Archive for June 2004
What a struggle to get the patches installed, with some of my archived patches even trying to go online for more
patches – which was not going to happen at home. Then a disk check, which takes up to an hour on my large-but-slow notebook drive. Still, my main tools (OpenOffice.Org , HTML-Kit) were on there on Sunday, I could have done any necessary work at any time. Except for audio editing, that requires Adobe Audition, a classy program I don’t mind paying for. (Though I am looking harder at Audacity as a free software alternative.)
Still at work, downloading drivers. I rebuilt my notebook PC the other day, after an unwise attempt at disk partition modification. I normally use “Partition Magic”, which does the job pretty well, but this time I used Microsoft’s command line “DiskPart” utility. I gave the right command, and the utility returned an error like “your disk is not suitable for expansion”. But it was suitable, and it did appear to have done the job, according to the Disk Management screen. However, Windows Explorer did not recognize the change, and trashed files over the next day or so, to the point where “lsass.exe” was damaged and logging on caused an error and a (clean) shutdown.
The good news is that I had backed up all my data first, and I keep the freshest working data on my flash cards. I did not lose a byte, and reinstalled Windows XP while watching the last Euro 2004 quarter-final on Sunday. Tonight it’s the Service Pack and subsequent hotfixes, anti-virus, then maybe Microsoft Flight Simulator with the NY Megascenery addon pack. This time I’m going to experiment with stripping out even more of the Microsoft applications than I usually do, even Internet Exploiter (if that is possible). Mozilla, for me, now does it all, and better.
This year has seen a crisis in the world of American Television: the ending of three popular long-running series’. First was Sex and the City, followed closely by Friends. Now it’s the turn of Frasier, which hasn’t resulted in quite as much fuss as the previous two, but is probably my favourite of the three. The next-to-last series flagged a bit, but the impending end has perked things up considerably. (Nothing like impending doom to concentrate a writer’s mind wonderfully.)
So far, Daphne has just given birth on a veterinary surgeon’s table, after Eddie swallowed the ring for Martin Crane’s wedding, which was ruined by Daphne’s drunken brothers firing guns, causing a truck driver to crash and unload his cattle cargo into the hotel gardens. We’re meeting two of the brothers for the first time, an opportunity for some more British guest stars – Robbie Coltrane and Richard E Grant – to bolster the American impression of Englishmen as lager louts who can’t speak… English.
Now we have Roz as the new station manager, whose first duty is to accept Frasier’s resignation, to go to San Francisco… and the end, with just the right amount of sentimentality for Frasier: very little. He does manage to squeeze a little Tennyson in to his final radio address:
Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
— Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Ulysses, 1842
I own an Akai MPC1000, and I think it’s a pretty nice piece of kit, an update of the older MPC models that takes advantage of recent storage technology and the ubiquity of WAV sample files. Like a Palm or iPaq handheld computer, it can be used by itself, but it works best with existing PC/Mac skills and software. The designers have left off some of the more advanced sound-manipulation features of previous models. This makes it a little unfriendly to veteran MPC freaks, but fine for people like me.
Some interesting news on the MPC-Forums, however: P. Diddy was spotted buying about 20 MPC1000s, probably to give away as gifts to his homies, or (I think) to a charity. Hey, so I’m ahead of the curve for once, eh? Let’s see if I get a call from LA, looking for some mad skillz in da studio, bruvas? (Yeah, right.)
The Queer Eye for the Straight Guy phenomenon has finally landed in the UK, and I get Channel 4, so I’m watching the first taped episode now. The “Fab 5” are hilarious, with all kinds of faggy banter, but are also surprisingly full of practical advice usable by straight guys, as the title implies. I’m growing my hair at the moment, with a view to hitting the barber before my Dubai trip, but this show has got me wondering about visiting the local salon for a jou-jou do… nah. It’s not just about the look either, the “victim” in this makeover is an aspiring artist who gets a gallery wall, help with the opening party, and tips on how to work the room.
Putting a bunch of contrasting gay guys together was a great idea, I think, with their contrasting styles and complimentary skills. It makes them more real and less threatening, showing there’s more to them than their gayness. That’s the way I see it, anyway: one reason why gay guys bother straight guys is the public narcissism, the focus on the superficial things – clothes, body – to the apparent exclusion of more substantial concerns. But a straight guy can use a little of that, especially these days, when having hair on your back means pillory as an unevolved caveman. (I think my ancestors had more important things to worry about, like staying warm through the last Ice Age.)
I’ve been putting together a system for reading and replying to Usenet News offline, and it’s working rather nicely. Tonight I’ve been reading alt.fan.pratchett, and replying to an off-topic thread about Modern Assumptions:
My pet Modern Assumption peeve: the cellphone.
I think I was born a hundred years too late. A century ago, there was a certain protocol involved in contact between people: you arrived at the front door and presented your calling card, and the occupant of the house could agree to meet you, or not. When the telephone arrived, it was greeted with genteel horror. “Do you mean”, asked the upper classes, “that a stranger can pick up this… instrument… place a call, and a bell rings in your house, demanding to be answered? Put the cursed thing downstairs, with the servants!”
After World War II, the development of automatic exchanges brought the telephone to the masses, but the hoi-polloi still resisted the idea. Why, _anyone_ could be on the other end of the line! Fast forward to the 90’s, and we can carry the telephone around with us. Now, anyone can call up and interrupt me at any time! Excellent!
So, now that everyone has a cellphone, you don’t mind giving me your number, right? Go to the optician to order contacts, they want your number to call you when they arrive. Place an order on the internet, they want your number “just in case”.
Time for countermeasures. Caller ID? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but if you don’t… you have to explain why, later. No, I have a better way: I frankly enjoy telling people “No, I don’t have a phone, I am _not_ available after hours, you have no reason to call me anyway. If you do, it’s because you want something from me, for free, at all hours, and you’re not paying me enough for that.”
Full disclosure: I did telephone support for exactly one year before being promoted out of it, which has ruined the telephone for me for life. The thing is: I was promoted to a higher-level support role, where being available after hours ia a positive liability. When a customer has an emergency, and “first level” can’t sort it out, we can find ourselves rudely awakened because some faceless manager halfway to Bangalore got a number from somewhere.
That hasn’t happened to me, since my last cellphone has sat in a drawer for three years. There’s a landline in my house, for a housemate’s job, but not even I have that number, far less my boss. Look at any large corporation, and you will notice that jobs involving customer contact are near the bottom of the tree: the ones involving contact by phone are down there with the moles and earthworms. Do you think Michael Eisner (Disney) or Carly Fiorina (HP) get people calling them up asking for stuff? That’s what Secretaries are for.
Cries of “Luddite!” don’t go in one ear, they miss my head altogether. And before someone says “you’re cutting yourself off from society” or the like, they should ask themselves: how did people manage 20, 50, or 100 years ago?
OK, next time I find myself looking for a job I may consider a landline and an answering machine, to screen all calls. But by then I’ll probably have access to broadband internet, meaning that e-mail will be nearly instant if I need it to be. What I will not give people is the ability to thoughtlessly interrupt me, just because they have a problem that they want to share. Sorry.
Bloomin’ ‘Eck! That felt good. Rant over.
I just banged out the following to close off an out-of-control thread on the MPC Forums, in ten minutes, and I’m slightly pleased at the results, so I think I’ll preserve it:
(Adopts Jerry Springer-esque closing statement pose.)
If there’s a lesson to be learned from this here thread, it is about the value of troubleshooting skills in all walks of life.
- Define a goal. What are you trying to do? Can you clearly describe it to others? If not, maybe you’re trying to do too much at once. So…
- Divide and conquer. Break a big task or problem down into little ones. In a MIDI setup, start with a single MIDI cable, from A to B. Get that working as it should be
working. If you don’t know how it should be working, you haven’t defined your Goal properly – go back to step 1!
- What Changed? If something goes from Working to Broken, then it Changed. Sometimes the Change is out of your control (hardware failure etc.), but for everything else, it’s someone’s fault, usually yours. Be prepared to Undo any Changes you make, before you make them.
- Reporting: a newspaper cub reporter soon learns a mantra that forms the basis of reporting in all its forms: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. Not every story needs to have all those elements, but it’s a good place to start when reporting a problem. (OK, we don’t really want to know Who, unless you’re Pete Townshend.)
- If you ask for technical support,whoever you talk to doesn’t want to know what isn’t happening. They need to know what is happening. What’s the difference? Say “it didn’t work”, and you can expect more questions like “what didn’t work? what did you see? what were you trying to do? why were you trying to do that?”
- Assume nothing. We don’t know anything about your setup unless you tell us. We don’t know what you want to do (see Step 1). We don’t how you tried to do it. We don’t know what you’re working with, how you’ve wired it up, what settings you’ve chosen, or any of that stuff. If someone, trying to help, asks for more information, be prepared to give it if you want further help. We’re not dissing you, being funny about it, or wasting your time. If you knew exactly what questions we would ask, or what information we would need, you probably would have answered that already and found the problem. Don’t sweat it.
- One more thing: can’t we all just get along? That’s what I get from years of working in technical support…