first link was to a family tree, where I discovered that I was actually an 18 centurary French man.

I have found myself being some what cautious about what I post about. For example, I've got a couple of amusing posts about some bucks nights I've been to over the last few months bouncing around in my head (one would be titled "Unco-est Stripper Evar!"), but I haven't decided if I think I should actually write them.

I haven't quite worked out the reason for my caution, but I suspect it's pretty simple. My friends already know I'm a fool, but I'd like people from work to be in the dark about it for as long as possible :-)


Stupid RSS Feed

So both Gordon and Ian told me a while ago that the RSS feed from my blog sometimes breaks. I discovered that if I only fed the short version of each blog post (the first paragraph or the first 250 characters I think), it seemed to be okay. So I changed it, and all was good for a while.

Then they told me it had broken again. So I messed around for a bit, republished the blog a few times, a magically it was better. I sent off an email to the blog-spot help people, but never heard back.

Well, it looks like the RSS feed has hat itself again, to quote Ian. I added my own blog to SharpReader in the hopes that maybe I'd know when it died, but I seem to be getting the feed fine. So in part this post is to test that theory, in part it's an excuse to republish my blog, and in part it's a rant about BlogSpot's crappy RSS feeds and lack of support. I'm going to try setting things back to publishing the full post in the feed, if for no other reason then to stop Stilly complaining.

I'm going to fire off another email, but if things don't improve, I might just change Blog providers...

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Normal Please

On Monday I discovered that Lindsay has a blog. So I immediately added her to my list of blogs in SharpReader. A couple of hours later, there was a post. I was reasonably surprised when I discovered the post referred to me. It's all about timing.

While I think it's really cool that I've introduced Lindsay to some new music (I love it when that happens), she did mention something that has started to become a concern for me about the Tower staff.

Quite clearly I'm "normal head" Simon, not "little head" Simon.

Sunday, March 06, 2005


Movie Computers

So Mikal didn't much like my last blog post. He said it wasn't funny enough. Hopefully this will be more to his liking...

Here's a short bit of dialog (as best I remember it) from an episode of CSI: Miami a week or so ago:

Lab Goon 1: "What have you got there?"
Lab Goon 2: "Some tourist was taking shots of his friends with a digital camera. We grabbed the camera in case he caught any with our victim in them."
Lab Goon 1: "To bad he was facing the wrong way the whole time. Nothing here."
Lab Goon 2: "I'm not so sure. I'm going to try zooming in to see if there's anything reflected in the people's eyes..."

And then I stopped watching.

I'm usually pretty good with the whole suspension of disbelief thing when it comes to movies or TV shows. I'm prepared to except that sometimes there are obvious questions you're not meant to ask. And I know that most script writers don't have a detailed knowledge of the topic they're writing on, so they're bound to make mistakes. But it just amazes me how wrong they consistantly get computers and technology in general.

Some interesting things I've "learnt" about computers in the movies:
  1. The more monitors you have, the more powerful your computer
  2. Randomly smashing keys will help you track down a hacker. If you can't smash enough keys fast enough, get a friend to help!
  3. When someone hacks your machine, it conviently displays all the files they're looking at on your monitor.
  4. If you want to compare to finger prints, DNA smaples or other randomly unique things, the bast way is to manually drag one image over the other. If they're a match, they'll line up perfectly.
  5. No matter the resolution, you can always "zoom in" on an image and "clean it up" so you can see tiny details.
The last one is probably my favourite. Just once I'd love to see a movie where the Special Agent guy says "Can you zoom in on that licence plate?" and the tech guy taps his keyboard for a second, and the picture on the screen changes to a blocky, fuzzy image of a car. "Can you clean it up?" "Um, no..."

Oh, and by the way, I really want one of those computers that turns itself on and has a big flashing envelope every time I get an email.

I have a couple of related links. A couple of years ago I discovered a game called Uplink, made by an indy company called Introversion. The cool thing about Uplink is that they set out to make a game where you basically play a hacker from a bad computer movie. There's a Mac version made by Ambrosia (who also make Escape Velocity, probably the coolest shareware game I've ever played).

The other link is Bad Movie Physics. Which is pretty amusing, even if he does attempt to apply real world physics to technology in Star Wars.

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